Q: Having carried the cross over 38,000 miles, you are listed in the Guinness Book of World Records under "World's Longest Walk." In the early days of your ministry, did you ever think you would achieve this kind of recognition?
A: You know, I never did. Though I'd begun preaching at the age of 15, I hadn't ever been particularly drawn to the cross as a symbol. My first cross walk was down the Sunset Strip and back to His Place, the coffee shop where I preached the gospels to hippies and drug addicts in the late sixties. The cross attracted a crowd, and they followed it back to our little shop. One night in 1969, I heard the voice of the Lord clearly calling me to carry the cross across America, so I did. Once that was finished, I was told to visit Northern Ireland, so I did. Before long, I was off to every sovereign nation...then to every major island group. My journey was never about setting a record. It was about obeying the call to bring the cross to everyone, everywhere.
Q: The cross is an almost universally recognizable icon, but the messages associated with it vary widely from place to place. What does the cross say to you?
A: So many people feel that the cross is against them. They look at the cross and they think "the cross is against my sexual orientation" or "I had an abortion" or "I drink beer" or "I smoke cigarettes, so God hates me." I don't believe that the cross stands for any of those things. The cross is a sign from God that says, "I love you. I care. I came down and got involved in this mess of life. I became flesh and sacrificed myself on this cross to show you this love."
As I journey around the world, I find the cross to be a symbol of God's love that can be understood in spite of language and cultural barriers. But in many places--particurly in Muslim countries--the cross has historically been a sign of offense. It has not been a friendly symbol. These people often share the words of Mahatma Gandhi, "I like your Christ; I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ." I try to counteract these negative attitudes when I walk with the cross. Instead of talking about Christianity I try to focus on Christ and the love and grace of God. I have had the wonderful priviledge of reinterpreting the cross--to walk into Muslim countries and not only to survive, but to be welcomed.
Q: In the summer of 1980, you walked through the war zone of West Beirut, where you were invited to meet with Palestinian Liberation Organization Leader Yasser Arafat. What did you say to him? How did he respond?
A: When I met Arafat face to face, I saw someone whose eyes were alive and sparkling. There we were, two radicals seeking to make men free. One had a cross and the other a gun. As we sat down, I said, "Sir, it's 2:00 AM. You have had a long day and a long struggle. I'm not here as a politician or a diplomat or a reporter. I'm just a simple man with a cross. And I would like to read you some of the words of Jesus." I started with the beatitudes from the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5. "Blessed are the merciful...blessed are the peacemakers." I read and shared many more Scriptures. Then I took Mr. Arafat's hand and prayed.
When I finished praying, he spoke softly. "There is no doubt the Bible is more powerful than the gun or the sword. The Romans tried to kill Christians. They beat, imprisoned, and murdered them. But slowly the believers, the Christians, took Rome, and Rome became Christian. They took it by heart. They did with the cross what no army had done." Arafat did not respond to my offer of salvation or my plea for him to lay down his weapons, but I left with the impression that I had just been with one of the most gentle and kind men I had ever met.
Q: What question do you hear most as you travel the world?
A: You know, a lot of people are fascinated by the adventure stories. But I'm not a walking story. What moves me is my relationships with people, my encounters with individuals. And the question I hear most from those individuals around the world is, "Tell me what you know about God." Why did I walk through war zones? I wasn't in search of adventure. I was drawn to the people in those places who needed to know about God.
Q: What is one of the most important lessons you have learned through your journey with the cross?
A: One of the most important things I have learned in my journeys around the world with the cross is that I should focus not on if, but rather on how. How do I get the visa I need? How do I get into a country that is difficult to enter? How do I get across that river or up that mountain? Those of us who want to go where Jesus sends us should remove from our vocabulary the small but potentially destructive word if.
I have carried the cross in 315 countries and island groups. In most of these nations I have had great experiences, although 52 of these countries were at war. I have seen beautiful places and wonderful people, but I have also seen horrors and tragedies. I faced a firing squad in Nicaragua; I was almost stoned and beaten in Morocco; I was attacked by police in Spain; a Los Angeles police officer tried to choke me in Hollywood; a man in Birdseye, Indiana, tried to burn the cross; a man in Nigeria broke the cross. I learned this simple lesson long ago: We need to follow God's call regardless of whether people love us or hate us. God's call is not conditional. It doesn't depend on favorable conditions, warm weather, or good moods.
Q: What is the most beautiful thing you've seen as you've walked around the world with the cross?
A: People! One of the privileges of carrying a cross around the world is meeting all kinds of beautiful people. And just as Jesus related to all people, I have tried to do that myself as I carry His cross. In our world today, it seems few of us desire or are able to relate to different kinds of people. I've had encounters with world-famous people like Pope John Paul II, Jimmy Carter, and Yasser Arafat. I've also shared meals with the poorest of the poor, the homeless. I've slept in remote villages where mine was the first white face any of the people had seen. And always, I have been awed by the beauty and joy of the children. In God's view (and in mine), all of these people are equally valued and equally loved.
Q: Having carried the cross through Communist, Islamic, and Hindu nations, what can you tell us about the power of the cross in those nations?
A: Christians in the West sometimes talk about nations that are "closed" to the gospel. Though it is true that some governments and people groups are resistant to the good news of Jesus, at least as they perceive it, I think we need to be careful--focusing on the concept of "closed nations" can send a negative message. Christians often ask me, "When you were in such-and-such nation, didn't you feel darkness and the power of Satan?" Or, "When you met such-and-such terrorirsts, didn't you feel the evil?" My reply is, "No, I felt the Father, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit." The earth is the Lord's and the fulness thereof. I will not concede any place or any person to the Devil.
Q: What keeps people from doing big things for God?
A: Many people have dreams and visions of doing mighty things for God and making an impact on the world. That was prayer also. And then Jesus said to lay it all down, and let your vision be no bigger than the next person you meet. Following that vision has carried me around the world. The most important thing God will ever tell you to do is the next thing. It's as simple as that. To follow Him is to live a life of obedience, and not to complain. Many times projects fail to move forward because people don't take one step at a time. They don't break things down into small, simple steps. As a result they are soon overcome by the insurmountable challenges that face them, and they give up.
You may never walk around the world carrying a cross. But I know God does have something He would like you to do. And the only way you are going to fulfill this calling is by starting out simple and following His call, step by step by step.