Cross Across Tacoma
April 9, 2009

  Have you ever seen those really odd looking evangelists out on the street?
  • They might carry a sign that says, "The end of the world is nigh, repent and be saved!"  There is some logic to this kind of sign, we never know in advance the number of days that the Lord has given us.

  • They may be street corner evangelists that get up on a soapbox and proclaim the gospel message with a loud, boisterous voice.  Most of the ones I have seen are pretty unkempt.  My favorite was Preacher Ray who frequented the park blocks down in Portland Oregon when I was in high school.

  • Sometimes you see a guy walking along carrying a large cross, sort of like Arthur Blessitt who carried a cross around the world.  His movie, "The Cross", is currently playing in theaters around the country.  Unfortunately we've seen numerous cartoons about this sort where the punch line always reflects some sad commentary on human nature.
Generally, though, when you see someone like this you tend to cross to the other side of the street or avoid eye contact if you can.  We equate this type of evangelism with the lunatic fringe of Christianity.  We, as a people in North America, get uncomfortable when we confront the truly odd character.  We feel the urge to run the other way.

I was that odd character for a day.

I found myself carrying a twelve foot cross across Tacoma last Thursday.  I earned the bruises, sore muscles and blisters to verify it.  I became a member of that lunatic fringe of Christianity and you know what?  It felt good to be out there.

I began the journey at about 10:00 a.m. way out on 108th and Pacific.  I parked on a side street and began to unload and assemble the cross from the back of my pick-up truck.  My mind was a swirl of uneasy thoughts.  What am I even doing out here?  Why am I doing this again?  What ever possessed me to make such a spectacle of myself?

And yet I persisted.  Having prayed through this any number of times I was sure that the Lord had led me to this juncture.  The bolts required a small hammer to drive them into place.  The newly constructed cross smelled fresh and good.  The weather was cloudy and promised rain, but not too cold or too warm.  A good day for a long hike.  I muddled around with my assembly but eventually could find no more to do.  I locked up the truck, shrugged on my small backpack, and shouldered the cross.

Within a block a young man pulled his pick-up over. "Do you need any help?"

"You can help me carry this if you want."

He looked longingly at the back of his truck.  "I sort of thought that would be your answer. I had a different kind of help in mind.  Why are you carrying this cross anyway?"

My first evangelical message.  It turns out that he is Catholic and understood completely what I was attempting.  I asked him to take my picture.  He wanted one for his own collection, using his cell phone.  We parted ways with a wish of "God bless you" on our lips.  I felt at peace with my mission and began to pray for the neighborhoods that I strode through.

Mark on Pacific

Pacific Avenue is a busy four-lane which bisects the city south to north.  Cars began to honk their horns and voices shouted out, "Jesus Christ reigns!"  I focused on one step at a time, attempting to keep the cross on one shoulder as long as possible before switching.  I knew the pain would steadily increase thus I tried to keep it localized as much as possible.

One woman stopped in the middle of Pacific, in the turn lane actually, and took my picture.  Her knees were 'too bad' to be carrying around a heavy cross but we chatted for a few minutes.

A well dressed gentleman walked up to me and wanted to know, "what this was that I was doing?"  Dan is a very interesting man from Covington (about 20 miles NE of Tacoma).  He had tears at the corners of his eyes as he shouldered the cross for a block or two.  We talked and I came away praying for Dan and his church.

Dan and the Cross

Some blocks later Sean became my next Simon of Cyrene.  He and his buddies were sitting on their front porch.  Sean called out, "Do you need help?"  We talked, Sean had never been inside a church before.  I gave him a light version of the gospel.

Sean and the Cross

It is a little over 5 miles from my starting point to downtown Tacoma.  As I approached the ridge above Tacoma my feet were on fire and my knees were beginning to give out.  I rested just beyond the I-5 overpass and ate a small lunch, an orange and a muffin.  This is the seedier side of town, many of our local homeless population hang out around here.  Tacoma Rescue Mission (known for its outreach to the homeless) is just a few blocks away.  Interestingly enough, I met none of the wandering residents.

As I approached downtown from the south end I was met by open stares, laughter and snide remarks.  There is a fair sized artsy population on this side of town.  By this time I was too tired to care much.  My quick walking pace at the start of the morning had been replaced by a trudge with frequent shifts of the cross from shoulder to shoulder.  It began to sprinkle lightly, not enough to dampen and not enough to cool me down.

I had noticed, up to this point, that those carrying their own crosses, either hanging on rear-view mirrors or hanging around necks, were likely the first to avert their eyes.  Downtown is cold, socially, spiritually, and so I step up the pace of prayer.  Blessings on the people I meet.  Blessings on the structures I pass.  Pull down spiritual barriers.  Glorify Your Name, O Lord.  Make this trek of some significance in their minds.  Empower my contacts for Your glory.

The left turn at Ninth St. begins a long ascent up out of the Commencement Bay basin.  Ten steep blocks before I can level out on Yakima.  I speak with a homeless woman for about five minutes before I begin the climb.  The day has grown much warmer and sweat drips off of me.  At about the midpoint Dave, my second homeless contact, sidles up next to me and begins a conversation.  He wants to help.  Why is it that the homeless and dispossessed feel free to readily lend a hand while we 'normal' folk feel constrained?  A black SUV stops on the street next to us.  They take some pictures while laughing at us.  Dave hands them one of my tracts.

I speak to a jogger a few times, she gets stopped at the cross walk signals and I catch up.  As I approach the Proctor district I stop in at a local down home cooking restaurant.  I order a 7-Up but the cashier won't let me pay saying, "I seen what you're doing and this one is on me."  We talk for a few minutes and they bless me as I depart.

One man, sitting at a bus stop, asks me, "Where's your crown of thorns?"  I admit that I am not willing to go that far.  We talk about where he goes to church.  He hasn't been inside in some time so I invite him out to ours.  Some truly huge great danes pace me down a fence line at the local doggy day care.  Maybe the cross is large enough that they would feel comfortable gnawing on it.

The next Simon of Cyrene, his name is Gary, calls me to say that he will be leaving work in about fifteen minutes.  Good, my energy is just about completely gone.  The parts that did hurt are now on fire.  How did Jesus ever do it, having been scourged first and then having a heavy timber thrust up on His back?

My pace slows as I begin a slight rise up 6th.  I hear a low jingle of chains or something metallic move up behind me, and then, "Excuse me, sir."  I set the cross down and turn around to gaze upon a young Goth; all black leather, chains, piercings, double mohawk, tattoos.  "Why are you carrying that cross?"

His eyes and his body language tell me that he really wants to know.  He's very polite, non-confrontational.  Good, I have no energy left for confrontation.  "This cross is a sign, it is a witness to the world," I reply.  Wait a minute, too much church, not enough answer.  He may not understand the church talk so I shift language.  "Have you seen those crosses at the side of the road?"


"What do you think of when you see them?"

He pauses for a second then, "Death."

"This cross is not like that.  This cross is about love and life.  Jesus loves you so much that He gave up His life on a cross that you might be eternally saved.  He wants you with Him in heaven and so He did this for you."

"I see" he replies and turns to leave.

"Wait," I call, and hand him a tract and card.  "I want you to know that you will always be welcome at our church."  He thanks me and leaves.  I am pumped, Lord, is this why You put me out here today?

A few minutes later Gary drives by.  We make an exchange, he gets the cross and I get his car.  I love those kinds of trades, especially right now.

Gary on 6th

I leapfrog with him for that last three miles of the walk.  Each time I park I pray and doze, thinking about what I had accomplished for the first 9 miles.  The trip is etched in my mind, each step it seems, and I re-play it a few times to get a sense of the larger picture.  We finish at about 5:30 pm, not quite two miles an hour.  But speed really wasn't a concern was it?

We take a few final pictures, I look so very much more beat down than when I started.  Gary and I discuss some changes in how this should 'go down' when we go out again.  Ever the optimists, Gary takes me back to my truck out there on Pacific, twelve miles away.

Gary at the finish     Mark at the finish