The clavicles are long thin bones that lie at the base of the neck, sitting just beneath the collars of a shirt, thus the common name, collarbones. They connect the sternum or breastbone to the shoulders on either side, thus creating a T or alternately a CROSS on the front of the chest.
Keith Wheeler has a groove in his collarbone. I do too, a result of breaking mine when I was 8 years old. Keith’s isn’t due to trauma, at least not accidental. Keith’s notch is from carrying a literal cross across his shoulder.
On my collarbone I have a funny groove. I have about 1.5 inches(3.8 cm) of bone growth from bearing the weight of the cross on my shoulder all these years. That’s what the wood of the cross has done to my body. Yet, when we take up HIS cross it also shapes us – it shapes our heart, our attitudes, our actions…even the expressions on our faces!Keith’s Facebook post
Since 1985, Keith has walked around the world-literally; he has covered over 27,000 miles on all 7 continents. It’s hard to know how many countries, since names and boundaries change, but it’s at least 180. And on every step he has taken, he has carried a 90 pounds, 12 feet by 6 feet cross draped over his shoulder.
But it really isn’t about the cross. Keith walks around doing what he simply calls “serving God, loving people.” He started in Tulsa, Oklahoma on Good Friday 1985 and thought it was going to be a one-time event. But he felt God wanted him to continue carrying the cross around the surrounding towns, then the rest of Oklahoma, and on into surrounding states. And then he just kept walking- and carrying the cross.
He has carried 3 crosses. The first cross was lost by an unnamed airline. He retired the second cross after 22 years, having carried it up Mt. Kilimanjaro; it now sits in his study. He currently carries his third cross. He takes it apart to pack it in a ski bag, protected by padding. There is a wheel on the end of the cross, not to protect him, but to protect the cross; he tried other ways, but nothing kept it from getting damaged as it dragged on the ground.
Keith Wheeler went to Tulsa to attend seminary at Oral Roberts University, ORU, without knowing it is a seminary, or as he decided to call it, a cemetery. He wasn’t sure what he wanted to do with his life, so he tried several things-youth pastor, radio announcer, gym teacher, coach. He even trained to enter the Olympics as a pole vaulter. (He laughingly says it isn’t hard to be the best at something few people try.)
A television preacher he was listening to said he believed God wanted someone to go to South Africa and carry a cross, but no one had been willing to go. Years later, one night Keith was alone in his room and in his heart felt God tell him to carry a cross in Tulsa on Good Friday.He thought this surely couldn’t be God, but felt these words burning in his heart,
“Anyone can carry a cross–think about Simon of Cyrene; he carried Jesus’ cross. Anyone can die on a cross–think about the two thieves on either side of Jesus. Only One, however, could die for the sins of the world… and that was because of love. I want you to take the cross and identify that message of love along the roadsides of this world.”
Keith points out that only once in the Bible did Jesus tell someone to be “born again” (John 3:3). But on multiple occasions, he said his followers must take up a cross and follow him.
Whoever does not take up their cross and follow me is not worthy of me.Matthew 10:38 NIV
So, he did, and still does- in Tulsa, where I saw him one morning as I drove to work, and all over the world. When he travels, Keith never knows where he will sleep or what he will eat. He depends on God and the “kindness of strangers.”
He has suffered physical injuries-broken ribs and a punctured lung. He has been arrested, jailed, beaten, and put in front of a firing squad.
Once while walking in the dark in Uganda, he fell into a pit, and quickly realized it was a sewer full of human waste. It was too deep for him to climb out -until he realized he could climb out using the cross.
a COVID time-out
Nothing had ever stopped Keith from travelling and walking-that is until the world was plunged into a viral pandemic in 2020. From January to March he walked in Tuvalu, the Northwest Territories Canada, Brazil, and Paraguay but after returning to Tulsa in March of 2020 Keith did not leave the country for 9 months, instead walking in Oklahoma and other states.
In March 2021 when it was possible to travel internationally again he went to Paraguay. On the way home he began feeling unwell, and “developed the sniffles.”
On March 21, 2021, he was diagnosed with COVID-19.
To be continued..
In part 2 of this post, I’ll share from a conversation I had with Keith before he and his wife Nicole left for Paraguay right before Thanksgiving 2021. It’s hard to “interview” Keith because he doesn’t like to talk about himself. He prefers to talk about the “heart of Jesus” (John 13:23). But in our chat, he shared with me how COVID affected his health, ministry, and mission.
Until then, please visit Keith’s website, and follow him on social media, and watch some of his videos on YouTube. I’ve used several photos from the Wheelers’ collection, used with their permission here. Find many more on his site and social media.
No one pays Keith and Nicole to do this, and they rely on the generosity of friends for funds to travel. In appreciation for using his story, I have made a donation to his ministry. If you feel so inclined consider helping them at this link or here
Checks made payable to:
Keith Wheeler Ministries
PO Box 702706
Tulsa, OK 74170
exploring the HEART of health around the world
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