There’s enough strife and tension in our world today. My prayer is that I be a peacemaker. I don’t desire to be known for my political stand, but my identity as a follower of Jesus and my stand for His Kingdom! Keith Wheeler
On February 10, 2020 Keith Wheeler left Tulsa Oklahoma for Tuvalu, a nation of Pacific islands just south of the equator. Lying halfway between Hawaii and Australia it is one of the most remote and least visited places on earth. But that is exactly the kind of place Keith likes to visit.
For 37 years he has walked more than 26,000 miles, visited every continent and over 200 countries for one reason- to love people and share God’s love, carrying a 90 pound cross over his shoulder. Keith uses the cross to get people’s attention and show how much God loves them.
But when Keith returned to the US in March 2020, the world had changed. On March 12, the director of the World Health Organization declared the new COVID-19 infection a pandemic, and President Trump declared a national emergency for theUnited States. Travel, especially international travel, was curtailed drastically.
Keith would not leave the country again for almost a year, but he did not waste the time resting. He just changed the way he reached people. He continued walking in Oklahoma and nearby states and shared videos on his social media, writing
“Maybe some of those stories and the perspective gained can be an encouragement. I love the fact that even in these times of isolation we can stay connected through all our technology.”
In three previous posts I told you about my interview with Keith December of 2021 and a sermon he preached in Tulsa in February 2022. In this post I’m drawing from Keith’s social media posts and an interview with BURN podcaster Reese Black.
(I have edited some of Keith’s statements for clarity and conciseness. I have added scripture references when he did not.)
Back home in Tulsa, on March 28, 2020 Keith wrote,
“In the midst of all the fear, disruption, uncertainty, and confusion that’s going on in our world, we can be sure that our Father goes before us and walks together with us into the unknown.
Easter Sunday, April 10, 2020 churches were closed due to COVID. Keith was on the street to carry the cross- in his own home city Tulsa Oklahoma.
On that day he wrote on Facebook,
May the God of Hope deliver the gift of hope;
May the Prince of Peace guard hearts and minds with His perfect peace that passes all understanding;
May the Spirit of Comfort comfort & encourage hearts and
May the Savior of the World rescue and redeem lost and broken lives!
May 25, 2020
And then our country erupted into chaos, confusion, and confrontation.
It , 2020, was a season of adjustment. There were many distractions in the world, but I refused to be distracted by the politics. My message continued-know Jesus and love people.
“I’m heartsick about the times, when we, as Christians, have not lived according to Jesus’ teachings and created barriers to the faith. But …nameless men and women…humbly and courageously upheld the faith, have served in obscurity, have given their lives to help others”
I know one person who humbly upholds his faith, serves in relative obscurity, and has given his life to help others. Keith Wheeler from Tulsa Oklahoma has done so since 1985, travelling the world, meeting people in crowds, sometimes one on one, without introduction, without an entourage, without publicity. He does it because he loves Jesus and wants everyone else to love him.
Others do something like this, but unlike Keith, they don’t do it on foot (after flying into a country by plane, of course.) Nor do they do it carrying a 12 feet tall, 90 pound cross over a shoulder. But Keith Wheeler does.
I introduced you to Keith in two previous posts that I invite you to read. In 1985 he began walking around the world carrying his cross. He started in Tulsa Oklahoma and returned there when he had walked the entire circumference of the earth. Then he continued walking until March 2020 when like the rest of us his usual life routine was interrupted by the COVID 19 pandemic. But the pandemic did not stop his ministry, his love for God and people, and his desire for people to know Jesus. He just did it in differently.
Keith, the Cross, and COVID
Like millions of others, Keith was infected with the SARS-CoV-2 virus in early 2021. Fortunate, he had a mild case, not requiring hospital admission, and recovered after the recommended isolation time at his home in Tulsa.
He was well enough to pick up the cross and carry it in Florida on perhaps the most appropriate day of the year-Good Friday. A few months later he started travelling again, although at a limited extent due to worldwide travel restrictions.
The Interview, part 2
In November 2021 Keith was home in Tulsa and I caught up with him by video so we could maintain social distancing. I wrote about my interview with him in an earlier post and continue it here. (KW is Keith, I am AO.)
AO: Keith, have you started travelling overseas again?
KO: Some but mostly staying in the states, a lot of travel in Oklahoma and Texas, and to Central America and Paraguay. Travel is more difficult due to fewer direct connections, and the need to get tested for COVID so often. If a country requires a 2 week quarantine upon arrival, that’s not a good use of our resources. And it can be hard to maintain masking outdoors when it’s required by the local regulations.
AO: Keith, you called your COVID timeout a precious time with Jesus. KW: Yes it was. One of my favorite verses is John 13:23, in the King James Version (KJV) ;it says the disciple whom Jesus loved (believed to be John) was “reclining on Jesus’ bosom”. I like to think that meant the heart of Jesus, and that’s where I want to be.
AO: What was it like in 2020, not being able to travel internationally? KW: It was a season of adjustment. There were many distractions in the world, but I refused to be distracted by the politics. My message continued-know Jesus and love people.
AO: Keith, I suspect many people quote the scripture about taking up one’s cross. What does that mean to you? KW: Jesus said to be born again once, but several times he said to “take up your cross.” (Matthew 16:24) To be there are four aspects to taking up the cross. First, it needs to involve sacrifice, it has to cost something. It has to be chosen willingly. Next it needs to bring redemption to others, that is save them from sin, evil, or error. Finally, it has to bring glory to God.
AO: Keith, what should we learn from the pandemic, not just medically speaking, but socially and spiritually? KW: We have missed the presence of Jesus by insisting on our rights. A story in the Old Testament, about Joshua teaches a lesson about this. (Keith then told me this story)
While Joshua was there near Jericho: He looked up and saw right in front of him a man standing, holding his drawn sword. Joshua stepped up to him and said, “Whose side are you on—ours or our enemies’?” He said, “Neither. I’m commander of God’s army. I’ve just arrived.” Joshua fell, face to the ground, and worshiped. He asked, “What orders does my Master have for his servant?” God’s army commander ordered Joshua, “Take your sandals off your feet. The place you are standing is holy.” Joshua did it. Joshua 5:13-15, MSG
KW:Taking off one’s shoes is a sign of humility and submission, the very opposite of insisting on our rights.
Meeting Keith-and the Cross
That thought has stayed with me, long after Keith and I ended our talk so he could make it to another appointment. Since then, I have watched several of his YouTube videos, listened to other interviews, and a few weeks ago my husband and I had the pleasure of attending a local church where Keith spoke.
If you think Keith dresses up in a suit and tie to speak in churches-well, guess again. He looked like he had just walked in from the road, although I’m fairly sure he and his wife Nicole drove there. He brought the cross, which is just as big and impressive as it looks in his photos.
Before he spoke, Keith wasn’t backstage drinking coffee. He was in the auditorium, sitting at the far end of the front row, joining us in the music and worship time, sometimes kneeling as we sang, and occasionally lying prostrate on the floor. (Later over lunch my husband said he noticed Keith had “disappeared” and wondered where he was.) Before he started speaking, he invited all of us in the audience to kneel and pray, and as far as I could tell, we all did.
Keith’s message that morning was about-the Cross. He said almost everywhere in the world he travels people recognize the cross and what it stands for, but a few times he has gone places where people didn’t know.
Once he was in a large crowd in Nairobi Kenya, so crowded he could barely walk through. Suddenly the crowd parted to allow a blind man being led by a friend to approach. When he reached Keith, all he wanted to do was touch the cross. Then he walked away.
Keith says he should all be like the people in the Bible, John 12: 21, who came to the disciples, asking to see Jesus. Instead, we have taken our eyes off Jesus, off the cross, instead worrying abut masks, vaccines, and election fraud, which he calls distractions.
I was honored to meet him after the service, pose for a photo, and most importantly, touch the cross that has been up to Mt. Kilimanjaro. The cross wasn’t smooth and polished; it felt sturdy and rugged, the surface rough, like the one Jesus would have carried. It was a Sunday I will not forget.
Thanks for joining me to meet Keith Wheeler. Soon I will share another post about Keith, with info culled from his website, social media, and videos. Keith has encountered many situations involving conflict, and I’ll tell you about one that happened surprisingly right here in Tulsa Oklahoma.
I appreciate all of you who are following Watercress Words, and if you aren’t I invite you to join the wonderful people who are. You can meet some of them in the sidebar, where you can click on their image and visit their blogs. Use the form to get an email notification of new posts. Don’t worry, you won’t get anything else from me.
No, I wasn’t mad at God, I know that bad things happen to everyone. Jesus said that whoever wants to save their life should lose it, (Luke 9:24) so I know that either way I would be with Him. Jesus is my hope, my confidence, and peace, in all my life, including COVID.
Use these links to share the heart of health wherever you connect.