If you missed part 1 of this series, you may want to read it first.
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.
In it, I introduced you to Keith Wheeler who has walked around the world-literally; he has covered over 25,000 miles on all 7 continents. He can’t say how many countries, since names and boundaries change, but it’s at least 180. And on every step, he has carried a 90 pounds, 12 feet by 6 feet cross draped over his shoulder.
Keith does this because he loves Jesus, and he wants people to know that Jesus loves them too. In his own words,
“I love God and I love the people of the world. To me, ministry is simply the overflow of a life lived in love with Jesus. I feel that Jesus has many servants but very few friends. It’s one thing to be called a friend; it’s another to actually be a friend. I want to be His friend.
2020-a travel interruption
After trips to Tuvalu, Brazil, the Caribbean, and Northwest Territories, Canada in early 2020, Keith’s travels were interrupted by the pandemic in March. For the rest of 2020 he walked through the Tulsa Oklahoma area, near his home and even made it to Washington, D.C. where he encountered some people he knows from Tulsa.
I’ll tell you more about his 2020 activities in the next post of this series.
2021- travel resumes; then another interruption
He travelled to Paraguay in March 2021 despite difficult pandemic travel restrictions. By the time he landed back home at Tulsa International Airport he was feeling unwell. Over the next day he continued “feeling a little puny”, with a sore throat and stuffy nose. He consulted a physician who recommended a nasal swab viral test-and so on March 21, 2021, Keith was diagnosed with COVID-19.
A special time with Jesus
On Keith’s Facebook page from March 21 through 28, 2021, he described his “COVID timeout”. He did a series of videos from his study, where he keeps his second cross that has been retired. He spent much of his time there, to remain isolated from his family. He called this a “special time with Jesus.”
In November 2021 I visited with Keith by video to talk about his life, his ministry, and specifically his COVID-19 illness. As I mentioned in part 1, it’s hard to interview Keith about himself, because invariably he turns the conversation back to Jesus. But that’s how he lives his life, so to meet Keith is to meet Jesus.
This part will be in interview format with me as AO and Keith as KW. It is edited for clarity and I’ve inserted some background information for context.
The interview-November 2021
AO: Keith, how did you feel when you learned you had COVID-19? Were you a little mad at God, after all you caught it while you were travelling on his behalf? Did you worry that you might die of COVID?
KW: 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.
AO: Keith, what was COVID like for you? How did you manage the symptoms?
KW: I had sniffles, a sore throat, and chills. I lost my sense of smell; and I still don’t have it for bad smells. The worst was my mental focus was off, so much so I couldn’t read. I was sleepy and slept a lot. I kept myself hydrated, took vitamins, and concentrated on breathing.
AO: And what about your wife?
KW: Nicole was out of town when I got home from Paraguay and got diagnosed with COVID. So I had time to sanitize the areas of the house I had used and moved upstairs before she returned.
She would leave meals at the bottom of the stairs, I would come down, take it back up. I would sit at the top of the stairs eating and she sat at the bottom, so we could still have meals together. When I felt up to it, we went outdoors for walks-she walked on the sidewalk and I walked in the middle of the street, 6 feet away.
In his COVID timeout videos, each day he said he was “doing well”, and by the 24th, he was “better”. By Sunday March 28, he ended isolation-fitting since that was Palm Sunday, the day Christians remember Jesus riding into Jerusalem on a donkey; a week later he would be crucified on a cross like the one Keith carries. (John 12:12-14)
By Good Friday, April 2, 2021, Keith was back out on the road, carrying the cross in Florida.
Of course, the pandemic was still active, so when necessary, Keith masked up-in his own style of course.
Keith and I talked about lessons learned from the pandemic and his thoughts on the division that has rocked our nation this past 2 years. He calls this a “season of adjustment” in which we have “missed the presence of Jesus.” I’ll share more about that in part 3, as well as a unique encounter right here in Tulsa.
Exploring the HEART of health with Keith Wheeler
I know you are intriqued with Keith’s unique approach to service, so please come back in a couple of weeks for part 3 in this series.
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