Keith Wheeler-“take up your cross”

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”

John D. Woodbridge, PhD, in The Case for Faith by Lee Strobel

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.

a man surrounded by children, all carrying a large cross
Keith loves kids.

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.

men carrying a cross up a rugged mountain wall
Keith with his trail guides carrying the cross up Mt. Kilimanjaro in Tanzania Africa

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.

a man holding a large cross
Keith speaking at a local church, photo by Raymond Oglesby

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.

Keith Wheeler holding his cross with Dr. Aletha
photo by Raymond Oglesby

You can find Keith at Keith Wheeler Ministries

The Message Bible Copyright © 1993, 2002, 2018 by Eugene H. Peterson

King James Version -Public Domain

sharing the HEART of faith, hope, and love

Thanks for joining me to meet Keith Wheeler. I shared another post about Keith, with info culled from his website, social media, and videos. Keith has encountered many situations involving conflict, and one that happened surprisingly right here in Tulsa Oklahoma.

Doctor Aletha

Keith Wheeler-a Cross and COVID

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.

Keith Wheeler-a Cross and COVID

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.

If you missed part 1 of this series, you may want to read it first.

Keith Wheeler- a cross and a collarbone

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…

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.

Keith in Washington, D.C.

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.

I’m sorry I haven’t posted much since my Covid “timeout”! Lots of fun things have been going on… As we carried the cross in Florida on Good Friday so very many precious, beautiful people came to the cross…

Of course, the pandemic was still active, so when necessary, Keith masked up-in his own style of course.

HAHA! WAAAY better than the “standard” blue face mask!

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

a world globe with two crossed bandaids

Doctor Aletha

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