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 states. And then he just kept walking- and carrying the cross.

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.

The clavicles are 2 thin curved bones at the top of the chest that attach to the breast bone in the center forming a CROSS.

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.

in Saudia Arabia

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.

Carrying the cross on Lewis Avenue in Tulsa by the Praying Hands statue at ORU

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.”

at the site of Typhoon Yolanda in the Philippines that killed 6000 people and displaced 4 million.

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.

confronting policia

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.

Nicole and Keith Wheeler, “carrying the cross around the world”

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

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.

Don’t forget to check back in a few weeks for part 2, and maybe even a part 3. Subscribe by email for notification and also watch on my social media pages.

a world globe with two crossed bandaids

Doctor Aletha

Security vs. Liberty-the Eternal Dilemma

we Americans have trouble re-calibrating our traditional (and laudable) devotion to individual rights and civil liberties. That is the fundamental reason we’ve been so slow in getting serious about a virus. quote Charles Krauthammer

Since the start of the pandemic, and especially since it has become so politicized and polarized, I have wondered what the late Dr. Charles Krauthammer might have written in his Washington Post column. For many years he commented on all things political, social, and occasionally medical, having left his psychiatric medical practice for a journalism career. As I searched my previous posts about him, I found reference to a piece discussing a situation similar to COVID-19-the Ebola epidemic of 2014.

sign which says EBOLA, "wash hands with soap"
this image depicts an illustrative sticker that had been produced by the United Nations Children’s Fund, or UNICEF, which emphasized the importance of handwashing in the battle against this viral disease. credit to CDC/ Dr. Heidi Soeters, public domain

In 2014 when an Ebola epidemic broke out in Africa, a Liberian man entered the United States, became ill, and presented to a hospital emergency room; before he was isolated, healthcare workers were exposed. He was eventually diagnosed with Ebola and a nurse became infected. It caused a public health scandal which was widely criticized.

Fortunately, although deadly, Ebola is not as casually transmitted as coronavirus (not respiratory born) and never rose to pandemic proportions. But certain aspects of its presence in the United States mimics an aspect of COVID-19 which is hotly debated-personal freedom vs the common good.

Dr. Krauthammer wrote a piece commenting on this. I am quoting a few key paragraphs that particularly apply to the COVID-19 crisis. In italics I have inserted words referring to the specifics of the 2020 pandemic.

man sitting in front of computer monitor at the CDC.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) activated its Emergency Operations Center (EOC) to assist public health partners in responding to the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) outbreak first identified in Wuhan, China.Credit James Gathany, Public domain
Coronavirus vs civil liberties (quoting Dr. Krauthammer, unless noted)

Unnervingly, the U.S. public health services remain steps behind the Ebola virus (Coronavirus). Contact tracing is what we do, Centers for Disease Control Director Tom Frieden (Robert Redfield) assured the nation. It will stop the epidemic “in its tracks.”

These missteps raise questions of competence, candor and false confidence. But the problem is deeper. And it rests not in our doctors but in ourselves.

In the face of a uniquely dangerous threat, we Americans have trouble re-calibrating our traditional (and laudable) devotion to individual rights and civil liberties. That is the fundamental reason we’ve been so slow in getting serious about Ebola (COVID-19). Consider:

Privacy

In normal circumstances, privacy deserves absolute respect. But these are not normal circumstances. We’re talking about a possible epidemic by an unseen pathogen that kills 70 percent of its victims. Contact tracing is the key to stopping it, we’ve been told. 

Note: As of June 23, 2020, in the United States, COVID-19 has caused death in

  • 0/1000 cases in children
  • 1-8/1000 cases in people 18-49 years old
  • 29/1000 cases in ages 50-64 years
  • 100-300/1000 cases in ages 65 years and older.
Quarantine

Quarantine is the ultimate violation of civil liberties. Having committed no crime, having done no wrong, you are sentenced to house arrest or banishment. It’s unfair. It’s, well, un-American. But when an epidemic threatens, we do it because we must.

(Note: Americans have been asked to quarantine if they have come in close contact with someone confirmed with COVID-19. If they have the infection, they must self isolate for at least 10 days. )

Evacuation

Training and equipping every hospital in America to treat this rare disease would be ridiculously expensive and 99 percent wasted. Every Ebola (COVID-19) patient should be evacuated to a specialized regional isolation center, such as the ones in Atlanta, Omaha or Bethesda.

(Note: With the large number of COVID-19 hospitalizations, it is impractical to treat all patients at isolation centers. However, their care requires a high level of medical sophistication only available at large medical centers by physicians, nurses, and other professionals trained in critical and intensive care. Such care can potentially overwhelm the medical system, making care of COVID-19 patients more difficult and making care of other critically ill patients less available.)

Travel bans

The CDC argues that a travel ban would stop the flow of medical assistance to West Africa. This is silly. Simply make an exception for health-care workers. They apply to federal authorities, who charter their flights (or use military aircraft already headed there) and monitor their movements until 21 days (14 days) after their return home.

(Note: Non-essential travel to China from the United States was banned soon after the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, and travel to other parts of the world followed. Ironically in July of 2020, some countries banned entry of arrivals from the United States due to a surge in cases. Some states instituted quarantine requirements for visitors from other states to limit spread during the summer surge of cases. )

President Obama, in his messianic period, declared that choosing between security and liberty was a false choice. On the contrary. It is the eternal dilemma of every free society. Politics is the very process of finding some equilibrium between these two competing values.

Regarding terrorism, we’ve developed a fairly reasonable balance. But it took time. With Ebola (COVID-19), we don’t have time. Viruses don’t wait. The sooner we reset the balance — the sooner we get serious — the safer we will be.

Here is a link to his original article which I hope you will read.

Charles Krauthammer: Ebola vs civil liberties

Resetting the balance with COVID-19

To contain and “flatten the curve” of COVID-19 cases, American citizens have been asked to limit or even avoid many common activities; these restrictions have been met with resistance and outright defiance. These include

  • closing “non-essential” businesses
  • closing schools
  • closing religious institutions
  • closing entertainment venues
  • deferring private social gatherings
  • avoiding non-essential travel
  • maintaining “social distance” when in public
  • wearing face coverings in public and at home if ill
cloth facial coverings to prevent transmission of COVID-19

This last one, wearing face coverings to prevent the spread of coronavirus containing droplets, has at times been the most contentious among people, with some enthusiastically embracing their use and some rejecting.

Even the two candidates for President had different responses initially, with Mr. Trump refusing to wear one, while Mr. Biden did. (By mid July, Mr. Trump began wearing a mask and urged citizens to do so.)

We’re instead asking Americans to use masks, socially distance, and employ vigorous hygiene — wash your hands every chance you get — while sheltering high-risk populations.  We are imploring young Americans to avoid packed bars and other crowded indoor gatherings.  Be safe and be smart.

President Donald Trump, July 21, 2020

Some cities passed ordinances making masks mandatory, although some didn’t. By late July 2020 many major retailers including Walmart , Target, Costco, and CVS required customers to wear a face cover to enter their stores.

from the CDC website

Life vs Liberty

In 1776 when the American colonies threw off unjust English rule, the leaders declared independence based on the rights of

Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness

The Declaration of Independence

But when Life is threatened by disease, Liberty may also be threatened- and it remains to be seen if the democratic government they established can save both .

exploring the HEART of health and freedom

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.

Dr Aletha

before you leave you may enjoy
at a baseball game, a player at bat

Dr. Charles Krauthammer- eternal Washington Nationals fan

When I read Charles Krauthammer book, Things That Matter, one of the most important things I learned wasn’t about politics, medicine, or ethics, subjects he knew well and wrote about often. I learned that he was a die hard Washington Nationals baseball fan.

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