Dear Family and Friends,
Praise the Lord! Greetings in Jesus’ precious name! How are you? Things here on the Wheeler home-front are great!
Well, by the grace of God, we made it! What an awesome trip!! I’ve recently returned from carrying the cross through Syria, Lebanon, and Cyprus. All three are nations at war, and Syria and Lebanon are Muslim nations. This was such an incredible trip that it would be hard to believe … except that I had a couple of wonderful friends who went with me, and they saw it with their own eyes, as well! I’m so thankful for David Fansler and Jason Rogers. We were able to rent a car, and Dave did a wonderful job of driving ahead with our gear and helping us find a place to sleep or something cold to drink. Jason often walked alongside me, but he also took some of the most beautiful roadside photos I’ve ever had. From the moment of our arrival until the time we left, there was incredible openness and favor shown to us. While others had their luggage inspected at customs, we passed through without a single question … with a twelve-foot wooden cross!! We felt we were walking in an absolute miracle. We were regularly given food and housing by the Muslims! I even had Muslims for interpreters, Suni, and Shiite–even Druze!
We were overwhelmed at the wonderful hospitality shown to a pilgrim cross-bearer in lands that are traditionally hostile toward Christians. It was only God who could get us safely into these war-devastated countries, helping us freely and openly carry the cross in love, peace, and reconciliation, and then, getting us out! God truly made our way clear, covering us with His hand and sending His angels before us. At different times, gunfire or bombing broke out near where we were carrying the cross. One day in south Lebanon, a bomb hit less than a mile from where we were carrying the cross, and killed nine people. God truly is our shield!
My heart grieves at the bitterness, sorrow, and despair of people created by the cruelty of war. It’s hard to imagine the anguish and suffering that war can do to the human heart. Each side is readily able to justify their acts of violence because of past atrocities and bloodshed. It is this memory of past injustices, combined with the pain of recent cruelties that is fueling the fire of what is happening today. Tragically, war has become so common in this region of the world that we met people who would say, “We don’t want peace–we wouldn’t know what to do with peace.” People were still living in the bombed-out ruins of apartment buildings. They wouldn’t repair their homes because, “Why fix it; we might be bombed again tomorrow.”
War creates such despair and hopelessness. I only pray that holding up the cross of peace in this hate-filled region helped. I pray that we were a light for love, justice, and reconciliation. In these Muslim lands, where we literally walked for days without seeing a church, we were allowed the opportunity to speak of the true and living Jesus. We shared that in Him alone is there hope, good news, and life eternal. When people approached me and asked about the cross, I would tell them we were there for peace, for love, and for God. “I bring good news! You can have peace … but only to the degree that you allow Jesus Christ, the Prince of Peace, to rule and reign in your hearts. If we don’t have peace in our own hearts, how can we have peace in the world? A changed world begins with a changed heart, and only God can change our hearts.”
The cross was never intended as an instrument of fear and cruelty against a people, but against God … Who forgives all of us. It is at the cross where there can be hope, love, peace, and justice. This is the place where all people can gather together and injustices can be laid aside. Hurt, bitterness, and hatred can be cleansed at the cross, and we can have a new beginning. Not only was the cross a place of death, but it became a place of hope through the resurrection of Jesus. While there, the people would come out to me and say, “We know that you are a man of peace.You are sent from Jesus to us.”
On this trip, I had the privilege of speaking and praying with many people. Only God knows what really happened in the hearts of the people along the way. In a place like this, the people truly have to count the cost before they choose to follow Jesus. I was amazed at their love and response to the cross. I carry their faces in my heart along with so many others I’ve met along the roads of the world since 1985. What a glorious privilege to carry the cross!
We truly wish we could see you and spend some time with you. We’re thankful, though, for those of you we are able to see and speak to at different times. We’re also thankful for God’s Spirit that keeps our hearts close. I really hope and pray that you feel these letters are to you, from and about our family and the ministry God has called us to, with concern about you. I really pray that you hear my heart. This isn’t about what we’re doing, but it’s about what God is doing through so many of you and us together. We only want to be the kind of vessels through which He can reach a lost and hurting world through. Thank you so much for your letters and calls; thanks for your prayers and your gifts! Only God knows how deeply thankful we are to be able to work alongside of Jesus with people like you. Thanks for your prayers and for loving God so much!! Hope to see you soon!
God Bless You!!