Dragging a 30kg wooden cross, pastor Etienne de Villiers of East London walked past the turnoff to Stilbaai on the N2 last week, all the way from East London.
De Villiers and former drug addicts Willie Venter and Michael Cilliers take turns bearing the cross on the tarred highway in temperatures ranging from about 12 degrees centigrade to about 38 degrees. Although a wheel is attached to the base, the 2.8metre-high and 1.6m-wide wooden bars are still a heavy burden they have grown accustomed to shouldering on the 50km-a-day walk from East London, which they left on December 11, en route to Saldanha Bay, which they hope to reach on January 11.
There they will be met by a Christian television station planning to make a documentary about their East 2 West Coast Crosswalk, an initiative of the Without Walls church in East London .
“We are doing this because it’s what God told us to do: to exalt the name of Jesus by taking Santa Claus out of Christmas and putting Christ back into what is a holy day,” says De Villiers.
The men are exuberant as they describe the “awesome” reception from strangers they have met along the way. At night they have slept either in shelters for the homeless, or under the stars. Most of their meals have been provided free of charge by people responding to their message of faith.
In one of Mossel Bay’s shelters, their words so inspired a homeless man that he joined them, and is now also preaching the salvation gospel.
“We have seen God open the eyes of a blind woman when there was no preaching, or organ playing. He touched her, and that was all she needed to regain her sight.”
De Villiers, from the Lighthouse Church, and his companions from Without Walls, stop at police stations along the way to express their gratitude to the officers for performing a “thankless task”.
In Albertinia, a small town about 40 km from Mossel Bay enroute to Riversdale, their visit to the station coincided with an end-of-year braai the police were enjoying. The footsore men were invited to share the meat on the coals as they told their stories about former addiction and the healing they said had come directly from Christ, without a need for rehabilitation therapy or medical help.
In Cilliers’ words, the change he underwent since breaking free from addiction has made him realise that “seeing and experiencing the power of God is the ultimate drug”.
Venter says his years of addiction are behind him forever as he relies on the healing power of faith in God: “There is no future in the past.”
Originally from Port Elizabeth, Steven Richardson says he joined the three men in Mossel Bay because he realised that he was homeless anywhere as long as he was not near God.