By LINDSAY GLADU, Special to the Bulletin | Published August 7, 2014
ATLANTA—John Bessis, 21, grew apprehensive as he stood on Atlanta’s Pine Street with a 50-pound cross pressing down on his back.
An agitated man was shouting at Bessis about the 6-foot-tall, pressure-treated wooden symbol.
“He said that I was disrespecting God for bringing the cross into that place,” Bessis said. “He said, ‘Do you know what we do here? We sell dope, we pimp, sell prostitutes. What are you doing bringing that cross up here? Take it away from here.’”
Then the man started to remove his watch and jewelry. It appeared that 80 miles into Bessis’ 431-mile journey across Georgia, he would have to turn the other cheek literally.
In that tense moment, Bessis waited for God to act.
As abruptly as the rancor started, it dissolved. The man asked to carry the cross to the end of the street for Bessis.
“So here this hardened man took up my cross and walked it to the end of Peachtree and Pine and set it down,” Bessis said. “As he was walking back, he came straight up to me, shook my hand and gave me a bro-hug. Then he said, ‘God bless you, have a nice day and don’t come back.’ Afterward, I was awestruck by how God works.”
Bessis, donning a traditional cotton robe worn by Middle Eastern men, began his spiritual march on June 8 in Rome, where he is living and attending Georgia Highlands College. He plans on continuing his walk through Atlanta all the way to Myrtle Beach, S.C., where his mother lives.
His journey has already stretched beyond his original plans of 30 to 40 days on the road. He only had one rule though for his trek: Don’t complain.
Between the greetings from strangers, the St. Mary Church in Rome parishioner doesn’t have time to complain.
On July 23 Bessis was stopped over and over by onlookers and caused a few traffic jams as he plodded down Peachtree Road near Christ the King Cathedral, where he planned to attend confession that day after his walk.
He stopped for a rest outside of Starfish Restaurant when a Korean woman walked out of the glass doors to speak with Bessis. She marveled at the heft of the handmade cross. She offered him water and to buy him dinner, which he gratefully accepted.
“People look at me cock-eyed, curious, but they don’t trust it,” he said, of Atlanta. “People have been hurt. I understand that. They have walls.”
His encounters with people have been overwhelmingly positive though—a good thing since he’s making the journey solely on the kindness of strangers.
But conditions are poor.
He’s slept on the streets and been roused by people asking him to leave. The bottom of the cross is ragged from his dragging it mile by mile. He only rests on Sundays.
So why is Bessis spending his nights swatting at mosquitos instead of hanging with his friends like other 21-year-olds?
“God called me to take up this cross and walk across Georgia in the prayer and hope that when people see me, that they will see Jesus and be reminded of the love that he had for them when he took up his own cross and he walked to Golgotha hill to die for their sins. And that they, in their own turn, would be inspired and encouraged to take up their own crosses and follow after him.”
As he speaks those words, a car zings by and someone yells “Praise Jesus!”
Right now, Bessis is sure that he’s right where he needs to be.
While he doesn’t know what will come after his journey, Bessis is optimistic about his future. His travels are a journey of “complete trust” in God, and, for now, that’s more than enough for him.
Follow John Bessis on his walk through Georgia and South Carolina on his Facebook page, https://www.facebook.com/takingupthecross4christ.