Cross-bearer comes to Porirua
Twenty-seven years ago Oklahoma man Keith Wheeler began a journey that would see him beaten, jailed, put in front of a firing squad, and become the guest of honour at Saddam Hussein's palace, all while lugging a heavy wooden cross on his shoulders.
And last week he shored up in Porirua.
The self-described pilgrim says he has travelled 37,000 kilometres since Good Friday in 1985, when he was called by God to take the cross on his shoulders and walk.
Over the years Mr Wheeler, 52, has visited 202 countries including Antarctica, and 40 in wartime. Last year he was in Libya and Egypt during the civil wars, and visited Rwanda during the 1990s genocide.
He once showed up at the Iraq border with his three-metre high cross and no visa. He was invited to Saddam Hussein's palace for dinner, and has the photos to prove it.
Mr Wheeler has been in prison 40 times - the cross has been in jail 50 times, he says.
He claims to have been stoned with rocks, beaten with baseball bats, sawn-off shotguns and a 2x4, and left for dead twice. He was once in front of a firing squad in Mexico at night, he says, but the executioners were thrown to the ground and frightened by a blinding light.
"I've lived more life in 52 years than many people do in 100 years," he says. "I have seen the worst of the worst of humanity. My message is that the cross is where the worst of mankind meets the best of God."
That cross is heavy - Mr Wheeler has a huge indentation in his left collarbone from carrying it for so long. He says God might not have literally meant him to lug a gigantic cross around the world.
"I think he'll say 'thanks for trying'."
Mr Wheeler does not belong to a particular denomination and does not try to convert people to Christianity, he says.
"I'm a follower of Jesus. I don't have anything for anybody to join," he says. "I love Him. I represent Him and I want people to know He loves them."
He first visited New Zealand 10 years ago, and came back to visit his friend, Tawa man Matthew Lai.
To see photos of Keith Wheeler's travels visit www.facebook.com/ pages/Keith-Wheeler