By NANCY FLOWERS
Surely you’ve seen them. Three crosses together, a large one in the center flanked by two smaller ones, usually close to the road. And they’re not just in Mississippi. These roadside crosses can be seen all over our country and in three foreign countries, representing Christ crucified on the cross with the two criminals beside Him. They are daily reminders to millions of motorists that there is hope in Jesus Christ. And they are put there with love by Crosses Across America.
Crosses Across America began in 1984 as Crosses of Mercy—Cast Thy Bread, Inc., a ministry established by Bernard Coffindaffer. Coffindaffer, owner of a coal-washing business, became a Christian at the age of 42, and, later, a lay minister in the Methodist church. After two heart bypasses, he felt impressed by the Holy Spirit to begin constructing crosses all over America. He sold his business and used his own money to fund a 35-year effort that resulted in 2,000 crosses built in America, the Philippines, and Zambia. Landowners donated the sites, and Coffindaffer paid all expenses to build the crosses. The effort ended in 1993 when Coffindaffer passed away.
In 1999, Sara Abraham took the reins of the ministry, forming a new non-profit called Crosses Across America, Inc., and moved its national headquarters to Vicksburg. She and 1,400 volunteers nationwide have continued and expanded Coffindaffer’s work, restoring already-established crosses and building new ones, with a goal of placing the crosses every 50 miles along America’s interstates and highways.
“It is amazing how God works using unlikely people,” says Sara. “And there couldn’t be anyone more unlikely than me!”
Sara spends much of her time speaking to groups, meeting with site owners, and promoting the ministry. Before she officially took over in 1999, she asked for a paint donation from the chief executive officer of Sherwin-Williams. The crosses had not been maintained for six years and were in need of repainting. She sent him letters, and was able to secure an appointment. Before she met with him, she was told that the company would donate a gallon of paint for each cross at every site. Volunteers could visit their local Sherwin-Williams paint store and present a voucher to pick up a can of paint, which at that time cost $30.
“When I met with the CEO in his opulent office, I felt like Little Orphan Annie!” laughs Sara. “I was so glad I was able to thank him in person for what ended up being a $180,000 gift. God gave us such favor with him, for we never could have afforded to purchase that much paint.”
Crosses Across America will soon be in Nova Scotia, placing reminders of Jesus Christ in a country whose religious landscape has been changing as more Canadians belong to minority faiths or declare no religion at all.
In the Jackson metro area, four different projects will be completed in the coming weeks. A trio of steel crosses, two 50-foot and one 60-foot, will be built in Clinton at the Burger King at I-20 and Springridge Rd. Crosses Across America, along with site owner Dr. Bill Thomas, will partner with Mission: Dignity, a financial-assistance ministry to widows of pastors who served in small churches. People will be able to donate to Mission: Dignity at the cross site.
Three large crosses, the center measuring 150 feet tall and two on each side measuring 125 feet tall, will be built at The Stack, where I-20 intersects I-55 on property owned by Morris Gray.
The site of First Baptist Church in Brandon has been a place of unexpected controversy for Crosses Across America. The church had agreed to provide the site and maintenance for a 110- foot-tall cross, which is the height of an 11-story building. Approval had been granted from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and the Mississippi Department of Transportation (MDOT).
“Ninety-two thousand cars pass by First Baptist Church in Brandon every day,” Sara says. “MDOT calculates that to be 50 million people each year. We were thrilled for the opportunity to place a cross there. A church member told me, ‘Mrs. Abraham, I was hoping I could live to see that cross built.’”
However, Brandon’s city planning commission voted 4-3 not to allow the cross at the church’s site, sparking controversy in the community. When the final decision was made to deny the project because of the size of the cross, some began to speculate if there were other reasons.
“The commission seemed to be more concerned about a few Muslims than the 50 million people each year who pass by First Baptist in Brandon,” Sara says. “It was the biggest disappointment in my years with this ministry.”
But where God shuts some doors, He opens others. Carroll Berry, owner of Berry’s Seafood Restaurant on Hwy. 49 in Florence, called Sara after he read about the controversy in the Clarion-Ledger. He told her that he was building a larger restaurant across the highway from his current location, and said he would like to put the cross there. Florence’s aldermen gave unanimous approval. The cross should be built later this spring.
Though they were not able to have the larger cross on their property, First Baptist in Brandon will be the site for a smaller cross, reminding millions of people of the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Crosses Across America operates on the power of its 1,400 dedicated volunteers who are motivated by gospel love and the opportunity to share the message of the Cross of Christ to a lost and dying world. From those who help with administrative work, to those all over the country who build and maintain the crosses, everyone, including Sara, donates their time. A group of men from Wynndale Baptist Church in Terry go out one Saturday each month to repair and build crosses—and have even traveled to Arkansas, with materials and equipment purchased at their own expense, to build three crosses.
Sara and her volunteers only rarely hear the stories of how the crosses impact people. They are content to be obedient and let the Lord handle the rest. But one story touched Sara deeply.
A man, who had once worked in a bank, became a long distance truck driver. When he was out on a long trip with his driving partner, an atheist, his wife called to tell him that her doctor was fairly certain she had a malignant brain tumor. He was in Los Angeles and couldn’t get back to be with her for the biopsy. He saw the familiar trio of crosses. He pulled his truck over, left his sleeping partner, and walked to the crosses to pray. In great agony, he prayed for the Lord to heal his wife and to be with her because he couldn’t. His partner woke up and found him on his knees at the crosses.
“The biopsy results came back and, to the doctor’s surprise, the tumor was non-malignant,” Sara says. “And the amazing part is that the atheist driving partner came to faith in Christ! If only this one man was saved through the crosses, it would all be worth it.”
Several years ago Sara attended a meeting, and, over lunch with other attendees, she met country singer Randy Travis. As they talked, Travis said he would like to come to Vicksburg to play at an event Sara’s husband, Fred, was coordinating at the city’s Civic Center.
“I told him we’d love to have him but had no budget for him, and he offered to come for free,” says Sara. “We had to turn away 2,000 people because of the fire code.”
While Travis was in Vicksburg, he played a song for Sara. She listened to it and asked him to play it again. He told her he would dedicate the song to the ministry. The song “Three Wooden Crosses” became Travis’s sixteenth Number One single, was named Song of the Year in 2003 by the Country Music Association, and won a Dove Award from the Gospel Music Association as Country Song of the Year for 2004. Maybe you’ve heard it.
“There are three wooden crosses on the right side of the highway,
Why there’s not four of them, Heaven only knows.
I guess it’s not what you take when you leave this world behind you,
It’s what you leave behind you when you go.”
After 15 years, Sara is still passionate about the crosses. When she hears comments like, “I always look forward to passing the crosses on my way home,” or “When I see the crosses, I know God is with me,” she knows that the work started long ago continues to remind drivers of the gospel message of Jesus Christ.
“If at all possible, we light every cross we put up,” she says. “That way people have a 24-hour reminder of the 24-hour presence of Christ in their lives.”
For more information, visit www.crossesacrossamerica.com.
Nancy Flowers writes, teaches the Bible, and sells real estate in the Jackson area. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org, or follow her on Twitter @NancyHFlowers.