Photo by Elaine Rackley
Lynne Jenkins (from left), Hampton Mayor R.W. Coley, and Eddie Matthews discuss the cross Matthews has in his front yard to commemorate the Easter season.
By Jason A. Smith
An eight-foot-tall cross, draped in a purple robe and Easter lilies, stands in Eddie Matthews' front yard, in Hampton. He said the reason he had the cross installed at his home two months ago, was to share his Christian faith with the world.
"The reason I'm doing this is not for Eddie Matthews," he said. "I'm doing this so that people will see this as a reminder of the sufferings of our lord and savior, Jesus Christ. I'm just doing it for the glory of God, that Christians will rejoice in Easter, and that people will know that Easter means a lot to me.
"[The Apostle] Paul said in Romans 1:16, 'For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God unto salvation.'"
The concept for the cross came to Matthews, 54, and a member of the First Baptist Church of Hampton, while he was conducting a Bible study in his home. He hosts the non-denominational study each Thursday, at 7 p.m., for the public. "I was talking to a guy named Alan Blissit, and said I wanted to have a cross in my front yard as my testimony," Matthews recalled. "After we got the cross put up, it was plain. We put nails on it, and white paint, and red paint to symbolize blood."
Blissit, 48, of McDonough, works for a natural gas pipeline company, and attends Momentum Christian Church in McDonough. "I thought that it was great that he wanted to show his love for Christ," said Blissit.
Matthews is a former receiving manager for the Pep Boys Distribution Center, in McDonough. He said it was important to him to erect the cross, because it allows him to spread the gospel when he might not otherwise be able to so. He has been bed-ridden for the past seven years, with primary lateral sclerosis (PLS), a progressive, degenerative disease characterized by stiffness. He, typically, is unable to see the cross from his bedroom window.
Blissit said Matthews' faith serves as an inspiration, in part, because of the PLS condition. "With his disability, you could give up hope," said Blissit. "Yet, he chooses to keep a strong faith in God. We just hope everyone will see that love."
In spite of Matthews' physical limitations, he remains undaunted in his faith, and wants others to know that his physical struggles have not diminished his reliance on God. "I do get people to get me up in my power chair, and I go outside to look at it," he said. "My faith has gotten stronger in the last four or five years. Paul had a thorn in the flesh, and prayed for God to remove it, but God didn't. God told him His grace was sufficient. My thorn in the flesh is that I can't walk, and I'm totally dependent on others."
Matthews said the response he has gotten from local residents, who have seen his cross, has been encouraging. "I've had a lot of pastors driving by, and telling me how great the cross is," he said.
One such pastor, who regularly drives by Matthews' home, is Mike Hardin from First Baptist Church of Lovejoy. Hardin said he is encouraged by Matthews' willingness to live out his Christian faith for others to see, through the cross on his property.
"I think it's quite a testimony," said Hardin. "We seem to live in a post-Christian age. It's just a way for those that are Christians to identify ourselves as Christians, and say to this community that we still believe."
Hampton Mayor R.W. Coley met Matthews while the mayor was delivering Meals on Wheels to his home. Coley is a member of Hampton United Methodist Church, where he has served previously as a board member. He says the cross, which is dripping in red paint, to signify the blood stains of Christ, should send a message to the city's residents.
"I want people to think about Eddie's love for God as they pass his house," said Coley. "He's [Matthew] got a real good attitude, despite his disability. The cross goes along with his attitude."
Lynne Jenkins, of Hampton, referred to Matthew's yard cross as "awesome." She was passing by his home Thursday, when she saw the cross and pulled over to speak with the person who would have a cross in their yard.
"I said to myself, something is going on in this house," said Jenkins, 70. "This is someone I need to know.
"It represents the passion of Christ to care enough about us, to die for us, so that we can live," said Jenkins. "He [Matthew] is communicating to me the symbol of life, and eternal life comes through death [of Christ]."
Matthews said there is no known cause, and no cure, for PLS, which sometimes develops into amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, also known as Lou Gehrig's Disease. He acknowledged his condition may eventually take his life, but said he looks forward to the day when his body will be healed in Heaven.
"I used to be a very independent person," he said. "I've had to give all that up to be dependent on others to do things for me. But, I've got peace and I've got joy, because I look forward to my savior's soon return. I believe that the Christ is on His way. It won't be much longer that he'll tarry."
In addition to his weekly Bible study, Matthews has also established a prayer line, which he operates from his home. To reach the prayer line, call (770) 707-0520.
-- Staff writer Elaine Rackley contributed to this article.