Photo by Kathy Jefcoats
John Hicks holds unpainted and painted crosses he makes in his Yatesville shop. He delivered about 800 of the unfinished crosses to First Baptist Church in Lovejoy just before Easter.
Easter is a time of remembrance and reflection for Christians all over the world.
For Christians who observe Easter Sunday as the day Jesus rose from the grave after being crucified, the symbol of the cross holds a reverent place in their lives. For members of Lovejoy First Baptist Church, the cross is a daily reminder of the sacrifice Jesus made for the world.
Since 2010, volunteers have built thousands of small wooden crosses and gave them away free so Christians everywhere can display the “quiet yet powerful” message that they believe in God.
The cross ministry is led by Jimmy Livingston and John Hicks.
“For some, it’s like salvation and people run with it,” said Livingston. “For others, they use it as a tool for others to witness to.”
The idea of crosses across America started several years ago in Frankenmuth, Mich., when a resident complained about crosses at a roadside memorial. The town, which boasts a Lutheran heritage, took down the crosses. However, when the same resident threatened to file suit over the city’s shield, which includes a cross to symbolize Lutheranism, his neighbors took issue.
“The citizens stood up and put crosses in all their yards,” said Livingston. “Wouldn’t it be nice if all Christians did that?”
The idea started out as a suggestion that Christians take it upon themselves to build or buy the white crosses for display. However, Livingston said God had a better idea.
“God inspired me that the churches should do it,” he said. “So I presented it to our pastor. I didn’t know how far we’d go with it when we started in 2010.”
Crosses were passed out at the Lovejoy church but the second congregation to get on board was Sunnyside Methodist, up the road from the Baptist church.
“They were the first church to put them in the ground so people could pick up one on the way out,” said Livingston. “It’s inter-denominational. It’s God.”
A Holiness church in Cochran took back 200 crosses to be handed out in the small south Georgia community.
“We’ve got crosses in at least seven states,” said Livingston. “Our vision is all the crosses are similar in size and color so they are readily identifiable.”
Cross dimensions are posted on the ministry’s Facebook page for communities unable to get free crosses in Lovejoy.
Hicks was creating custom furniture in his Yatesville woodworking shop, making a lucrative for him and his family, when he said the Lord led him to make crosses. He gave up the furniture business for a cross factory that doesn’t make a dime.
“I didn’t have any idea what the Lord was doing but I made 40 right away,” said Hicks. “Starting right that minute, I dedicated my shop to the cross ministry. Since August 2010, the saws didn’t hardly get quiet. I spent all my time just making crosses.”
Volunteers will deliver crosses but they can also be “planted” in gardens for passers-by to pluck them.
“We’ve got at least 10-12 cross gardens all over,” said Livingston. “The signs encourage people to stop and get a free cross. The signs read ‘Take a cross to witness for Christ. They’re free.’ We also provide literature outlining the history of the cross ministry.”
Lovejoy First Baptist Church member Martha Stone travels all over with her angel pin ministry and always takes a box or two of crosses with her.
“We wouldn’t have gotten this far without her and John,” said Livingston.
The two men have dozens of stories to share about the reaction of people when they first discover the free crosses. For example, there’s the one about the teenager.
“He asked me about the crosses and I told him they were free,” said Hicks. “’Free? Really?’ he asked me. Yes, I told him, free. ‘Can I have one?’ Yes, I told him, take one. ‘Can I get one for my mom?’ Yes. ‘I better get one for my grandma.’ I told him it was OK, take as many as he needed.”
Hicks said he will not soon forget the look on the boy’s face as he drove away on a golf cart with his crosses.
“He’s got a smile this wide, holding the crosses in one hand and driving that golf cart away with the other,” said Hicks.
Livingston remembered a woman from Bremen.
“She wanted 200 crosses,” he said. “So we gave them to her. She took those crosses and a hammer and went door to door in her neighborhood. If they wanted a cross in their yard, she hammered it in for them.”
As unbelievable as it might sound, the men have also encountered resistance -- from pastors and Christians.
“We had a pastor tell us that the crosses aren’t saving anyone,” said Hicks. “Maybe not, but they are a symbol of our freedom to put them in our yards and profess a belief in the cross and in Jesus.”
Hicks also met with a black man who emphatically refuses to post a white cross in his yard. His refusal has nothing to do with religion and everything to do with the history of the Ku Klux Klan and the racist organization’s method of terrorizing minorities by burning crosses in their yards.
Other blacks have pooh-poohed that notion.
“I’ve had others from that same congregation tell me they didn’t care about that,” said Hicks. “They told me, ‘I believe in the Lord and I’m putting a cross in my yard.’ I’ll keep going back to talk to him, I believe he’ll come around. I don’t believe the Devil is that good.”
Another Christian was critical of the construction of the crosses themselves, telling Hicks he could create a better product by sanding the wood before painting it. He just didn’t “get” it, said Hicks.
“We’re building an ‘old rugged cross,’” he said. “They aren’t sanded for a reason.”
The Lovejoy church hands out free crosses all year but on Easter Sunday, the church grounds will be covered in the white symbols of Christianity to be pulled up by anyone. The men said they still have to convince people that the crosses are truly free, no donations are expected or required. They only hope that the crosses are planted in a yard and not sitting in a garage somewhere collecting dust.
“People can’t believe they are free,” said Hicks. “They ask, ‘Really? Why?’ I tell them they’ve done been paid for by the guy who was on it.”
For information on the free crosses, visit the church at 2347 Talmadge Road in Lovejoy or access www.thecrossministry.webs.com. Hicks can be reached at email@example.com and Livingston can be emailed at firstname.lastname@example.org.