Crosses get new Paint


Well, the question has been answered.

Robert Clarke and William "Painter" Hopkins are helping the Keslers save the crosses on Faith Road.

I wondered who would do that when we learned last July that Bernard Coffindaffer's crusade to put blue and gold crosses along busy highways had died with him last October.

Painter has painted them.

And as far as Bernard Coffindaffer's family knows, that's the first time since he died that any of the 1,900 crosses he put up in 29 states, Zambia and the Philippines has had a new coat of paint.

When Bernard put the crosses on Kesler property in 1987, he hoped to put them in every county in every state in the country.

They're plentiful in his home state of West Virginia, and I watch for them when we drive through that state going to visit our Susie - and think about the day we talked.

You don't forget Bernard Coffindaffer, even if you only met him on the telephone. His voice bristled with energy and the power of commitment.

He started planting his Crosses of Mercy in 1984. Not for saints or sinners, he said. For everybody.

TOUCH-UP: 'Painter' Hopkins puts final touches

on Faith Road crosses in Faith, NC


"And they're up for only one sole reason," he said, "and that's this: to remind people that Jesus was crucified on a cross at Calvary for our sins, and that He is soon coming again. That's what jars, but that's the truth. When -you say, 'for our sins,' half the people run, and when you say, 'He's coming again, 'everybody runs."

But maybe, he said, the crosses would make one person stop and think.

An orphan at 10 and a Marine at 15, Bernard fought in World War II, got a degree at the University of Charleston, W.Va., and went into the coal supply business. He made a lot of money.

But he liquidated the business in 1982, after he had two heart bypass operations - and two years later he had a vision.

"A genuine, marvelous glorious vision," he said. "The Holy Spirit instructed, blessed, dealt with me and told me how to go about installing these crosses…. It was an experience you have once in a lifetime."

He was told what to do. Get manpower and materials, and plant crosses.

Soon seven full-time work crews were knocking on doors getting permission to put crosses on empty land.

In 1989 a crew knocked on Ruth and Worth Kesler's door on the Faith Road.

Bernard picked Faith for its name. He wanted to put the crosses in towns with Bible names or relationships, convinced they were really named by God.

He paid nothing for the land but paid all the other bills. Happily.

"I worked like a dog for the money, 18 hours a day for 35 years," he said "The Holy Spirit knew I had the money and was willing to spend it, and I'm not going to back down."

And he never did.

He spent his life savings and worked at it full time - until he died.

By then he was out of money, and nobody offered to take over his mission. His non-profit Cast Thy Bread Inc., through which he paid work, has had one $100 donation.

The Keslers keep the grass mowed around them, and Robert Clarke trims the weeds.

Robert Clarke lives on the other side of Faith, and saw the crosses daily.

"And I was sitting in church one day, kind of daydreaming," he says, "and in my mind, I saw these three crosses and weeds about 3 feet tall right around them, and on the way home from church, I looked. And sure enough, they were like that.''

The Keslers mowed but didn't trim.

"So I started going about once a month and just trimmed around them with a Weedeater, 'which isn't much but it makes them look a little nicer."

He noticed paint was flaking off the top of one.

He called Painter Hopkins, who got his nickname because he's a painting contractor, and asked him if he'd paint the crosses.

"He asked me what I'd -charge," William says, "and I "said, 'This represents the crucifixion of Jesus Christ, and I'm not going to charge you hardly nothing. You just buy the paint.'

The only delay was the weather.

Painter got a semi-gloss light blue paint for the two outside crosses and light gold for the middle one. When the weather cleared, he headed out to Faith Road with paint and his 20-foot roller.

"It took about an hour," he says.

And another hour the next morning for a second coat. It'll last six, seven years. With the second coat, maybe even 10.

The job was personal for Painter, too. He lives on Anthony Road, below East Rowan High School.

"My wife and I come down that way almost every Sunday when we go to church," he says. "They painted up real pretty. I think they're beautiful, and since they're painted, people are going to notice them more now. That semi-gloss gives them a little bit of shine to catch people's attention.

"Anything you do like that, that represents the Bible, really makes you feel good."

One of the crosses, he noticed, is leaning a little.

"I'm going to bring some stobs to strengthen it up," he says.

Cast Thy Bread office in Craigsville, W.Va., ought to know about the paint job, I thought. I tried to call, but the phone has been disconnected, and no Coffindaffers are left in the community.

But Cecil Coffindaffer lives in a little town nearby. His wife, Georgia, answered the phone. Cecil and Bernard were brothers, she said.

And she gets calls, sometimes two or three a week, from people all over the country who notice the crosses need paint or straightening up or something. But nobody could keep Cast Thy Bread up, she said.

By the time Bernard died, he'd spent all his money.

Nobody I know has the money to do all that," Georgia said. "His wife has had to move and go to work to survive and take care of their 16-year-old."

She can't keep up the crosses.

"This is the first call that someone is fixing one up," she said. "If each community that has a set would do that, it would keep them up and it wouldn't be much expense on anybody."

But how would she get word out? She'll just have to have faith, she said, that when a set of crosses needs help, somebody will step in.

Somebody did at Faith.

And Robert Clarke believes somebody will everywhere.

The Coffindaffers, he says, "don't have nothing to worry about at all. I saw another set down by the river that had a fresh coat of paint on them."

Other people will know they have to do something, too, he says, the same way he knew that Sunday morning in church.

"It was put in my mind," he says.


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