Her Crosses To Bear

Vicksburg woman takes up mission of roadside reminders

By Noll Lutor Floyd

Clarion-Ledger Staff Writer

The middle cross is faded yellow. The other two, peeling pale blue. Despite their aging appearance, the three crosses catch the eyes of travelers on 1-20 headed toward Vicksburg.

E.L. Martin has seen it happen countless times from his front yard in Hinds County, one and a half miles east of Edwards, where daffodils bloom near a set of crosses.

"Basically, what I tell folks who stop and ask about the crosses is that they stand for the good Lord Jesus Christ crucified for each one of our sins," said Martin, who 12 years ago gave the OK for the crosses to be planted on his property.

The late Bernard Coffindaffer, a Craigsville, W.V., businessman, spent $2 million of his own money erecting crosses like those near Edwards. He died in 1993 after having spent all his money. It looked like his ministry would die, too, until Sara Abraham of Vicksburg took up the cause along with two others drawn to it.

Abraham had no idea she'd ever be involved with the crosses when she clipped an article about the late Coffindaffer from the Vicksburg newspaper. She simply folded it neatly in quarters and stuck it in her Bible.

"I don't know why I did that," she said. "I'd see it on occasion and read it on occasion. Other times, I'd pass over it.' In October 1997, the clipping fell from her Bible. "As I reached for it the Lord spoke to me and my spirit," she said. "He told me you are to repair my crosses.' Abraham called directory assistance for Craigsville, W.V., and asked for a phone number for Coffindaffer's ministry, Cast Thy Bread Inc. There wasn't one. She sought and found his secretary, Sharon Clendenin, whose name was in the article. "She said a man had come before me from Ohio," Abraham said. That man was Sheldon Turrill of Marietta, Ohio, a retired geologist.

Turrill renamed Coffindaffer's ministry Christian Crosses Inc., and applied for the organization's non-profit status in May 1996. When Abraham met Turrill in March in Roanoke, Va., she learned he had clipped the same article about Coffindaffer's ministry from his local newspaper. Abraham said Turrill had heard the words, "You are to continue building my crosses.

Robert Clarke of Faith, N.C., a technical engineer, became involved in July, and began studying materials for new crosses and the possibility of a Web site.

Came in a vision

Abraham, Turrill and Clarke met in December in Nashville and decided to move the headquarters to Vicksburg. When they met, 'Clarke told Abraham about a vision he'd seen. He was in church one Sunday and had a vision of three crosses .with weeds growing up around I hem. Later on, he was driving and 3aw the same scene he'd seen in -,his vision. "He knew from that the Lord ,wanted him to be involved, "Abraham said. "That was a relief to me. I felt like the Lord had called Sheldon and me in an indisputable fashion, and I knew the Lord did indeed want Robert .involved."

In July, Abraham moved Christian Crosses Inc. from her home .into an office down the street. "It was like a cottage industry before ;hat," she said. Her husband, Freddie, who has in insurance/investments business, provides the office rent-free and picks up the tab for utilities.

Abraham has taken Coffindaffer's records, kept by hand on yellow legal pads, and computerized them. "I can easily tell you how many crosses there are in each state and where they are,' she said

Christian Crosses wants to place new crosses 50 miles apart so they're visible along the 45,000 miles of intestates in North America.

- Sara Abraham



Time to refurbish

On March 1, she plans to mail letters to the property owners where existing crosses stand, asking them to re-paint and refurbish the crosses, if that's needed. "I'll give them instructions on how to do that," she said. "The letters will include a response sheet, and hopefully, we'll learn from the responses about how many crosses are still standing." If property owners are unable to tackle the project by themselves, Abraham suggests they consult the nearest church for help.

"There will be people who are elderly or unable to have the work done," she said. "It's going to take a lot of cooperation. I hope to have all the crosses repaired by Good Friday. That's about six week away."

Martin said one of the crosses on his property is leaning and he plans to steady it. "They're in pretty good shape," he said. "Ain't no way I'd ever take them down."

After righting and refurbishing the existing crosses, Abraham said she hopes to raise $50,000 for Christian Crosses to be included in the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability. "Because we are an unknown to a lot of people we want that designation,"she said. "That would give us credibility. We don't want to be like Tammy Faye Bakker with an air-conditioned doghouse." "Every single penny that's given will be used for the crosses. I'm trying to get this to a zero expense line."

Launch a campaign

After joining the council, the organization plans to launch a media campaign and begin fundraising, Abraham said. "I don't have access to the money Mr. Coffindaffer did," Abraham said. "We're not poor, but we're not zillionaires either." Christian Crosses wants to place new crosses 50 miles apart so they're visible along the 45,000 miles of interstates in North America, Abraham said. The crosses fit in with America's car culture and are particularly at home in the South, where evangelical religions dominate and 'Get right with God' signs dot the landscape, said Charles Wilon, director of the Center for the ;study of Southern Culture at the University of Mississippi in Oxford. "The crosses are very much like hose signs," he said. "You display hem as a way to visually testify."

What do they represent -'

The Rev. David Horton, pastor of Collis Hill Church of Christ Holiness USA in Terry, said he's always Assumed the crosses represent Jesus Christ who was crucified alongside two thieves. "When I first started seeing hose, I wondered where they came from and did they in fact represent ,he Christian deity or was it something that could have a different meaning?" he said. "I would ask people from place to place, but no one could tell me anything."

Whether in a car or plane, Abraham spreads news of the crosses everywhere she goes. On a recent plane trip, she met an engineer and picked his brain about what type of plastic would best resemble the existing wooden crosses.

During a visit to Disney World, she went behind the scenes to inquire about the composition of a plastic bench and find out where it was made, hoping to apply what she learned to new crosses.

Clarke hopes to have a Web site for Christian Crosses in operation in the next three weeks. The address he's reserved is christiancrosses.org. "We'll have information about maintenance of the existing crosses, several newspaper articles about Bernard Coffindaffer and pictures of some of the crosses," he said.

Abraham carries news of the crosses to civic groups and churches. She's quick to stress she's not the guiding force behind the project. "This is something the Lord wants," she said. 'If I never had a part in this, the Lord would get this done."

What's most important, Abraham said, is the symbolism the crosses convey.

"The crosses speak peace as we struggle without."