By Lena Mitchell/NEMS Daily Journal Corinth Bureau
RIPLEY – The familiar site of three crosses set along highways in dozens of states across the nation invite speculation about how they came to be there and what they mean.
Representing a nonprofit organization called Crosses Across America, the symbols became part of Ripley’s landscape recently when they were erected on property at the First Monday Trade Days and Flea Market on Highway 15 South.
Donations throughout the year from the Magnolia State Family Medicine practice of Dr. Christopher Cummins brought the inspirational message of the crosses to Ripley.
“Each year the clinic donates a percentage of what we collect to a charity, and this year we chose Crosses Across America,” Cummins said. “Wayne Windham is a Christian gentleman and when I told him what we were doing he said he wanted to be a part of it.”
Windham is co-owner of First Monday and offered to have the crosses placed on the property, an offer Cummins was happy to accept.
Magnolia State Family Medicine had donated about $600 to Crosses Across America when Cummins learned a set of crosses could be placed at a site of their choice, he said. He now has an opportunity to locate a second cross based on donations from his practice and his staff.
“This has been a real team-building effort where some of my staff decided to donate as well,” Cummins said. “Now we’re looking for another place in Tippah County to put crosses. They like a place near a highway with high visibility, so if anyone has property we could use they can contact me.”
According to the nonprofit’s website – www.crossesacrossamerica.com – they seek to make the crosses visible every 25 miles, on each side of the road and along major highways and thoroughfares.
With crosses already erected in Ripley as well as Blue Mountain, and another soon to be erected somewhere in Tippah County, this area of north Mississippi is well represented.
“Back in the summer people at Crosses Across America contacted me and came up to look at the area to find a spot to put them,” said Jerry Windham, son of Wayne Windham. “They wanted them at First Monday because so many people come by there.”
Crosses Across America had its genesis in West Virginia in 1984, through converted Christian, successful industrialist and self-proclaimed Methodist minister Bernard Coffindaffer, who started the project as Crosses of Mercy–Cast Thy Bread Inc.
He had grown up a poor orphan in Craigsville, W.V., his father having died very young and his mother dying of cancer when Coffindaffer was 10 years old. Nevertheless, he graduated from high school at age 14, served six years as a Marine in the Pacific, Iwo Jima and Nagasaki, Japan, then went on to graduate from the University of Charleston with a degree in business.
A vision he had following two heart bypass surgeries led him to liquidate his business and start building the crosses as his ministry.
“The Holy Spirit instructed, blessed, dealt with me and told me how to go about installing these crosses,” Coffindaffer is quoted as saying. “They’re up for only one sole reason, 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. … Maybe the crosses will make one person stop and think.”
By the time Coffindaffer died at his home of a heart attack on Oct. 6, 1993, he had spent $3 million to construct more than 2,000 clusters of three crosses along 45,000 miles of roadways in 29 states, the District of Columbia, Zambia and The Philippines.
The three crosses represent Christ on the cross and the two thieves who also were crucified. The center cross was painted gold and the two flanking crosses were painted a pale blue, with the original 20-foot crosses built from California Douglas fir. The gold color of the center cross symbolized royalty and the pale blue color of the other two crosses represented the earth.
A consecration service was held at the erection of each cluster of crosses and scriptures read, such as Mark 8:34 – “And when he had called the people unto him with his disciples also, he said unto them, Whosoever will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me.”
With no funds set aside to continue the ministry, it went into hiatus until a Vicksburg group took up the work in 1999, making it a priority to first restore the crosses that had already been erected.
The new group is funded administratively by a private donor, but requires donations for materials to construct the crosses, which are installed and maintained completely by unpaid volunteers. The new crosses are constructed of a different plastic-like material that will never need repairing and can withstand 200 mph winds.
“Anybody can donate and be a part of their work, and we have information brochures at our office,” Cummins said.