By Katie Eubanks
Without the cross, Mission Mississippi would be just another nonprofit with nice ideas.
But the cross changes everything.
That’s what Mission Mississippi staff and board members are praying will happen as they partner with the Fellowship of Christian Athletes on a 2,489-mile walk across the state with a 6-foot-tall, battery-illuminated cross.
They’re calling it — Mississippi Glowing for Christ.
To mark Mission Mississippi’s 20th year of promoting racial and denominational reconciliation within the body of Christ, the walk kicked off at the state Capitol building Aug. 7 and is stopping in all 82 counties in 82 days before returning to Jackson for a statewide celebration Oct. 27.
Scheduled stops include Maben this Friday, Sept. 27, when a celebration service will begin at 2 p.m. at the W.O. Shivers Park pavilion. Mayor Larry Pruitt is scheduled to be among the speakers.
From Maben, the cross will travel through Webster County to Eupora. On Saturday, it will continue on U.S. 82 to Stewart and Winona, where a ceremony is set for 7 p.m. at the Montgomery County Courthouse.
“The Ku Klux Klan burned the cross. This is a lighted cross. If you burn something, it’s short-lived. If you light it, light travels for millions of years. That’ll preach,” said Mission Mississippi board member Lee Paris.
Nissan North America built the 11-pound cross with the help of Yates Construction. FCA athletes will take turns carrying it on the walk.
Mission Mississippi began in October 1993 with the raising of a 20-foot cross at Mississippi Veterans Memorial Stadium in Jackson.
Originally, it was intended to be a one-time event, not a movement.
“We thought we’d solve all the problems of race from the past 400 years at one event. But it became apparent in the planning process that we wouldn’t,” Paris said.
“So a group of us formed the organization. And we’ve been systematically working on it for 20 years.”
That systematic approach includes prayer breakfasts and luncheons, after-church picnics and discussion forums for Christians of different races to get to know each other. Twenty-two local chapters exist throughout the state.
“Mississippi Glowing” is the biggest part of Mission Mississippi’s anniversary celebration and is probably one of the most ambitious projects the group has ever undertaken.
High school and college athletes have been taking turns walking and/or running the cross to its next stop. Each county’s sheriff’s department has been providing escorts along the way.
The celebration services look a lot like church, with prayer, singing, testimony from the athletes who’ve been carrying the cross and even an invitation from Mission Mississippi “to follow the cross to Christ and to their communities,” said Mission Mississippi President Neddie Winters.
Although the organization could use logistical and financial help, what Paris and Winters want most is for people of all races and denominations to show up at the celebrations with open hearts.
“The people who come [to the celebrations] might hear a word that changes their heart. I’ve had people tell me, ‘I didn’t know I needed to be part of this,’” Winters said.
“I can point to people who were with me at the foot of that cross [in 1993] who’ve become lifelong friends of mine. Wouldn’t it be great to see more of those relationships develop?”
Mississippi Glowing will culminate in the statewide celebration and worship on Oct. 27 at Veterans Memorial Stadium.
Keynote speakers will include Dr. Dolphus Weary, president of Rural Education and Leadership Christian Foundation and fundraiser for Mission Mississippi, along with Patrick Morley, an author and ministry leader who spoke at the first Mission Mississippi event 20 years ago, and Barbara Skinner, widow of Tom Skinner, who also spoke at the inaugural event.
And after that?
“It’s about sticking with it, sticking with those relationships,” said Paris, who no longer expects racism and division to go away in one night.
“My wife and I have been married 33 years. I’m no more female now, and thank God she’s no more male now. But we’ve learned to compromise when we disagree,” he said.
“The common denominator we have that’s stronger than [race, politics or gender] is Christ. ‘Greater is he that is in you than he that is in the world.’ [1st John 4:4].”
For more information about Mission Mississippi or Mississippi Glowing, visit www.missionmississippi.org or call 601-353-6477.
This article, which includes additional reporting by the Progress-Times, originally appeared in the Northside Sun of Jackson.