[KOKOMO TOWNE POST | Writer / Christy Heitger-Ewing | Photographer / Jason Graves December 2021]
For several years, Terry Merrell says he felt a clear, strong calling from God to go out and complete the Great Commission of spreading the Gospel of Jesus Christ. The idea was to send a cross and message of salvation to every home in America. To him it sounded like a crazy idea. He wondered if it would be possible, how he would begin, and if it would truly make a difference.
Those questions plagued him at first. However, he says the Holy Spirit encourages people to go tell others, not to convert others. Ultimately, Merrell simply couldn’t shake the feeling that this task is what he was called to do. When he asked his wife Nieta her opinion, she said, “If you feel led to do this, you should.”
With his wife’s unwavering support, he stopped worrying about what others might think. Once Merrell surrendered in complete obedience, he says God surrounded him and Nieta with others who shared their passion and vision.
“We discovered there was a great thirst for people who want to carry out the Great Commission,” Merrell says. “Not everyone can be a missionary and go overseas, but there are so many people who want to do something and make a difference.”
The Merrells founded Cross America Community Center in March of 2018. When it opened the staff initially bought 20,000 cards and crosses, thinking that would last a couple of months. In two days they ran out.
“We thought maybe we could package 2,000 a week,” Merrell says. “Now, three years later, we package 2,700 crosses a day.”
Most encouraging of all is that even as the newness of the mission has waned, enthusiasm for it continues to grow.
“People like to do the work of God by using their hands,” Merrell says. “Packaging crosses can be done even if you are 90 years old, in a wheelchair and only have the use of one hand.”
The crosses, which are made out of aluminum, have the Romans 10:9 scripture reference from the Bible engraved on the back of them. The passage runs as follows, according to the New International Version of the Bible: “If you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.”
Merrell found a man in Oregon to make the crosses, and upon receiving the first batch, Merrell looked at the invoice and divided the total dollar amount by the number of crosses to see how much they paid for each one. The amount came to 10.9 cents each. A retired machinist from Burlington, Indiana, currently makes the crosses for half that price, saving millions of dollars over the life of the mission.
The cards, which open into the shape of a cross, share the salvation message. On the outside, they say, “People you don’t even know have prayed for you,” as before the packages are sent out, they are prayed over. The card also includes Cross America’s email address, and the team invites recipients to reach out with any questions they may have.
Merrell learned about Every Door Direct Mail from the post office. It enables nonprofits to send items, for very little cost, to every zip code in America without having entire addresses.
As the team has disseminated the crosses, they have realized a 1% success rate, which, in a numbers world, sounds less than ideal. However, success can be defined in different ways. Merrell and his team do not consider recipients mere numbers.
“If you package 100 crosses and one person’s life is affected by it, that’s a big deal,” he says.
Every week they learn that this mission is, in fact, impacting lives. For instance, they got a call from a man who said he was on the verge of suicide, but he asked God for a sign to reveal that he was real, and that day he received a cross in the mail. Another family shared how their son had accepted Christ into his life after getting a cross in the mail. He was later involved in a fatal motorcycle accident and in his wallet was the cross, bent from the crash. His family was comforted by the knowledge that their son carried the cross with him and had it on him when he died.
In addition, a wife recently wrote to say her husband had been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer.
“After two hard months of endless nights and tears, my 7- and 9-year-olds both accepted Christ into their heart after receiving a cross in the mail,” she wrote. Their father was dying, but the mother says he felt peace knowing that one day he would be reunited with his girls in heaven.
Merrell’s team gets feedback from those who invite Christ into their hearts, and they hear from atheists as well.
“They may tell us that they are offended to have received a cross in the mail, but we respond back and oftentimes we end up corresponding several different times, which is something that would never happen with a nonbeliever out on the street,” Merrell says. “Usually we end up agreeing to disagree, but we don’t judge them. In fact, we find that often something has happened in their past that has turned them sour, and you realize that had that happened to you, you would probably feel the same.”
Merrell notes that regardless of the interaction, the people at Cross America ask the recipient to keep the cross, even if they tuck it away in a drawer.
“We feel that down the road someday, they may reach for that cross,” he says.