Tell your pastor to come get his cross. It’s blocking my driveway.
“We want a cross in the youth chapel in the new church.”
“Yeah, Pastor. Can you get us a cross?”
“It needs to be a great big cross that looks like it’s been there since Jesus was nailed on it.”
The kids all laughed; then I realized they were serious. They really wanted me, their brand-new youth pastor, to find a cross for the chapel wall. I was terrified. Not only did I have no idea where to find an “old cross,” I also knew that the members on the church board and building committee were not going to take kindly to this idea.
This was quite a group of kids, always wanting something “on the edge,” something that the more mature members would likely find distasteful. A cross in the youth chapel fit perfectly.
I tried to talk them out of it, only to discover they had taken the idea to heart and were researching what wood it should be made of, how tall it would need to be, whether it would have been sawn or chopped, and a score of other details I had never considered. I helped with the research, even suggesting that the woodworker would probably have used a soft wood since many crosses were quickly burned.
* * *
I told Pastor Ken, my lead pastor, about “the cross.” He listened closely, chuckled, asked wise questions. Then said, “The board will never buy it. Several of our key members came into the Seventh-day Adventist Church from another denomination where the people worshipped crosses, as if the cross were even more important than the Christ! I don’t believe they’ll approve of a cross hanging on the wall of the youth chapel.”
I went back to the kids with the very bad news. No cross.
They were ready for me, quoting details about how the Romans and Jews saw the cross, then adding how the disciples felt about the cross, how Mary felt about the cross, even how Jesus felt about the cross.
I was holding my own until they pulled out a quote from Ellen White, one of the early leaders of the Seventh-day Adventist Church. “If we would be saved at last,” she wrote, “we must all learn the lesson of penitence and faith at the foot of the cross.”*
We had an intense youth prayer meeting that night. Then I asked the board and building committee if they would consider a request from the youth of the church.
They agreed, and the youth (and their youth pastor) went into a week of prayer and fasting.
At the meeting I introduced the youth, then sat back to listen. The kids were clear, and just emotional enough to make their point. The committee members listened politely and asked a couple questions. Then the oldest, most conservative gentleman in the church stood.
“If our children want to place the cross of Christ front and center in their lives, I can be nothing except proud of their zeal! They’ve sure got my vote.”
We left the meeting with full permission to do the impossible. On the way out the door one of the kids said, “OK, Pastor, now it’s up to you to find the cross.”
“A real, genuine, wooden cross. Four meters tall and two meters wide. A cross that looks like it’s 2,000 years old and has had hundreds of Christians nailed onto it.”
* * *
Knowing only one woodcarver who might be up to the task, I bounced our old van up the thin trail of Highway 60 deep into the desert. About 100 kilometers (60 miles) into the journey, I saw evidence that Ralph might be home. Ralph was a woodcarver, a First Nation man whose wife and two small children lived with him in a well-used caravan trailer. Paloverde trees grew like giant weeds around his house, and beneath their poor shelter Ralph carved and painted wooden statues.
If you had a store that sold cigarettes, cigars, and other tobacco products, Ralph could carve a life-size cowboy, Indian, police officer, rhinoceros, elephant, or other grotesque being and stand it in front of your shop. “Everyone will buy more of your stuff!” Ralph laughed.
Two freshly painted wooden Indians and a cowboy stood beneath the paloverde trees, awaiting buyers. Ralph stood beside them, as if awaiting my arrival.
We shared sodas and talked about the weather. Ralph asked how my work was going. “Pastor! Never met a real pastor!” Ralph spat the words out like bitter dates.
“What do you want, Pastor Boy?”
I explained about the cross. It was a whole new idea to him.
I pulled a small folder from the van and spread my papers out on his workbench. I had copied the parts about Calvary from Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, and added the chapter on Calvary from The Desire of Ages, a book about Jesus by Ellen White. Ralph was very quiet.
“A real, genuine, wooden cross. At least four meters tall and two meters wide. A cross that looks like it’s 2,000 years old and has had hundreds of Christians nailed onto it. Can you do it for the kids, Ralph?”
“Never heard about such a thing,” he said. “No promises, but I’ll try.”
Six weeks later a gruff voice left a message on the church phone. “Tell your pastor to come get his cross. It’s blocking my driveway.”
I borrowed a truck and grabbed a couple of the youth for the drive. Sure enough, Ralph’s driveway was filled with a cross.
“I drove 400 kilometers [250 miles] into the mountains before I found the perfect tree,” Ralph began. “Cut it down. Brought it here. Chopped it with a sharp chisel, like the Roman carver would have done. No saws. Burned it. Whacked it with a spanner. Burned it again. Covered it in oil. Burned it again. Can’t believe anyone would do that to another man. Get it out of here!”
It was almost too heavy for the four of us to load into my borrowed truck.
After I’d paid Ralph, the cross carver, we piled into the truck and prepared to start our journey. Then Ralph raised his hand for me to stop.
“Almost forgot,” he lied. “Made this to go on the wall beside the cross. Found the words in some of the papers you gave me. OK if I keep those papers, Pastor? I can’t believe any man would go through all this for me!”
Ralph thrust a wooden plaque through the driver’s window. On it, carved of the same wood and painted to startle, was Christ’s hardest message.
“. . . and follow Me. Matthew 16:24.”
* Ellen G. White, Testimonies for the Church (Mountain View, Calif.: Pacific Press Pub. Assn., 1948), vol. 4, p. 374.