On a Mission from God: Cross America’s lofty goal is to send a cross to every home in the United States
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Writer // John Cinnamon Photography // Submitted
There may come a day when you walk to your mailbox and find a burgundy 6-by-6 envelope with this simple message printed on the front: “People who don’t know you have prayed over this and are praying for you now.” When you open it, you’ll find a small aluminum cross embossed with “Romans 10:9,” a reference to the Bible verse that describes the path to heaven.
Well over a million households in America have already received this packet in the mail, and it is the goal of Cross America to get a cross and the message of salvation into every home in the country. Considering there are more than 114 million homes in the U.S., that’s a pretty lofty goal. But Terry Merrell has faith. Literally.
Terry Merrell is the chairman of Cross America, and the idea of sending a cross to every household was his brainchild. “Going back to my faith, [the Bible] talks about the great commission,” said Merrell. “That’s the last thing Jesus said when he left this Earth, he said, ‘Go and tell others.’ It doesn’t have to be difficult.” The crosses are Merrell’s way of sharing the word of God, a concept that came to him in a vision. “I would get these visions of what needed to be done: ‘Tell ’em. Go send a cross and send this simple message.’ The visions were so clear, I knew exactly what we needed to do,” he said. “Once I took that first step and committed to doing it, then God filled in the blanks and it became easier.”
Merrell grew up in Kokomo, Indiana, in a church-going Christian family: an upbringing typical for rural North Central Indiana in the 1970s. But Merrell assumed it was also typical for everyone else in America. It wasn’t until later, as an adult traveling the country with his own environmental management company, that he realized not everyone shared his faith. Or, in some cases, any faith.
Romans 10:9 and the Path to Salvation
“Only about 25% of people go to church on a regular basis,” said Merrell. “What tugged at my heart was that there are a lot of good people out there that simply just didn’t know how to get to heaven. Everybody knows about church, but they don’t know about Romans 10:9. ‘If you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead,’—and I love this last part—‘you will be saved.’ It’s that simple,” said Merrell.
Since March 2018, Cross America has been packaging and distributing its crosses from their facility at 840 Daniel Drive in Kokomo. “Volunteers come in every day at their convenience from 7 o’clock in the morning to 9 o’clock at night, Monday through Saturday,” said Crystal Sanburn, Cross America’s executive director and Kokomo native. “It’s a very easy process to place the cross inside, fold the card, and put the sticker on the back.” Sanburn has been pleasantly surprised by the countless volunteers who give of their time to prepare the crosses for mailing. “We underestimated what this really means to people to volunteer. Groups come in; youth groups, businesses. It’s really amazing, the people that walk in here and want to be a part of something that’s really bigger than themselves,” she said.
In addition to the cross, each Cross America mailer includes the organization’s mission statement, a prayer for salvation, a QR code that links to the Cross America website, and an email address that recipients can use for questions or to request more information. There are no follow-up mailings or hard-sell phone calls, just the gift of a cross and an introduction to God’s message.
“Our idea is to make sure everybody knows Christ, and they have an opportunity to make a decision for Him,” said Sanburn. “Not everybody is going to make that decision to follow Him. We’re not here to force anybody to do anything. It’s just what we’ve been called to do. To get the word out.”
Not a Church, but a Community Fellowship Facility
The Cross America building—a former 84 Lumber and later a skating rink—quickly grew from being just a location to package the mailers to a 22,000-square-foot community fellowship facility. Sanburn is quick to point out, however, that it is not a church. “It’s nondenominational and multidenominational,” said Sanburn. “There are multiple groups that come in here from all kinds of churches.” Merrell added, “It’s neat to come in here at lunchtime when it’s busy. You see different races, different churches, businesses all together for the same thing. And that’s what’s so inviting about this place.”
Cross America’s community fellowship facility includes a 410-seat auditorium with complete audio, video and lighting capabilities. Visitors to the facility are welcomed to watch a 14-minute video in the auditorium titled “Why Do You Need Salvation?” “It’s a great opportunity for people to learn more about how sin entered the world and what we are to do to ask Christ into our hearts,” said Sanburn. A unique feature of the auditorium is a replica of Jesus’ tomb and functioning stone. There is also a 120-seat event center with full catering kitchen, as well as a play area for children 5 years old and under called The Barnyard. “We encourage moms and people to bring their kids in and really enjoy that space,” said Sanburn. “It doesn’t cost to be a part of that. We simply think it’s important for young moms and people to utilize that space for Bible study or if they’re just getting together for coffee with a friend.” Groups are invited to use any of the facility’s four conference rooms at no cost for the first two hours. A rental fee or donation applies for longer meetings.
And then there’s the Doubting Thomas Coffee & Cafe, a full-service cafe serving food and coffee that is roasted right on the premises. Specific thought went into using the name of the famously incredulous disciple. “[Thomas is] doubting Christ at every turn, ‘I won’t believe it’s you, Lord, until I touch your side,’” said Sanburn, quoting Scripture. “Thomas is so human, he’s just like the rest of us. We’ve all done the same thing. Touching Christ helped his faith and it built his faith. And we know that’s what we have to do almost every day. As humans, we doubt all the time what The Word says is true. And it allows us to grow in our relationship with Christ and our faith as we learn about Him and we understand he was just like us.”
To drive the point home, the centerpiece of the coffee shop is a life-size bronze sculpture of Thomas kneeling before the risen Christ, complete with nail scars in His palms. Sanburn explained that much of what the Cross America facility offers is designed to minister not just to the soul but to the senses. “Hopefully, you walk in the front door and you might smell a great cup of coffee or maybe a great waffle that’s cooking,” she said. “Then you walk over to the next piece and see the beautiful painting that we have of the First Supper along with bronze plaques describing what happened to each apostle. Then you walk over to the bronze statue and can touch it and feel the nail prints in His hand.”
Another unique use of the facility is as an incubator for Christian small businesses. Since March of 2019, Cross America has provided office space to five faith-based 501(c)(3) nonprofits.
Crosses Not Always Well-Received
Sanburn said feedback from those who have received crosses throughout the country has been mostly positive. “The stories that we receive back from people who email us say, ‘This came at the right moment. This was something that I needed. I needed some assurance in my life. I needed just to know that God loved me.’ But, she conceded, “Not everybody’s gonna be happy about it. We know when we send out so many, not all are going to be received well. But there could be that one that God said, ‘I’m gonna work with this person.’ It’s worth every penny of it. It’s worth every bit of effort for that individual.”
Indeed, with a significant percentage of the U.S. population following other faiths or no faith at all, it’s not unusual for a Cross America package to find its way to a nonbeliever’s mailbox. How does Merrell answer the negative—sometimes hostile—reactions? “First by praying and then reply with love,” he said. “What’s interesting about the emails from the atheists, I’ll go back and forth with them and correspond. Most of the time you agree to disagree,” said Merrell. “But when you hear their story, you realize if I had been born in that family, that location, raised that way, that would be me.”
Sponsor a ZIP Code
And yet, Merrell is not deterred from his goal of sending a cross to every American home. Bundles of cross mailers are sent out one ZIP code at a time using the U.S. Postal Service’s Every Door Direct bulk mailing system. Merrell tracks each ZIP code mailed to on a map of the United States that covers one entire 17-foot wall of the Cross Assembly Room, and the Cross America website provides a way for people to sponsor a ZIP code. At a rate of $.43 per mailing (which covers the cross, stamp, envelope and salvation packet), a sponsorship could be a little as $1.29 for a three-household ZIP code in Alaska or more to a more populous ZIP code in a major metropolitan area. There’s a ZIP code for every budget.
So far, Cross America has delivered crosses to more than 1.2 million homes. How long will it take to get a cross to the other 113 million? Merrell said, “My simple mind doing my earthly math is it’s gonna take a long time. Longer than we have life left on this Earth but we know God is in control so we are trusting in His timing.”
Cross America Vision Carried On
Ultimately, he hopes to create an endowment fund that will continue his vision long after he’s gone. As a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, donations to Cross America are tax-deductible, and all donations are used solely for the purchase and distribution of the crosses. Overhead for the Cross America facility is provided through private donors.
You’re invited to tour Cross America at 840 Daniel Dr. in Kokomo or visit their website for more information at crossamerica.net.
“We just want people to go to heaven,” said Merrell. “That’s really where our heart is.”