On a Mission in Mississippi

By Katie Eubanks

Northside Sun Staff Writer

 

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 over the next few months as they partner with the Fellowship of Christian Athletes (FCA) on a 2,489-mile walk across the state with a six-foot-tall, battery-illuminated cross.

They’re calling it “Mississippi Glowing.”

To mark Mission Mississippi’s 20th year of promoting racial and denominational reconciliation within the body of Christ, the walk will kick off at the State Capitol Building August 7 and stop in all 82 counties in 82 days before returning to Jackson for a statewide celebration October 27.

“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, which will include a celebration service in each county seat.

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

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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.

And on the 20th of each month this year, to honor the organization’s 20th anniversary, several restaurants are offering 20-percent discounts to racially diverse parties.

“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.

On August 7 at 1 p.m., Mission Mississippi will illuminate the cross and send it off with board members and friends, who will walk it from the south steps of the State Capitol Building to the Highway 80 bridge in Brandon.

There they’ll meet representatives from FCA. In each county, multiple high-school and college athletes will take turns walking and/or running the cross to its next stop. Each county’s sheriff’s department will provide escorts along the way.

TWO STOPS will be made at football games: Alcorn State University at Mississippi State University (MSU) September 7, and Texas A&M University at the University of Mississippi October 12.

The MSU/Alcorn game will be the first time MSU and the historically black school have met in a football game.

And the Ole Miss/Texas A&M game has “a 100-percent chance of being on national TV,” Paris said.

“The university was very gracious. We’re going to be in Vaught-Hemingway Stadium during the game, not before the game. We want to bring honor to the Lord, but this will also be good press for our state.”

The celebrations in each county will 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 logistic and financial help, what Paris and Winters want most is for people of all races and denominations to show up at the county celebrations with open hearts.

A pastors’ committee led by Ligon Duncan of First Presbyterian Church in Jackson and Bishop Ronnie Crudup of New Horizon Church International in Jackson is helping promote the the walk among churches, further getting the word out.

“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 October 27 at Veterans Memorial Stadium.

Keynote speakers will include Dr. Dolphus Weary, president of Rural Education and Leadership (R.E.A.L.) 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.

Anyone and everyone from around the state and beyond is invited, especially those who participated in “Mississippi Glowing” in each county. Local churches are encouraged to move their Sunday-night services that week in order to worship at the stadium.

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 visit www.missionmississippi.org or call 601-353-6477.