September 16, 2013 9:26:52 AM
Motorists driving on Highway 45 in Columbus may pass an unusual sight Wednesday -- hundreds of high school students carrying a glowing cross down the side of the road.
Mission Mississippi, an organization founded to promote racial and religious reconciliation, is partnering with the Fellowship of Christian Athletes to celebrate Mission's 20th anniversary. In an attempt to bring unity across the state, Mission Mississippi and FCA will be carrying the cross alongside the state's highways through all 82 counties. The walk will span 2,489 miles.
The cross will arrive at the Lowndes County Courthouse at 5 p.m. Wednesday for a short ceremony.
Organizers chose to use a lighted cross to rid the state of the stereotype of the burning cross.
"We remembered how in the past, those that promoted hatred used that cross to burn it as a symbol of hatred and division," Lee Paris with Mission Mississippi said. "We felt like this was a very inappropriate use of a cross and love of Christ. Instead of burning the cross, we decided to create one that glows."
The wooden cross is hollow and glows by battery-operated light bulbs. Paris said students will hand off the cross at each county line where another group of volunteers will pick up their leg of the journey. A worship service will be held at each exchange.
Local FCA director Jason Wells said carrying the cross is a way to allow students to put their faith on display.
"It's fun to get the kids organized and to galvanize them around something positive," Wells said. "It's a chance for a lot of the kids who do carry their Christian badge in their school to wear it loud and proud."
The event began Aug. 7 on the steps of the capitol. Wells, who works with 57 schools throughout north Mississippi, said he has seen entire schools come out to support the students carrying the cross.
"It's both soothing and encouraging," he said. "Mississippi is no longer burning but Mississippi is glowing."
Paris said Mission Mississippi was created to "break down traditional barriers" and "help churches and individuals meet each other" regardless of race or denomination. By carrying the glowing cross, Paris said he hopes Mission Mississippi will break down stereotypes, encourage racial unity and follow Christ.
"Each stop we are encouraging participants to follow the cross," Paris said. "Encouraging them to follow the cross in their own life, commit or recommit to the principals of Christ, follow the cross in their own community, not just as one time together but to come together under the cross in each community and stay together and build a relationship and then literally worship together."
The event will conclude Oct. 7 with a worship service at the Mississippi Memorial Stadium in Jackson at 5 p.m. Paris is asking churches throughout the state to attending saying, "We're not asking churches to cancel their Sunday night services but to move it."
Paris said watching thousands of students walk alongside the highway carrying the cross has been a very humbling and emotional event.
"Watching communities come together in a very unique way and prayerfully staying together, it's the most powerful glue there is and we're very excited to take this across the state and watch the Lord being people together."
Sarah Fowler covered crime, education and community related events for The Dispatch.
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