ESCATAWPA, Miss. (BP) — An unusual sight — an 11-foot-tall wooden cross with hundreds of written prayer requests nailed to it — has been turning motorists’ heads and prompting some of them to get out of their cars since Jan. 23.
For 100 days, pastor Terry Long has kept vigil at the cross.
Today (May 15) is his concluding day at the busy intersection of Highways 63 and 613 near the Mississippi Gulf Coast.
“I felt the Lord told me to do three things,” said Long, who has been in the pastorate since 1981, the last eight years at Lilly Orchard Baptist Church in Escatawpa.
“One was to put a cross out here on the highway. At first I didn’t know where it was to go, but it just clicked that this was the intersection. Through a series of circumstances, this is where I ended up.
“Second, I was to pray for revival for a hundred days, every day,” Long continued. “I was to push everything aside and just do this, pray for revival in our county and in our country. I was to not take a salary from my church for those hundred days. I was to give it back to the church.
“Third, I was to fast and pray. And on the 10th day, five men from my church met with me just to see how things were. They knew I hadn’t eaten and had given my salary up. In that meeting, they said, ‘We understand why you gave your salary up, but we feel like we want to be a part of this — we’re missing a blessing. We want you down at this cross, and we’d like to restore your salary,’ and the church has done just that,” said Long, a bivocational pastor who does construction work.
A native of Jackson County along the Gulf Coast, Long had begun praying for revival earlier in January. “I was concerned for the county — I remember when the churches here were full and alive, and God impressed on me this was what I needed to do. He just dropped this in my heart.”
The pastor said he argued with God that it was “too radical.”
“This is crazy,” he argued in prayer, “and I’m not the kind of person that does this sort of thing.”
Long, a graduate of New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary, finally was stirred to proceed through what he describes as a supernatural confirmation. Two deacons from Lilly Orchard built the cross and erected it on land provided by a realtor. When praying, Long kneels at a simple folding chair.
The pastor estimates there have been some 1,500 visits to pray and nail requests to the cross since Jan. 23, and 23 people have prayed to receive Christ as their Lord and Savior.
Within two weeks it was abuzz on Facebook. On Easter Sunday, two Gulf Coast newspapers carried front-page stories about the cross. Two TV stations also have carried reports.
“People were coming from all over to pray. People write their requests, put them in a little sandwich bag, and I hand them a hammer and nail. I pray with them.” Long has been at the cross from about 6 a.m. to 4 p.m., arriving later on Sundays after preaching at Lilly Orchard. Saturdays have not been counted in the 100 days so he could prepare his sermons and tend to anything else needing his attention.
“Some people stop because they’re just curious, and I tell them what we’re doing,” Long said. “Often they will get emotional and I can pray with them.”
But astonishing, poignant stories also have been shared at the cross ranging from marriages needing to be saved to recovery for drug and alcohol addictions and help for children and family members.
“One woman stopped and left a razor in a pouch after finding out her 18-year-old daughter was cutting herself. Two weeks after that, a car pulled up and a young lady got out. She introduced herself and said, ‘I’m the girl what was cutting herself. I’m done with all that, and I want to be saved.’ And she was.”
Another was an alcoholic described by Long as “so drunk when he pulled up -– going north in a southbound lane — that he literally fell in the ditch when he got out of his truck.” The man prayed to receive Christ and showed up at Lilly Orchard the next Sunday. The man checked into a faith-based rehabilitation center in Vancleve, Miss., to enter its recovery program.
One man was so broken that he didn’t feel his request was worthy enough to be nailed to the cross, so he nailed his request in the dirt at the back of the cross.
Long added the story of another man. “He was a big, tall, lanky guy. Five minutes with him, and he realized he needed to be saved. He prayed to receive Christ. Since then, he’s been back four times to tell me what God has been doing in his family. He has his wife, his mother, his 18-year-old son, his two daughters by a previous marriage, his wife’s two children, a niece and a nephew all going to church now. The niece and nephew just got saved, and all three of them are getting baptized.”
A 76-year-old man who had been selling porcelain ware from the back of his truck across the road from the cross prayed to receive Christ. One family nailed the photograph of a loved one who had committed suicide.
“We had eight convicts on the highway picking up paper,” Long said. “They couldn’t come to the cross, but I got permission to pray with them where they were. They all held hands in a circle and I prayed through the plan of salvation — the Roman Road — and five of them stated they asked God to save them.”
Asked if passersby had shown any scorn toward what he was doing, Long was quick to make a point. “I really thought people would throw bottles at me and call me an idiot, but people blow their horns and yell things like, ‘Thank you for what you’re doing. Keep up the good work.’ Not one negative word has been yelled at me. All positive.
“Which tells me that there’s something about the cross that has power and speaks to people.
“It’s authentic. People make fun of the church, but they aren’t making fun of the cross.
“What I’m seeing out here are dramatic conversions,” Long said. “It’s not just a hop, skip and a jump down an aisle. These people’s lives are changed. So the question I’m asking — and I’ve talked to three pastors just this week about this — is why is it happening here when it should be happening in our churches?”
Long hopes the cross will remain in its location after his 100 days are up. Others have told him they will be the cross when they can to help people turn to God for salvation and their other needs.
“It’s His cross,” Long said.
Tony Martin is associate editor of The Baptist Record, newsjournal of the Mississippi Baptist Convention. Baptist Press editor Art Toalston contributed to this story. “The Cross Story” podcasts by Terry Long, parts 1 through 6, can be accessed at his website, www.istandamerica.com, at the Recent Podcasts tab. To view video reports on Long’s vigil at the cross, go to blog.gulflive.com/mississippi-press-news/2012/04/video_hundreds_nail_prayers_to.html and www.wlox.com/story/17654173/pastor-erects-14-foot-cross-alongside-busy-roadway-to-help-heal-hearts.