This edited story, written on July 13, 2009, is reprinted from another blog.
I drove around town hoping to find Willie Young on a street corner with his signs. My plan was to find him, introduce myself, and stand with him--holding my cross. It was 103 degrees, even at 5:00 in the evening. Willie wasn't at any of his usual locations.
I continued to drive around town. But now, instead of looking for Willie, I was praying for courage and trying to decide where I would stand and hold the cross. It didn't take me long to choose a location.
I drove through the quiet Old Orchard neighborhood until I reached the parking lot for the homeowners' association clubhouse, at the corner of Avenida Entrana and Lyons Avenue. Lyons Avenue is a major street in the Newhall section of Santa Clarita.
I pulled into the small parking lot and parked my car. There I sat for a few minutes questioning what I was about to do and wondering if there was any way out of it. I sent a text message to a small number of fellow evangelists, asking them to pray. Several quickly responded with words of encouragement. Understandably, a couple of the responses seemed hesitant, as if to say, "Tony, what are you doing and why?" I tried not to let those discourage me by hearkening back to my own mindset less than twelve hours earlier. I would have been asking myself the same questions.
I got out of my car and looked at the 4-foot cross in the back seat. "Lord, help me do this. I don't know what's going to happen." I prayed.
"If my people who are called by my name humble themselves..."
"Let him deny himself and take up his cross daily me and follow me."
I pulled the cross out of the back seat and leaned it against the car. I opened the trunk and removed my open-air box, which was filled with tracts and Bibles. I was determined that if anyone would stop long enough to engage me in conversation they would, at the very least, receive a tract.
With cross and box in hand, I made my way to the northwest corner of the street. Mature oak trees shrouded the north side of the street in much welcomed shade, providing a small reprieve from the 100-degree heat.
I set the box down behind me.
"Well, here it goes." I said to myself with a sigh.
I picked up the cross and leaned it against my right shoulder. Immediately, I had an almost overwhelming feeling of nakedness--the sense of being fully exposed with nowhere to hide.
I identify with Christ every time I hand someone a tract, or engage someone in spiritual conversation, or step onto the box to open-air preach. Occasionally, with that identification comes a certain level of apprehension as I wonder what my identification with Christ might cost me. For me, the cost has been minimal thus far: rejection, mocking, insults, shunning by professing Christians, threats of violence, and one brief instance of very minor physical violence. But holding that cross on that street corner gave me the feeling that I was identifying with Christ on a level I had not done previously. The feeling caused me to count the potential cost with a heightened level of sobriety.
Hundreds of people saw the cross and the words "Are You Ready" on the crossbeam. Some people waved. Some people gave a thumbs-up. Others shook their head. Others laughed.
A few people walked by, on the opposite side of the street. Most did everything they could to ignore my presence.
However, when one young couple walked to the corner on my side of the street I was able to give them each an Obama Trillion Dollar Bill gospel tract. A short time later, they walked back from wherever they had been. When they got close enough for me to say something to them, I asked, "Could I have a couple minutes of your time?"
Their names were Joshua and Candace.
"Sure." Answered Joshua.
"You've seen my cross. May I ask you, are you ready for eternity?"
"Yes we are. We are born again Christians."
Joshua and Candace were new to the community and were trying to find a church close-by to call home. Having lived in the community for more than twenty years, I was very familiar with most of the churches, both good and bad. I made a couple of suggestions to them, which they appreciated.
A little while later, a small sedan stopped at the light. There were two young men in the car. The passenger leaned out the window and asked, "Ready for what?"
"Oh. Is eternity coming?"
"Yeah, for everyone. We're all going to die someday. Right?"
The driver leaned across his friend and exclaimed, "Hey! You're that cop!"
"Great." I thought. "I'm not going to be martyred for carrying a cross. I'm going to be killed for being a retired deputy sheriff."
"Well, I use to be." I answered. "I'm retired, now. And, as you can see, I'm doing something different with my time."
The young man went on to explain that back in my days with the gang unit I had some, shall we say, professional contact with him and his friends.
The light turned green. The two young men smiled, waved, and went on their way.
Over time, the cross grew heavy. There is not a single rounded corner on my cross. As my shoulders stiffened and the edges of the cross dug into my skin, I thought about how I could make the cross more comfortable. Those thoughts were quickly dashed by the thought of my Lord and Savior suffering and dying on His cross. His cross had no padding. It was made for torture, not comfort. And He endured it unto death, shedding His innocent, sinless blood for the remission of my sins against Him.
Even with the consistent noise of passing cars, it was peaceful on that shaded corner of Lyons Avenue. The sound of the breeze blowing through the trees (one of my favorite sounds, by the way) seemed more pronounced than the sound of vehicle traffic. Standing there alone with no one to talk to, I found myself in quiet communion with my Lord and worshiping Him by humming hymns.
My thoughts and worship were interrupted by the ringing of my phone. It was my lovely bride, Mahria, letting me know that dinner was in twenty minutes. I took that as my cue to pack it up and call it a day.
While the hour spent on the corner of Avenida Entrana and Lyons Avenue was for all intents and purposes uneventful, it was still a significant step outside my comfort zone. I liken the experience to my first time open-air preaching several years ago. In both cases, it would appear that the Lord--who is so loving, gracious, and kind--allowed me to take these significant steps free from too much harassment from the world. I've also been at this thing call "street evangelism" long enough to know better than to allow myself to be lulled into a false sense of security.
Just as my experiences in open-air preaching have intensified since the first time I stepped onto the box, I fully expect the spiritual and physical warfare associated with carrying my cross to intensify as well. Be that as it may, I plan to carry my cross as often as I can. And I plan to incorporate my cross in my open-air preaching, too. I expect the announcement of that decision to come much to the chagrin of some of my fellow biblical and faithful street evangelists. That's okay. I've got to walk the road the Lord has put in front of me--always trusting Him to give me the wisdom and discernment, in spite of my warring sinful nature, to discern the direction I should travel.
In closing, allow me to take a moment to try to answer an obvious question that some might be asking, right about now. "So, how is the gospel being shared by standing on a corner holding a wooden cross?"
Holding a cross on the side of the road is not sharing the gospel.
That being said, if it causes an unbelieving passerby to contemplate Jesus Christ and His work on the cross; if the the question, "Are You Ready?" causes an unbeliever to ponder whether or not he or she is ready to face the One who died on the cross and rose from the grave, then I think it can be a powerful tool. If seeing the cross on the side of the road causes someone to stop and contact me, giving me the opportunity to share the Law and the Gospel with them, well, of course, that is all the better.
Furthermore, if a professing follower of Jesus Christ drives by and sees a "nobody from nowhere" like me standing on the side of the road holding a cross, and such a sight causes the person to honestly consider what (if anything) they are doing for the cause of Christ, then standing on the corner holding the cross is worth the effort.
I'm still not a "sign guy" in the typical sense of the word. All too often, signs are used in inflammatory ways to call people names and to talk about sin without any context. You will never see me do that. While you may not see me carrying a sign that says nothing more than, "Repent!" you just may see me someday in your community carrying a rugged wooden cross.