First UMC Center Spreads Hope with Prayer Crosses
By: Sherri Gragg
During the Iraq War, nearly 5,000 American servicemen and women lost their lives. Thousands upon thousands more were wounded in combat. As the war stretched on for nine brutal years, America learned how to grieve together.
Whenever word spread that a lost son or daughter was coming home to their final resting place, entire towns turned out to bear witness to young lives cut short. Standing at attention, with hands over their hearts and tears on their faces, mourners lined roadsides, filled squares, and whispered silent prayers in honor of the fallen.
When the day came for Center, Texas to mourn, Steve Thomas stood next to his wife, Lisa, listening to the sound of American flags flapping in the wind. His heart was heavy. “I couldn’t help but think that this soldier never knew what support he had from home. I wanted to do something to show them we were thinking about them while they were still alive.”
While You Pray, Move Your Feet
Thomas went home and took a long walk in the woods to ask God to show him what he could do to minister to servicemen and women serving in the Middle East. A few days later, God gave him the idea for the Prayer Cross ministry. Thomas went down into his home woodshop and crafted the first small cross, complete with a tiny hole in the end where he could place a slip of paper with the soldier’s name, the date the cross was blessed, and a reference to First UMC Center.
The next Sunday, Thomas walked to the front of First UMC Center, showed his creation to his fellow church members and told them what God wanted him to do. The congregation began clapping enthusiastically and stood to their feet in support. The Prayer Cross ministry was born.
A Sunday of Celebration
On Sunday, June 10, 2018, First UMC Center Senior Pastor Karen Jones stood before her congregation with the 2,034th Prayer Cross in her hands in celebration of the past nine years of prayers lifted and hope shared.
The ministry has expanded over the years. As the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan drew to a close at last, the ministry has transitioned to bring comfort and hope to anyone in need of prayer. Steve Thomas stays busy making crosses while his wife, Lisa, handles the administrative tasks involved in the ministry. Their fellow church members have remained tremendously supportive over the years. Thomas is quick to assert that without their help the ministry would have not survived.
Thomas has heard back from countless grateful soldiers over the years. Once, he was even presented with an American flag that had flown over the field of battle in Iraq. But there is one thank-you he will never forget.
One Sunday morning, a tall Marine wearing his dress blues strode into the sanctuary of First UMC Center alongside his family. He had received a cross while serving and wanted to express his gratitude. As the pastor invited him to the front of the sanctuary, the congregation stood to honor him.
Then the Marine turned to shake the hand that had made the cross. “He had a chest full of medals,” Thomas recalls, “and I remember the sound they made as they clinked against each other as he walked over to shake my hand. Every time I make a cross it is meaningful to me because knowing you are not alone means a lot to people who are going through tough times. When someone hits rock bottom I want them to know there is a group of people praying for them. I want them to know God loves them.”