By Linda Orlando
Bernard Coffindaffer of Craigsville, West Virginia, was born in 1935 to West German parents who had emigrated to the U.S. before his birth. His father died when he was still a baby and his mother died with cancer when he was ten years old, leaving him an orphan. Despite these trying circumstances, Coffindaffer graduated from high school at the age of fourteen and then served six years in the U. S. Marine Corps with tours of duty in the Pacific, Iwo Jima, and Nagasaki, Japan. He graduated from the University of Charleston with a degree in business, and then returned to his West Virginia homeland. He worked in the oil industry as a young man, and later founded a coal-washing business in the West Virginia mountains in an economically deprived location. His business was enormously successful. When he was 42, Coffindaffer became a Christian and studied the ministry, becoming a Methodist minister and serving seven small churches in Pocahontas County. He was later given an honorary doctoral degree in Florida.
After two heart surgeries, Coffindaffer decided to liquidate his business and stop working in the coal industry, and then two years later he had a vision. It was "a genuine, marvelous, glorious vision," Coffindaffer said. He was explicitly told what he was supposed to do: Get manpower, get materials, and plant crosses for the world to see. "The Holy Spirit instructed, blessed, dealt with me and told me how to go about installing these Crosses. It was an experience you have once in a lifetime." Coffindaffer's successful business acumen had resulted in his being able to amass a small fortune before liquidating his business. "I worked like a dog for the money, eighteen hours a day for thirty-five years," he said. "The Holy Spirit knew I had the money and was willing to spend it, and I'm not going to back down."
So on September 28, 1984, Coffindaffer started the Crosses Across America project, saying "Not for saints or sinners. For everybody. They are up for only one sole reason, and that's this: to remind people that Jesus was crucified on a cross at Calvary for our sins and that He is soon coming again." Coffindaffer knew that the crosses might lead to controversy, adding, "When you say 'for our sins,' half the people run. When you say 'He's coming again,' everybody runs." But maybe, he said, "the crosses will make one person stop and think."
Over the course of the next nine years, Coffindaffer had an office in the basement of his home with a full-time secretary, as well as seven full-time work crews traveling across America to erect the clusters of crosses he had designed. The crosses were all built from California Douglas fir, weighing about 400 pounds each. The center cross is painted gold and the two crosses on either side are painted a pale blue, and the three are set in pea gravel and sand. The three crosses symbolize Christ on the cross, flanked by the two thieves who were crucified with him. The gold paint on the center cross represents royalty, while the pale blue paint on the flanking crosses signifying the earth. When each cluster was erected, a consecration service was held where scriptures were read and prayers were offered for repentance and forgiveness of sins. The same identical service was held at each site. Coffindaffer once said, "The crosses speak peace within as we struggle without."
Coffindaffer spent approximately $3,000,000 to build and plant the clusters of three crosses in 29 states, the District of Columbia, Zambia, and The Philippines. Site owners donated the land's use for the crosses and Coffindaffer paid all the bills. The successful businessman turned colorful evangelist attracted the attention of the media when he became the subject of a PBS documentary about his life titled, "Point Man For God." He was also shown on the award-winning series "Different Drummer," and CBS News did a story about him on its popular program "CBS Sunday Morning." When he died in 1993 of a heart attack at his home, Coffindaffer had been responsible for the installation and maintenance of nearly 2000 clusters of crosses. His ministry, Cast Thy Bread, Inc., ceased operation with no money in reserve.
For six years after his death, Coffindaffer's crosses continued to offer inspiration and comfort to weary travelers, but it appeared that his ongoing mission had ended with his death and the 2000 existing crosses. Then, in 1999, Sara Stevenson Abraham made the decision to pick up where Coffindaffer had left off and revive the project of planting crosses for the world to see. Abraham formed a new non-profit organization called Crosses Across America, Inc., and opened a National Headquarters in Vicksburg, Mississippi. As Executive Director of the organization, Abraham is locating the standing clusters of crosses installed by Coffindaffer's work crews and then enlisting the aid of volunteer groups in getting them straightened, repaired, and restored. Abraham travels the country to present the story of the crosses to churches, civic organizations, television and radio programs, spreading the word of Coffindaffer's original mission and the purpose of the crosses.
Crosses Across America has big plans for expanding Coffindaffer's original mission by installing new clusters of crosses every 50 miles on either side of some 45,000 miles of interstate highways and thoroughfares that crisscross North America. They also plan to install crosses at specific sites that seem to cry out for them, such as the lake in South Carolina where a mother drowned her two young sons, and the field in Pennsylvania where the 9/11 terrorists crashed an airliner killing everyone on board. The organization secured all the files, photographs, plans, and films used to design, build, and install the original crosses, so that after the existing crosses are repaired, they can begin building new ones.
The new crosses will be more durable because they will be constructed of a plastic-like material that will withstand 200 mph winds. Because of this newer technology, the crosses will never again need repairing or painting, but they will have all the properties of the original crosses and will be exact duplicates as far as possible. The project itself will cost a tremendous amount of money, time, and effort, but because Crosses Across America and its volunteers believe their mission is ordained by God, they do not worry about where the money will come from. They believe that God will touch the hearts of people to provide funds for the project, and so far the funds have been provided by individuals, foundations, churches, and other donors.
All donations are tax-deductible, and there are no paid employees. Administrative expenses for the organization are underwritten by a private individual, and all people associated with Crosses Across America are volunteers. No one will ever receive any financial gain from Crosses Across America, but millions of people will receive tremendous emotional and spiritual gain as they pass by the crosses guiding their way on the highway.