Cross Walk -- A Statement of Faith
Standing up for one’s faith can be a difficult hurdle for any Christian. But during the East River Church (AG) annual “Via Dolorosa Cross Walk,” members of the church’s youth group not only exhibit their faith, but experience it as well.
For the past five years, Youth Pastor Sarah Dillon, 26, has been leading her youth group on an annual walk on the Saturday prior to Easter Sunday. The walk isn’t a stroll in the park, but a 4-hour, 10-mile hike while carrying a pair of crosses from the church through downtown Bluefield, Virginia, and out to the highway and back.
East River Church, led by Senior Pastor Tim Boyd, has an average attendance of about 80 people. The youth group, which runs 15 to 20 kids each week, had 15 members step forward to participate in the walk this year. In addition to reminding their community what the Easter week is truly all about, the youth also use the event to raise money for Speed the Light (STL), receiving donations from individuals and businesses for every mile they walk.
"The cross is so symbolic and perfect,” states 18-year-old youth group member Hunter Furrow. “To me, Via Dolorosa means sacrifice. Jesus sacrificed His life to give us life, and when I shoulder that cross, it not only serves as a reminder of His relentless love, but is also symbolic of the way I choose to live my life as a sacrifice for Him. This event has truly changed my life forever."
“They want to be a walking testimony to the community,” Dillon says of her youth group. “That’s their heart and their passion.”
The theme for the STL fundraising portion of the walk was “We walk so our missionaries don’t have to” as Speed the Light funds help meet the transportation needs for Assemblies of God missionaries — everything from SUVs to donkeys.
Dillon says that for the most part, people driving by or walking by in the downtown area express positive support for the youth during the Cross Walk. However, there are times when the teens face ridicule.
“This is a statement of faith,” Dillon says. “Their classmates see them on the road and downtown and most are encouraging, but sometimes they face challenges at school because of it. However, they also experience opportunities to explain what they’re doing and invite kids to a youth service or event.”
The Cross Walk weekend actually begins on Good Friday evening, when the youth group hosts a special event with live music and activities designed to give them an opportunity to invite their friends and introduce them to Christ through a fun, low-key event.
“After kids participate in the Cross Walk, I’ve seen more of a boldness [to witness] in them,” Dillon says. “They’re constantly inviting their classmates to services. And those who started out doing this five years ago, are now leading worship on Wednesday nights and very involved in our church, and that’s a really cool thing to see.”
"Via Dolorosa has made me see things through a totally different view,” says youth group member, Destiny Johnson, who is also 18. “It has taken me to a deeper place in my relationship with Jesus and challenged me in the area of missions. I want everyone to know how much they are loved and will continue to pick up my cross, not only on Via Dolorosa, but every day for the rest of my life."
Although the East River Church youth have been participating in this event for five years, Dillon says for her, she’s being a part of Cross Walk for 15 years — back when she was a member of a youth group. “My youth group leader, Chet Caudill, started a Cross Walk in our youth group and that made such an impact on me, that now I’m ‘paying it forward’ to my youth group,” Dillon says.
The Cross Walk typically takes four to five hours to complete and this year, Dillon says, although the fundraising wasn’t as strong as some of the other years, they raised nearly $1,000 for Speed the Light.
"God determines and evaluates success in unique ways we cannot fully appreciate,” observes Heath Adamson, senior director of AG Youth Ministries. “Some of the most significant Kingdom moments are hidden in homes, schools, coffee shop conversations, rural American roads, and smaller congregations. God is looking for leaders and students who are on mission and willing to steward opportunities to make Jesus known.”