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The Assembly and the Cross

A cross, erected in a field as a symbol of things to come for an Arkansas church, was unknowingly a quiet beacon of hope to an entire community.

On April 7, 2024, The Assembly, an Assemblies of God congregation in Siloam Springs, Arkansas, dedicated a large cross on their church property. As the church celebrated their 100-year anniversary in December, 2023, the church leadership, along with Pastor Gary Wheat, felt the church should do something really special to focus on the theme, “God Is Faithful,” for the anniversary and the upcoming year.

That cross, however, was not the first one erected on the church property.

In 2012, the church began their second capital campaign for a new building that would be located on 20 acres they had previously purchased. For that special service, a board member with building and contracting experience was tasked with building a large cross in the spot where the altar of the new church would eventually stand, as a temporary symbol of the commitment to use the property for God’s purposes.

The temporary cross was supposed to be built for a weekend celebration, but it remained in place for over five years, before being removed in 2017 for the construction of the new church building.

“It was a fun day putting it up, but also a great day taking it down, since we were moving forward with our church building project,” says Tim Jackson, the builder of the original cross. Jackson also coordinated the services of a trusted area contractor, Lightning Bolt Construction, for the new one.

Many church members and community members had spoken of how they missed seeing the cross on the property, so the decision was made to erect a new, permanent one in connection with the anniversary celebration. For the dedication of the new cross, Wheat’s daughter, Ashlyn Hill, who serves in the church media ministry, began collecting stories of what the earlier cross had meant to the church and community, creating a special email address and a social media request.

As word of the project spread, the church began finding out just how much the cross had meant to the community during the years the temporary cross was seen by those who drove past the property. God had been at work in ways nobody realized.

One family often used the cross as a rallying point for prayer for a missing relative. “When the cross was here previously, we had balloon releases for my brother who has been missing for 18 years,” wrote Sonya, along with sharing photos. “I’m so glad to hear the cross is going to be permanent.”

Another young man sent a picture of a Chevrolet Camaro, which he and his father restored together before the father passed away from cancer. “I grew up in church and am a Christian,” wrote the son, “but watching my father fight cancer for 9 years left me with a lot of unanswered questions, which is why I spent a lot of time at that cross, thinking, praying, and talking to God.”

Several families also used the cross as a photo site, including a mother and daughter who stopped by for photos before the daughter’s graduation ceremony from nearby John Brown University. The cross had been a special symbol of God’s presence for the young woman during her college years. Another couple who attend The Assembly had their engagement photos at the cross as a symbol of a Christ-centered marriage.

One of the first emails Hill received for the dedication project was from Crystal McFerron, also a member of The Assembly congregation.

In October of 2015, McFerron and her husband, James, celebrated their 10th wedding anniversary with a photoshoot at the cross.

“We just felt drawn to have our pictures done with the cross, not even realizing at the time who had placed it there,” says McFerron. “I put my wedding dress back on, and we had a wonderful day out in that field.”

The couple lived near the cross and drove by it often, but had not yet found a church that felt like a good fit. About six months after the photos, though, they were invited to visit The Assembly.

“We immediately knew we’d found our home church,” says McFerron. “We had no idea it was the church that had placed the cross in that field, but realized God had been calling us to this church.”

They began attending regularly and found ways to get involved and serve.

In February, 2021, Crystal became a widow when James tragically succumbed to PTSD issues that had plagued him as a military veteran and law enforcement officer. Crystal says she would not have made it through the past three years without the love and support of the church family.

“God knew what He was doing when He brought us here,” she says. “I love this church more than words can express, and it all started with that cross.”

Not only has Crystal bravely shared her story as the church celebrates God’s faithfulness, but she has allowed God to use it to minister to others. During a recent church service, a prophetic word was given about suicide and a couple came forward for prayer.

“Crystal was able to speak to that couple in ways no one else could have,” says Wheat. “She shared, peacefully but directly, about how painful it has been to be left as a widow because her husband didn’t think he could make it anymore. Even through her own sorrow, she is willing to let God use her story.”

Hill says the story collection project was “a humbling experience,” and an honor to hear stories that show how powerful God is and how much He cares about all of us.

“Some of the stories just blew me away,” agrees Jackson. “Now I’m looking forward to seeing what God might do through the new cross!”

Since the new permanent cross has been completed, Wheat says they have already had many positive comments and even people taking pictures at the cross. The goal is to make it a place where people can come and spend time in prayer and find hope in Christ.

Cynthia J Thomas

Cynthia J. Thomas worked for Assemblies of God U.S. Missions for six years before becoming primary caregiver for her father, a World War II veteran. She has served as a counselor for victims of domestic violence and women facing crisis pregnancies. Cindy and her husband, Phil, a schoolteacher, volunteer in youth outreach and have three adult children and one granddaughter.