Movement that started in Smith County spreads throughout Tennessee and beyond
By David Dawson
CARTHAGE — It started with one house. It then caught on with many of the neighbors. Soon, it was spreading throughout the community.
Now, just three years after the movement began, it has expanded to multiple counties in Tennessee — and well beyond.
Sparked by Robin and Clete Underwood of Smith County, the ministry encourages participants to display a lighted cross in their yard as a means of signifying the true cause of celebration at Christmas — not only the birth of Christ, but also His ultimate sacrifice.
The ministry was originally called “aCross Sykes,” (the community where the Underwoods live). After the movement began to spread, the name was changed to “aCross Smith County.” Now, it is “aCross Tennessee.”
Tim Frank, pastor of First Baptist Church, Carthage, said his church, along with several other churches of various denominations in the area, have embraced the movement. Frank noted that he has a lighted cross in the yard at his home, and there is also a lighted cross in a prominent spot on the lawn at FBC Carthage.
Frank said the ministry is doing exactly what it is designed to do: point people to the real reason for the season.
“The purpose of Christmas is the cross — that’s why Jesus came, to die on the cross — and that really is the message, and the testimony, that comes through (with the lighted crosses),” said Frank. “I think a lot of people are looking for a way to present the gospel in this day and time. And this gives a ready access to doing that.”
Promoted on social media and other outlets, the ministry has exploded in the past three years. It began when the Underwood family put a cross in their yard, and encouraged families on their street to join them.
As word began to spread, the movement fanned out across the county and a Facebook page was established for families to register their participation and post pictures of their crosses.
And then it really started rolling.
Two years ago, crosses were registered in Texas, Nevada, Kentucky, Florida, Georgia, Alabama and South Carolina, in addition to Tennessee. In Smith County alone, there were 1,200 registered crosses last year — which represents about one in every 6.3 homes.
“I know there is no limit on how the Holy Spirit can move, but never did we imagine it would spread like it has over just a few years,” said Robin Underwood. “Doors continue to open and we will continue to follow and be obedient to His calling.”
Robin said the movement started in 2017, when she felt the Lord urging her to promote her faith by reminding others that there is more to Christmas than Santa Claus, twinkling lights and presents.
“I knew from the moment this was laid on my heart — while I was driving home from work one night in late 2017 — that I wanted to get others involved in sharing the true meaning of Christmas,” she said. “So, when we initially decided to start the cross movement, we planned to invite all our neighbors to join in along Sykes Road. We put a cross in our yard and then we delivered informative fliers along our road asking neighbors to join in.”
Little did they know what God had in store. “I never imagined how it would spread,” Robin said. “God can do big things if we will just plant the seed.”
Clete Underwood said the purpose of the ministry “is to keep Christ in Christmas” and to emphasize the purpose for which Jesus was born — to become the Savior of the world.
“The lighted crosses continually remind us to prepare our hearts as we focus on Him and His purpose for which He was born,” said Clete. “The crosses also bring unity as we are reminded by the crosses that Christ died for all of us.”
The Underwoods said they have heard many examples of how the crosses are making an impact. In some instances, people have gathered around a lighted cross to pray. In another instance, a child told her mom that the lighted cross had prompted her to take her next step of faith and be baptized.
Above all else, Robin said, the biggest impact has been “that the crosses remind Christians to slow down in all the hustle and bustle and focus on Him. Many people find themselves praising and worshiping Him while driving in their cars.”
Thinking about these types of impromptu worship services is one of the most rewarding aspects of the ministry, Robin said.
“Oh, how I know God smiles to hear our praises,” she said.
Frank said the crosses provide the opportunity for gospel conversations to be sparked. “I’m not necessarily saying that this is as effective as Roman Road, or CWT or EE, but at least you feel you are making a statement and expressing your faith,” he said. “And from that, there is the possibility of conversations taking place.”
Frank noted that many members of FBC have been enthusiastic about the project — not only by joining it, but also promoting it.
“One of our members, who owns several businesses, has had some crosses made — and he gives them away to people who want to take them and light them in their yard,” he said. “And we’ve had two or three other members who have also made multiple crosses for other people. In fact, the one I have in my yard was made by one of our members.”
Robin said she believes the ministry has the potential to continue to grow in the years ahead, and that she and her family are prepared to help that happen.
“We will continue to share this ministry and be His hands and feet,” she said. “I want the world to know the greatest love story ever told and that it happened on the cross. The cross is the most recognized symbol in the world and it represents love.”
Frank said he has seen crosses of all shapes and sizes around the area.
“Some of them are as simple as two two-by-fours nailed together,” he said. “Some are PVC pipes outlined in the rope lighting. Others are pretty elaborate. There are all kinds of different ways to do it. Most of the crosses have white lights, but I’ve also seen a quite a few that have red lights and several that have blue.”
Robin said she is amazed when she sees how the movement has impacted the community. “You can’t begin to imagine how beautiful the landscape is as you drive around and are surrounded by the lighted crosses,” she said.
The ministry has received a good deal of media attention, and earlier this year, the Underwoods were invited to Capitol Hill to tell their story. The Underwoods hope the exposure will help the ministry continue to grow and thrive in the years ahead.
“It has been such a blessing to see friends, neighbors, churches and others around the county rally together for Christ,” Robin said. “As Christians we are all called by Christ to share the gospel to the ends of the earth. This is such an easy way for us to show obedience in sharing the gospel. I know the cross lighting ministry was inspired by the Holy Spirit — and we will continue to be obedient to His calling.” B&R For more on the ministry, or to register a cross, visit www.aCrossTenn.com. To follow the ministry on Facebook, go to “aCross Tennessee.”