PINEY FLATS — What began as an impromptu ministry eight years ago during a mission trip in South Carolina has grown into an outreach that has seen nearly 70,000 hand-crafted wooden cross necklaces wind up in the hands of people all over the world.
Since Craig Haynie, a Sullivan South High School shop teacher, and Cham McMillin, a Kingsport optometrist, started making the small wooden cross necklaces for area students, they have been able to see many young people grow in their faith, which is the reason both Haynie and McMillin continue to work throughout the week crafting the crosses.
While Haynie and McMillin might be the ones responsible for the behind-the-scenes work, they’re quick to say that without the students, the ministry would never have grown into what it is today.
“It’s really a student-oriented thing. We don’t come up with these ideas, they come up with the ideas. Do we look like smart enough people to start a worldwide ministry and send crosses to 30 countries in six different continents? Do we look that intelligent?” Haynie said with a smile.
The ministry was started through the Fellowship of Christian Athletes at Sullivan South. After several students returned from a mission trip in which they handed out the crosses Haynie had made, the students wanted to continue handing them out to people.
Every week, a group of students take a bag of crosses and hand them out to various teams, cheerleading squads, marching bands and fans.
“Once you get them in the hands of the students, my job’s done. That’s all God told me to do,” Haynie said.
Each cross is handmade with a specific design — a design that’s usually made by a student — and features a handmade cord using a variety of colors.
Haynie is the “saw man,” while McMillin takes care of creating the cord.
During the first year of the ministry, they made about 200 crosses. That number has continued to climb each year.
The ministry really found its footing when tragedy struck in 2009 when Sullivan South defensive linesman Jake Logue died after he collapsed on the field during South’s season opener at Knox West High School.
Haynie said the Logue family became involved with the ministry as they created crosses for students to hand out at the funeral. The Logues were instrumental in helping it grow.
Each cross starts off as a 1½-by-2-inch block of wood that is run through a saw to create the cross shape. Once the piece has been shaped, it’s passed on to one of Haynie and McMillin’s helpers who use another machine to cut the cross out. Before the cross gets back into the hands of Haynie and McMillin, another helper drills the holes.
From start to finish, Haynie said it takes about eight hours to cut about 4,000 crosses.
While that might seem like a lot of work, both Haynie and McMillin said they do the easy part. It’s the kids who do all the heavy lifting.
“They talk about kids today and how bad things are, and I tell you, you walk in there and you see so many kids wearing these crosses showing their faith, it just makes you realize that you don’t see all the good that’s going on with these kids,” McMillin said.
The demand from the kids is what keeps Haynie and McMillin working hard week after week as they spend countless hours making the crosses.
For both men, watching the kids share their faith at school, on the field and anywhere else they might be is the most rewarding thing about the entire ministry, which is kept going thanks to donations and offerings from the public.
“You can’t carry a Bible around your neck, it’s a little heavy, but if you carry that cross around your neck and if somebody says something about that cross, then you tell them about Jesus,” Haynie said.