In 2003, while attending seminary, I organized Indian Trail Presbyterian Church's first weekend mission trip with CROSS (Charlotte Regional Outreach Spirituality and Study) Missions in Charlotte, North Carolina. On Saturday, our church group served at two different mission sites with Cindy, the CROSS director. I was fascinated by Cindy's job of organizing mission trips and serving beside groups in the city. Cindy spoke about transitioning to a new job and inquired if I would be interested in the director's position. Throughout that weekend, I prayed about the opportunity and applied for the position.
From 2004-2008,I directed the CROSS mission program at Myers Park Presbyterian Church. During the orientation tours, I welcomed mission groups from all over the country every Friday night in the school year and every Sunday afternoon in the summer. Words of mission were spoken over and over again, encouraging mission participants to serve God and love neighbor in the city. Little did I know that serving as a mission-group tour guide would provide a future mission focus in pastoral leadership.
Over the four years as director, I prepared two hundred groups to serve God in missions. A unique aspect of the director's job was to partner with fifty churches and thirty non-profit agencies each year. I enjoyed learning and serving with the non-profits that filled a gap in the community by providing needed services. Mission groups served at agencies such as food banks, clothing centers, daycare centers, camps for at-risk children, recovery programs, shelters, urban farms, homeless shelters, and facilities for those with dementia. Every day I was either talking on the phone, serving alongside, or praying for agencies and mission groups. CROSS Missions helped me envision how the church should function on a daily basis as the hands, feet, and voices of Christ in the world.
In 2008, I transitioned from directing mission trips in Charlotte, North Carolina to ordained ministry in Fishersville, Virginia. Over the past thirteen years, I have returned to CROSS with church groups. Last weekend, I served at CROSS for the very first time with my daughters as teenagers! At a young age, Haven and River served at CROSS with church groups and at non-profit agencies.
In 2006, as a one-year-old, River served with Pleasant Hill Presbyterian Church from Duluth, South Carolina.
In 2008, as a four-month-old, Haven served at Urban Ministry Center with St. Giles Presbyterian Church from Greenville, South Carolina.
In 2021, River (age 15), Haven (age 13) and I served with Westminster Presbyterian Church from Waynesboro, Virginia. I am so grateful for the following mission participants from our church: (pictured below from left - right) Jonathan, Ross, (me), Grayson, Haven, Sophi, Emma, Hollis, Trinity, River, Katharine, Annsley, and Laura.
During the weekend mission trip, our church group split into two mission teams. Quint, the CROSS guide, led one mission team throug a two-hour urban walk. The group attempted to see the city through God's eyes and from the perspective of marginalized neighbors. Also, this mission team participated in a budget challenge. The educational simulation and discussion challenged the group to buy a weeks' worth of dinners to feed a small family from a grocery story located in a food desert.
During the walk, the group visited the fresco located at 401 North Tryon Street. They paused underneath the dome to view Ben Long's fresco titled "Continuum."
"Continuum' represents the cycle of continuous disintegration and rebirth, reinforcing the notion that the more things change, the more they remain the same. Frescos are different from other forms of painting in that the art actually becomes a part of the plaster surface upon which it is created. Additional Charlotte frescos are located in uptown Charlotte at Bank of American Corporate Center, Charlotte-Mecklenburg Law Enforcement center, and First Presbyterian Church.
In the afternoon, Quint's mission team served at Baby Bundles which provides newborn essentials to families in financial need in the Charlotte area, thus helping them gain a positive start with their newborn. The group sorted clothes and prepared forty-five baby bundles for new mothers.
The second mission team served on Saturday morning at Beds for Kids. Alyson, the CROSS guide, helped the mission team assemble two dressers in the morning. During evening devotions, the group prayed for the young recipients at their future home.
Beds for Kids mission is to provide beds and essential furniture to children and their families in need. Through referrals from a variety of agencies in Charlotte, families receive not only beds but other highly desired items such as dressers, desks, and tables. Kevin Warren, Volunteer and Church Partnerships Manager, orients all the volunteers prior to service at the warehouse. Kevin made such a great impression upon our group, that I asked to record his passion and delivery stories for others to hear. Listen to Kevin's inspiring delivery stories by clicking on the YouTube video below.
In the afternoon, our mission group served at Foster Village Charlotte, which is a converted house used to provide safe and comfortable spaces for families to meet and receive resources. The group mowed lawns, cleaned railings, and swept driveways. Unfortunately, due to COVID-19, most of the agencies restrict interaction with their clients. Hopefully, in the future, more CROSS groups can engage with people at the agencies and form relationships in the midst of service.
At CROSS, church groups worship with the community of faith at Myers Park Presbyterian Church. Worship is a beautiful ending to the weekend as groups begin to hear God's next call of service.
If you are interested in serving with your church in Charlotte, partner with CROSS Missions. All groups stay at Myers Park Presbyterian Church's Outreach Center. Groups have access to the gym, game room, and showers. CROSS staff plan mission sites, provide breakfast and lunch supplies, lead devotions, and accompany groups. Learn more about CROSS Missions by contacting Rev. Erika Funk, CROSS Missions Director.
This weekend, take a simple step in mission with your church by crossing out boundaries that divide us and stereotypes that judge us, all while focusing on the cross of Christ!
Rev. April H. Cranford