For 82 days, Mission Mississippi has been celebrating its 20th Anniversary by carrying a glowing cross all across the state. Student athletes normally carry the cross putting a face on the goal of racial reconciliation in their own communities. The plan is to hit every Mississippi county and on Oct.11, members of the Fellowship for Christian Athletes (FCA) at Ole Miss carried the cross through Oxford.
Todd Johnson of the Ole Miss FCA explained the purpose of the cross carry was to focus on reconciliation between man and God. In his personal testimony on the square he said, “The more we know God’s love for us, the more we can really love our fellow man — no matter the skin, no matter the denomination.” Johnson works with student athletes, keeping them in touch with their spirituality on and off the field.
Junior Ole Miss football player Jimmy Potepa also spoke. He described as a freshman how he let his faith escape him: “I was caught up on trying to party and trying to fit in.” Despite the people in the community who tried to reach out to him during his first two years in Oxford, Potepa says he was simply too young and unprepared to completely live his life for God.
In front of a small crowd on the North side of the town hall, Potepa confessed a Bible study with Johnson began his journey back to Christ. Johnson told him, “You can’t be a lukewarm person; you can’t have one foot in the word and one foot in the world.”
That new focus helped Potepa bring God into all aspects of his life. Soon enough, he began growing with Christ and praying in a spirit of thanks and petition. Potepa recalled Johnson’s advice to “struggle well,” meaning “don’t put yourself in a predicament where you’re going to fall and feel guilty about sinning.”
“I’ve been fighting for my salvation, and God’s been using me as an example for my teammates,” Potepa said. He adds his teammates come to him for help and support, but the junior football player made it clear he doesn’t deserve any of the praise for how far he’s come spiritually. “The glory belongs to God,” Potepa said.
On Oct. 27, the cross will return to Jackson, MS., with a ceremony and continued fellowship between all participants from 82 Mississippi counties. Their goal is to embrace faith as a bridge to reconcile all races and ethnicities with God. Mission Mississippi hopes to foster meaningful relationships across races and religious denominations.
Organization officials recognize October as Racial Reconciliation Month. Lee Paris, a Mission Mississippi Board Member, said, “God is pleased to glimpse down and see black and white and old and not-so-old dwelling together. We can all come together and be as one.”
Paris encourages Oxford residents to build relationships with people outside their regular comfort zones and go out of their way to grow with one another.
Story and photos by Elizabeth Ervin of the Meek School for Journalism and New Media