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Brian Dale: Lessons in a Cross
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While on a mission trip to Honduras, I visited a gift shop that featured handmade items from the local community. I wanted to support the economy of that village, still struggling to pull itself out of the mire left behind by Hurricane Mitch. Some rustic earthenware might be a nice addition to my ceramic collection, I thought. But there among the pots was an ornate wooden cross, obviously handmade out of native wood and intricately carved with a coping saw. "How much is this cross?" I asked the clerk. Her answer told me more about how much the cross was worth than about how much it would cost me.

"That cross was made by a man I know," she said. "He lost the use of his legs many years ago, and took to begging in the streets. I told him he shouldn’t do such things; he was still a strong and healthy man, even without his legs. He should go to work and earn his living. I told him he could live in my house only until he finished building a house of his own."

I studied the woman intently, not sure I understood her correctly. Her command of the English language was good, and I could not dismiss as miscommunication the words that I was hearing. She seemed compassionate to let him live under her roof, but cruel to demand he build his own house. But in her bearing I could find no cruelty and only a little compassion. What I saw was the quiet confidence and self-reliance of her proud culture.

"Is he still living with you?" I asked. "No, I kicked him out the day he hung the front door on his home. It was not a door with hinges, but a heavy canvas sheet." The look on my face must have told her I wanted to know how this could be possible.

"I gave him a digging trowel, some scraps of wood, and a few nails. He used the wood to make brick molds. Then every day he would make bricks from the heavy clay in our hillsides. For months, he collected bricks and left them drying in the sun."

"Eventually, he had enough bricks to build his house. Some missionaries gave him cement they had left over from a building project, which he used for mortar. He would scoot along the ground, laying bricks and mortar, going up as high as he could reach. Then he worked from his wheelchair, and went as high as he could go."

"When the walls were as high as he could make them, I gave him a coping saw. He started making these crosses out of wood he found laying around, and selling them in my shop. He used the money to pay others to help him finish the walls and roof. He lives by himself now, and still makes these crosses to support himself."

I bought the cross, and would have counted it a bargain at twice the price.

Whether this story is true or just a legend, I do not know. But it is the story I attach to the wooden cross hanging on my wall. Its maker found inner strength where his legs had failed him, and grace in what may have seemed like heartlessness.

Like the original cross, its value is not intrinsic in the wood, nor in the workmanship, but in the sacrifice that it represents. While at times we may cry out for mercy and relief, God’s words for Paul (2 Corinthians 12:9) apply to us as well: "My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness."


The Rev. Brian Dale is the pastor of Allen Memorial Methodist Church in Oxford.