terry merrell

Terry Merrell holds one of 400,000 aluminum crosses that spill down from the ceiling at Cross America. 

Traveling around the country for work, Terry Merrell said he frequently runs into people who didn’t know how to get to heaven.

Now, with Cross America set to open next month in the former skating rink facility, Merrell hopes his new ministry will show people the way.

“It’s exciting. We just want people to go to heaven. It’s that simple. It’s exciting to get ready to get to that point and make it a real community facility,” he said.

The 501c3 nonprofit has one straightforward mission: to send a cross and scripture to every house in America in the hopes of showing them the way to heaven. Inside the 21,000-square-foot facility, four large, clear chutes drop from the ceiling, each holding 100,000 aluminum crosses that spill out into a wooden tray.

On the adjacent wall, a massive map of the United States is divided out by zip codes. The crosses will be mailed to every zip code, and as they’re mailed, that section of the country will be colored in.

Organizers are hoping to make the mission a community collaboration. Community members are invited in Monday through Friday from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m. to package the crosses, and sponsors are being sought to fund the postage to mail the crosses to the various zip codes using the U.S. Post Office’s every door direct mailing (EDDM) system. Cross America’s first zip codes to ship to are Kokomo.

“We’re going to start with Kokomo first, and then there could be people who walk in the door and say, ‘Oh, my gosh. My sister lives in Birmingham. I really want that message to go to Birmingham. I can’t afford to donate or be a part of that large of a zip code, but I could a smaller one,” said Crystal Sanburn, executive director of Cross America.

Sanburn said for every 100 crosses sent out, 99 of them may not have an impact. But reaching one person of every 100, she said, will make a difference.

“It’s not a great return on investment, but we really believe that God, for sure, when it comes to that type of thing, understands that it’s just the one we want to make sure we touch and we find. He’ll lead the 99 to come find the one that’s lost,” she said.

Shipping crosses across America is just one function of Cross America. Its organizers also aim for it to be a community center, open to everyone regardless of their beliefs.

As such, the building has been renovated completely to play host to concerts, forums, seminars, weddings, or other various events. The center boasts an auditorium that seats 400 with balcony seating, four conference rooms, and has an event center that comes complete with a full kitchen for catering and quartz detail throughout. Cross America also houses a craft coffee shop called Doubting Thomas Coffee.

The coffee shop has been planned and designed by Brad Breedlove, who said he’s excited to offer third-wave coffee to Kokomo. The shop will offer cold brew, nitro-infused coffee, pour-over coffee, as well as various specialty espresso beverages.

“It’s made with a lot more finesse and care taken with creating the coffee itself, so our baristas will be a little more trained on how to do that. They’ve got to care about the product,” said Breedlove.

A drive-thru also has been installed for convenience. Applications for part-time baristas currently are being accepted.

In addition, Cross America offers seating and a laptop bar in the main area for the public to sit, enjoy coffee or baked goods, have work meetings, or just hang out. Free Wi-Fi is available.

Another area of the facility will house local coffee roaster Austin Bailey, who will roast out of Cross America with his company Peshewa Coffee. Upstairs, another portion will be the new home to two area nonprofits, though Sanburn couldn’t release which nonprofits yet as details are being finalized.

Upstairs also is home to a dry baptistery and a “barnyard” childcare area that’s been painted and decorated to look like a true barnyard by local artist Kathy McDonald. Sanburn said if groups meet and need an area to let their children play, they can use that area so long as they provide the babysitter and sign a release.

While people are using the facility, Sanburn said she hopes they consider stuffing a few crosses into their envelopes to prepare them for mailing while they’re there, though no one is required to do so.

“Mailing the crosses is the main mission of what we’re doing in this facility, and everything else that we’re doing here will undergird that ministry. We really believe people will get behind this,” she said. “We’re not here to Bible beat anyone. We just want you to decide for yourself whether you believe.”

When asked what the next step is after the crosses have been mailed to the 44,000 zip codes in America, Sanburn said that’s the beauty of the ministry: God will help further the vision when the time comes, she said.

“We don’t know if it’s going to take off really quickly, but we do have every belief that this will be a very busy place,” she said. “We think once we get started, the word of mouth will really carry about what we’re doing, and lots of people, not just in Kokomo, will want to be a part of our ministry. We have no way of knowing that, but we really believe that because we all want people to come to Christ.”

To kick off the grand opening of Cross America, Grammy-nominated gospel group Point of Grace is performing during a ticketed event at the facility on Saturday, March 17, at 7 p.m. Tickets are available at WFRN.com. The facility will open at 8 a.m. that day for the community to tour and enjoy Doubting Thomas coffee.

Sanburn said she’s looking forward to a formerly blighted area of the community to come to life.

“It was a very blighted area of our community, and we’re excited to be able to renovate it and bring it back as an opportunity for people, very different types of people, to use it and make it into something beautiful that will be really beneficial to the community,” she said.

Conference rooms are available at no charge, though they must be reserved. Other areas of Cross America are available to rent. Cross America is located at 840 Daniel Drive, across from Menards on S.R. 931. For more information, call 765-780-3090 or visit crossamerica.net.