The building that used to house Kokomo Skate and Fun Center looks a lot different than it used to. Then again, the building’s new purpose is quite a leap from its previous use.

The structure at 840 Daniel Drive is now home to Cross America, a local nonprofit built entirely around Christian beliefs and that’s setting out to put a cross in every residence in the United States.

Sound crazy? Terry Merrell thought so at first, too – and it was his vision. Merrell serves as a board member for the nonprofit and is co-owner of the national biosolids management company Merrell Brothers. Five years ago he had a vision he believes was sent to him directly from God. It was the concept for a ministry to do exactly what Cross America is doing now.

“114 million homes. If you sit and do the math to it, that’s just really crazy,” he said. “It’s potentially decades and may or may not happen in our lifetime.”

The concept, though grand in scope, is relatively simple in nature. Implementing the U.S. Postal Service, each cross, folded into a specialized envelope (that is also shaped like a cross) and outfitted with a message, will be sent to each residence listed in any given area code – something made possible with the USPS’s Every Door Direct program.

Virtually weightless, the small, aluminum crosses are just over an inch long, with “Romans 10:9” engraved on each one – a reference to a verse in the Bible that says, “If you declare with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.”

Despite his initial doubts, Merrell made steps to see the vision become reality, forming the nonprofit and its board.

“We’re not selling anything, we just want people to know how to get to heaven,” said Merrell.

Three years ago, Cross America bought the building just off of Indiana 931. The whole place has seen a major overhaul, with no one walking in the front door likely to think of a skating rink.

New walls separate the main room into separate areas. A café sits near the front. A large assembly area can seat around 450 people – all facing a stage and a replica of Jesus’s tomb that’s been outfitted with automation, allowing a large stone to roll in front of the tomb’s door. When the stone rolls back, opening the tomb, Jesus’s cloth-wrapped body is gone, symbolizing his resurrection.

Despite the plentiful seating, Cross America Executive Director Crystal Sanburn said the facility is not a church. Rather, she hopes it will serve as a resource to area churches when their doors open on Saturday, March 17.

Artwork and statues depict religious scenes, and a large map of the United States painted on the wall is meant to chart the mission’s progress. Tiny black boundary lines aren’t immediately visible on the map until it’s viewed up close. The lines divide each individual ZIP code. When a cross has been sent to every house in a ZIP code, it will be painted red.

Volunteers will be needed to package the crosses in envelopes and hopefully help sponsor a particular ZIP code somewhere in the country.

A second-floor area overlooks the large, main rooms and has a baptismal area and a farmyard-themed room for kids.

Four meeting rooms scattered around the large facility are available to rent for meetings, and the Doubting Thomas Café will be open during business hours for anyone to grab a sandwich and a cup of coffee.

Those kinds of elements, said Sanburn, will hopefully draw in community members who aren’t necessarily in-tune with the rest of Cross America’s extremely prevalent Christian themes.

“I don’t know who wouldn’t want to sit next to a nice fireplace and have a cup of coffee and maybe talk to a friend,” she said, adding the goal is for the place to become a spot for people to hang out, meet with friends or maybe do some homework.

All the money they earn goes back into the facility, said Merrell.

On opening day, Cross America officials hope volunteers will show up to help package the individual crosses. Also, they hope for volunteers who feel strongly about their mission to help sponsor a particular ZIP code. They’ve already gotten some sponsors, said Sanburn.

Cross America’s opening day will be marked with music throughout the day, ending in a concert from the Christian music band Point of Grace at 7 p.m. March 17.

Cody Neuenschwander can be reached at 765-454-8570 or by email at cody@kokomotribune.com

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