Holding onto lessons from the cross
When Michael Yeomans, who passed away recently, was first hospitalised due to cancer in 2013 he was given a holding cross as a present. Thereafter, he was never without his holding cross, as he found it to be a material reminder of the Lord’s presence and promises.
The inscription on Michael’s holding cross, which his wife still keeps with her, is from Isaiah 40:31 — They that wait upon the Lord shall rise up like eagles, which gave him hope and inspired him to walk again.
As soon as he was well enough in 2013, Michael started giving holding crosses to whoever he thought was in need of one. His wife, Mary-Lou continues to give them away as gifts.
Today, many of Michael’s family members carry a holding cross, including Mary-Lou, his three sons, father, brothers, sister, and their spouses.
Mary-Lou said it amazed her how each different scriptural verse inscribed on the holding crosses seemed to be specifically suited to support and encourage the person who acquired it.
A couple of weeks ago, my entire family received holding crosses as presents from Mary-Lou.
Never having heard of a holding cross before, I quickly became used to having it in hand or in a pocket if inconvenient to hold. I find it a heartening and consistent reminder of the Lord.
Fascinated by the holding cross, I contacted the manufacturer: Denis Oliver of The Carpenters Cross Shop.
Take up your cross
Denis related how he and his wife, Gill, were challenged by God to give up everything, take up their crosses, and follow His guidance in faith, so they could be used by Him.
Today, the manufacture and distribution of the holding crosses, which are also known as comfort, or prayer crosses, is the couple’s ministry.
However, their story is not a simple one of surrender and instantaneous maturity of faith — rather it is a story of struggling to overcome uncertainty, of not always being sure of the Lord’s Will for their lives, and of the growth of their faith through obedience, despite doubts and hardships.
Having left Johannesburg in 2003 the couple settled in Sedgefield, on the Garden Route, from where Olive Cross Ministries and The Carpenter’s Cross Shop operate today.
In 2005 Denis received a request to make holding crosses, which he had never heard of before.
“My immediate and emphatic response to this enquiry was a firm ‘No’, because of the complicated, lengthy and involved production process.
“The holding crosses can’t be machine cut, because of the cross-grain of the Wild Olivewood, so each cross is individually marked out with a stencil according to the cracks and knots in the wood before going through a further 14 production phases.
“However, the Lord had other plans for us. After being convicted by the Holy Spirit and as God’s guidance became clearer we found ourselves at the beginning of a holding cross ministry.
Olive cross ministries
“Olive Cross Ministries is a calling on our lives for which we had to first lose everything to get to the point of committing our lives to the Lord and making our way to Sedgefield from where the holding cross ministry unfolded.
“From making a few conventional crosses, which were marketed through churches and a handful of retail outlets with very limited success, Olive Cross Ministries has produced more than 30 000 holding crosses that have been acquired by people throughout South Africa and even internationally,” said Denis.
He manufactures the crosses as a witness to our Lord and Saviour and to serve Him in spreading His Word. They remind the holder of our connectedness to the Lord by grace and through faith at all times.
The holding crosses are hand-crafted from Wild Olive wood, which Denis obtains from a farm near the Kalahari, and are suitable for adults and children. They are laser engraved with one of 20 English and Afrikaans scripture verses, which are Spirit-led, and fit comfortably in the palm of one’s hand.
“Keeping a holding cross on one’s person seems to be an inspiration to practice being in the presence of God and wonderfully compliments praying during personal devotions,” said Denis.
“Through the holding cross we have heard people say that they have been opened by the Holy Spirit to different dimensions of prayer and to a growing intimacy with the Lord.
“A holding cross also presents an easy way of sharing your relationship with the Lord with others as it is ideally carried in the pocket or hand bag and is easily brought out into view to become a point of discussion,” added Denis.
Immersed in prayer
The crosses are immersed in prayer. Not one day is begun without Denis and Gill going to the foot of the cross to pray or ending the day with prayer for both their individual lives as well as committing the work of Olive Cross Ministries to the Lord.
The work of making the holding crosses is exacting, often tedious and always demanding, because each one is individually handmade.
“The work has to be done properly, because it is the Lord’s work, we don’t work for ourselves we work for Him,” explained Denis.
“It is a total commitment to serving the Lord and a total dedication of having submitted both our lives to Him.”
However, Denis agrees that never in his wildest dreams could he or Gill have imagined how the Lord would use them and guide them in following His purpose and path for their lives.
He said it was only in hindsight that he could truly appreciate how the Lord guided him and Gill to their work of Olive Cross Ministries: from the leaving of Gauteng to finally settle in Sedgefield near sawmills and a wood-working industry, to the sourcing of the Wild Olivewood from far-away Kuruman, it has all been Spirit-led.
A walk in faith
It has required a walk in faith and a commitment to Olive Cross Ministries by Denis and Gill, who have had to endure much pain and hard work along the way with little material reward, but the spirit reward is the upside of the ministry – lives are touched through the holding crosses for the glory of the Lord.
“When we started out making holding crosses, as committed to the work as we were, we seemed to encounter wave after wave of difficulties, and began to question whether we were on the right path.
“I desperately needed confirmation of God’s will for the holding crosses and of His calling on my life.
“Soon thereafter, I needed to attend a meeting in the Northern Cape to secure continuity of the Wild Olivewood supply, which necessitated a one-day trip covering 1 200km. The meeting was successful and on the return journey home I felt the need to stop along the way and give thanks to the Lord for the events of the day.
“As I drove that mid-summer afternoon I noticed severe black storm clouds gathering rapidly. The Northern Cape Town of Christiana (note the spelling) lay just ahead and I found a suitable place on the outskirts of the town to stop, stretch my legs and pray.
“I leaned against my car and gazed skyward. There was not one break in the storm clouds; the sky was totally black for as far as I could see.
“As I began to pray, my head was raised and when I had finished praying with my head still raised heavenwards, I opened my eyes and saw the most vivid, clear, white form of a cross in the sky in absolute proportion break through the black clouds.
“The cross then slowly dissipated. This whole viewing of the cross in the sky shining in stark contrast to the threatening, ominous dark storm clouds lasted some 15-to-20 seconds.
“I was so taken by what I had just seen that I could have stayed at that place forever, but a five hour journey home still lay ahead of me. As I got back into my car the rain started and did not let up until I reached home. At no point in the journey did I feel tired or anxious — the vision had energised me and filled me with peace.
“I gave thanks to the Lord for watching over me that long, eventful summer day and giving me confirmation of the holding crosses being part of His calling on my life.
Identifying with the suffering of Christ
“However, I would not be telling the truth if I said it has been an easy ride since then in my Wild Olivewood holding cross business. Far from it, I feel as though I have been tested with every test known to man. Yet, through the trials I have come to identify much more closely with the temptations and suffering of Christ.
“I rejoice in the knowledge that I will one day share in His glorious resurrection. Now, it is not easy, but there are two things that motivate me to press forward with the work of the Wild Olivewood holding crosses.
“The one is the knowledge that ‘The best is yet to come’ and the second is the memory of the Lord’s confirmation of His calling on my life through the ‘the cross in the sky’,” said Denis.
His experience of producing the holding crosses from Wild Olivewood, has allowed Denis to understand better how the Lord works with His children until He returns.
“The wood is unattractive in its raw form. The trees die as a result of drought, fire or fungus. The wood is so gnarled that you would be forgiven if you thought you should look for better wood to work with.
“However, as the process of cutting, drying, re-cutting, selecting cross grain, marking, cutting again, shaping, smoothing the edges, sanding, polishing, engraving, and oiling, takes place the cross is refined and comes to resemble the likeness of the model holding cross – it is an object of beauty, because it is the Lord’s creation.
“In 1 Thessalonians 3:13 Paul writes to the Church: May He strengthen your hearts so that you will be blameless and holy in the presence of our God and Father when our Lord Jesus comes with all His holy ones.
“The process that Paul describes of what God undertakes with us is similar to what I undertake with the holding crosses.
Importance of a relationship with God
“It happens only in relationship with the Lord that we are strengthened through trials, tribulations and temptations to become what He means us to be. It takes many, many processes in life to become blameless and holy.
“The Bible speaks of this process of being set apart for God as sanctification. Just as a piece of Wild Olivewood is made beautiful from the moment it is put into the hands of the woodworker, so we are made holy by being declared holy through Christ’s atoning death on the cross.
“We trust in God’s way of reuniting us with Himself through putting our faith in what Christ has done for us. We are also made holy by the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives selecting, shaping, sanding, sorting and refining.
“The most amazing thing I have discovered about Paul’s letter to the Thessalonians is that there was much Paul could still find to criticise in the Christian people he was writing to.
“Nevertheless, he still called them ‘sanctified’, not because their behaviour was anything special, but because of their relationship with Christ who is the only person in right relationship with God.
“We need to submit ourselves to the kind of processes the holding crosses are put through, so that we can be ready for Him when He comes back,” says Denis.
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