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A cross for all looking for Jesus

When Jack Cordwell made a cross out of scrap wood and string one night last fall, he was inspired to do it for his own Christian faith. But when he wore it to Citrus High the next day, he started an unlikely trend.

The small crosses became popular among high school students this year, so popular, in fact, that 40 graduating seniors proudly wore them with their caps and gowns at last week's commencement ceremonies.

Cordwell, who was among those graduating, had stayed up until 2:45 that morning making the 4-inch tall wooden necklace pieces. But when Cordwell speaks about the crosses or the time he puts into them, it's with a strong tone of humility.

"It's not really me that does it," he said. "It's not to glorify Jack, it's to glorify the Lord."

Cordwell has handed out 280 crosses in the past six months to anyone who asks about them. He said every one started with a story.

When Cordwell brought the first cross to school, he was approached by a student curious about why he was wearing it. Cordwell told him the story of Jesus Christ's crucifixion, handed him the cross and encouraged him to pass it along with the story.

By the end of the school day more than 10 students had come in contact with the cross.

Excited by this success, Cordwell made 15 crosses that night to give to those who had heard the story and anyone else who was interested. That was the first of many days where he went to school with crosses and left empty-handed.

"It's pretty neat walking down the hall and seeing someone wearing a cross," he said.

After school and work at LePerle Memorial in Floral City, he would head home to Hernando and begin cutting small, thin wood strips from wood he had gotten from his father and grandfather. His mother would provide the string, and he would cut the notches and tie together the wood.

But the laborious task of making dozens of crosses finally caught up to the 18-year-old, and a couple times he began doubting why he was making them.

"It became me and not God making them," Cordwell said. "We're supposed to put God first, but I was putting Jack first."

Those were the low points of the year, he said. But every time he has reaffirmed his faith and priorities and has begun appreciating his work again.

Classmate Lori Rappleyea regularly wore a Cordwell cross at school and said it quickly became a conversation piece with other students.

"The first day I put it on, people started asking me about it," Rappleyea said. "It became a statement."

But not everyone found pride in the cross. Cordwell said some students would take a cross, but keep it in their lockers because they were afraid of being ridiculed.

Those people, Cordwell said, should consider a chapter from the Book of James. The verses talk about standing up for a person's faith, something he's tried to do his entire life.

He attends Main Street Baptist Church and said he's missed at most 15 Sunday services during his lifetime. He's also active in a Church of God youth Bible study group.

The focal point of his faith in the past year has been the cross-making project, which he named "Across the World."

In a month, Cordwell will attend a weeklong Christian summer camp in North Carolina and plans to bring 1,000 to 1,500 crosses for people there. He said last year at camp he learned that people are better able to grow if they can share.

"This gives me something really big to share," he said.

Cordwell also has found out he has another gift to share _ his voice. Throughout high school he was active in the musical theater group and was named "Most Talented" by his peers this past year.

He found out last week that he was accepted to the "Variations" show choir at Central Florida Community College in Ocala. He would like to become either a movie producer or professional singer.

"My mom said when I was 3 years old I told her I was going to sing on stage," he said.

Right now, when he looks to the future, Cordwell is torn between country and western music, which he has loved all his life, and urges to sing gospel music.

But Cordwell definitely knows he will be making crosses as long as it instills faith in him.

"I haven't done this to make me look better," he said. "I don't want the glory on Earth. I can wait until I'm in heaven for that kind of glory."