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Clinging to the Cross — David Smith finds purpose in his struggle with cancer

Cancer gave him a mission.

“I got cancer, and all of a sudden, my life wasn’t real important,” said Wesson resident David Smith.

He asked God, “What can I do?” Don Lum, director of evangelism on the Mississippi Baptist Convention Board, once served at the church Smith attends, Mt. Zion Baptist Church in Wesson. Lum introduced pocket crosses inscribed with “God Loves You” to be used as Christian evangelism tools, and Smith’s father handed them out frequently. He was known as “the cross man.” Now, Smith has taken on the ministry. He has given out hundreds of these crosses and their card companions to friends, strangers and all of the medical staff whom he has come in contact with since he was diagnosed with parotid gland cancer. To the vast staff at the University of Mississippi Medical Center, he included thank you notes with the crosses. The notes thanked the staff and shared blessings from God, and included a request:

“One last request: You have three crosses and three cards in this envelope. Throw them away or keep one set and give two away…. leave it with your tip at a restaurant, simply hand it to a stranger or a family member, or just lay them anywhere. Say nothing…. or say something? This might just start a relationship? Relationships are important!!”

The 53-year-old certainly has not lost his sense of humor since being diagnosed. The notes were signed, “As you should know me only as, DOB 7/11/60 (Sounds Lucky – No Just GOD BLESSED!)”

He has handed crosses to dietary staff, lab staff, doctors, nurses, etc., not to mention his neighborhood.

Smith was first diagnosed in March of 2010 with a rare form of cancer. He was cancer free for about 2 1/2 years, but in August of 2012, cancer was found in both lungs and along his trachea. On May 4, 2013, he had a seizure, and 12 tumors were found on his brain.

The doctors say there’s no standard of care for his type of cancer. The treatment is “out of the box.”

He was told one of his medications would be $6,577 a month. “One prayer and two calls later, we pay $13,” he wrote to the UMC staff.

Smith asked a doctor if rest cured cancer. The response he got was, no. So he knew nothing could hinder him from accomplishing the tasks God had given him. “I want to do what God wants me to do.”

Smith said he wanted to find something easy for people to do.

“This is easy to start a conversation,” he said of the crosses.

He recently ordered 10,000 more crosses.

Thomas Winborne makes the boxes that hold the crosses to be displayed in various places, and T-Tommy Smith with Screen Printing makes the plaques. Winborne also makes smaller boxes for Smith to hand out for people to keep their crosses in. Smith’s relative, Talmadge Tanner, made Smith his own personal box, with three crosses carved on the inside lid.

“It’s so easy when you have cancer to start a conversation that’s meaningful,” said Smith. “Because you don’t have much time to beat around the bush, you can just tell it like it is.”

Smith worked 20 years at Copiah-Lincoln Community College as the Assistant Dean of Students, softball coach and cheerleader sponsor. He was the second administrator hired at Mississippi School of the Arts, laying some of the groundwork for the opening of the school. He also worked in the Copiah County School District.

Smith is married to Ramona, and together, they have two children, Justin Smith and Lauren Langham, and two grandchildren.

“I couldn’t make it without Ramona,” said Smith. She quit her job and came home to take care of him.

“He gets up every morning and does his prayer time and writes in his journal,” said Ramona.

Ramona says she makes it day to day by the “grace and strength of God,” and “support of family and friends.”

Smith has been hospitalized several times in the last few months. In June, he woke up coughing up blood. Of the experience, he wrote,

“I thought well, God, if I have done all I can do for you, now is as good a time as any. I took my hand sized cross Leslie gave Ramona. I messaged Ramona, ‘Come Home. Coughing pure red blood. Love you.'”

Smith found his daughter who called 911, and Smith still lives. His blood remains stained on the cross, called a “clinging cross,” because it’s made to fit perfectly in the grip of anyone’s hand.

Smith’s grip on the cross has impacted his church. Mt. Zion Baptist Church has been greatly supportive, often bringing meals to the family. Smith taught the young adult Sunday school class, and they recently put on a softball tournament to fundraise for his treatment. Smith was once the pitcher of the Mt. Zion team.

The beloved teacher asks prayer requests of everyone he comes in contact with.

“If you don’t want to be witnessed to – if you don’t want to give me a prayer request, don’t knock on my door,” he said.

Smith’s cross ministry, his boldness found in sickness, has impacted many people.

“As I am in this unique situation, where you have made me so aware of life and death – of sickness and health…thank you for giving me clarity in seeing the important things in life – most of which is being a vessel to draw others to you.” – written in David Smith’s journal Aug. 22, 2012.

Hospice was called for David on the date of the writing of this publication.