Constructing crosses provides pastor a sense of purpose
JANESVILLE Jim Potter's passion for Jesus fills him with a fierce and tender joy.
His voice trembles, and there are tears in his eyes when he talks about visiting the Damascus Gate in Jerusalem.
He is unreserved and passionate in his evangelization. His gentle voice with its Tennessee accent becomes sure when he talks about "being serious about this business with the Lord."
Potter is in Janesville overseeing what has become his life's work: constructing monumental crosses.
The cross at New Life Assembly of God, 2416 N. Wright Road, is the 29th cross he's built, and three more are in the works.
His motivation isn't complicated.
"I got saved," is all the reason he needs.
Potter, 75, is from Helenwood, Tenn., a tiny town west of Knoxville.
Religion and church-going have always been part of his life. He remembers his grandmother telling him, "The words of God will stand when the world is on fire."
Evangelical Christians were more the rule than the exception where he grew up, and he was a part of that culture.
"I went through the motions of being saved when I was 13 years old," Potter said. "I went to the altar because everybody else did."
But he was only "playing church, and not being serious about this business with the Lord," he said.
When he was in his late 40s, he found himself wanting to know more about his faith. He spent more time reading his Bible and attending Sunday school. He also took a trip to the Holy Land with Zola Levitt, a Jewish convert to Christianity who became a famous preacher.
When his tour group reached the Damascus Gate outside Jerusalem, they found the area turned into a tourist site with comfortable benches and tidy steps.
"There was an area that had been replenished. I went over to the other side, where they hadn't been replenished," Potter recalled. "Zola said, 'Jim, what are you doing over there?'"
Potter paused to gather his emotions.
"I said I wanted to sit right there, right there where the stones were rounded off, where my Lord had been," Potter said, his voice breaking. "That's the way he really is to me. He's true. He's wonderful. He's goodness forever more."
At 50, Potter was "really saved" and began a new life. He became a minister and started his life's work.
"The first thing I found out from the Bible, which is our guide, is that the cross and Christ crucified is what made up the plan of salvation, made it become real," Potter said. "I started putting up little crosses, and the more I put them up, the more I wanted to put up."
He started building the big crosses because he wanted to make "a big statement," but not for himself.
"It's not my cross, it's Christ's cross," Potter said. "It's a remembrance of our Lord."