Last year I returned to the National Training Center at Fort Irwin, California after an absence of nineteen years. I had distinct memories of live .50 caliber rounds whizzing over my head and of a wicked desert sandstorm, but most other memories had faded with the years.
This time I was arriving before most other members of my organization to establish operations before the influx of troops. Driving east on I-15, I exited in Yermo, California, at the "Fort Irwin" sign. Soon a second sign informed me that I was on "Fort Irwin Road," and then another one warned me that Fort Irwin lay thirty-four miles ahead and that I should not speed.
I recalled from watching the mandatory NTC pre-training tape that a California highway patrolman or a military policeman would handcuff me and tote me off in his back seat if I were caught speeding. I behaved all the way to the post, especially since an MP followed me for fully half of my journey.
There was one thing I did not expect to see, nor was I prepared for, along the "world's longest cul-de-sac." Unique signposts marked my entire path from Yermo to Fort Irwin. Most stood alone along long, barren stretches of roadway in the desert. A few were clustered in pairs or triplets, and in one spot there were five markers at the same point.
All along Fort Irwin Road simple white wooden crosses denote locations where fatal vehicular accidents have occurred during the past twenty-one years. On each cross someone has stenciled in black paint the specific date that a person or a group of people had died.
Here, someone died on New Year's Day, 1983. Across the road, a child died on 24 August 1997, denoted by the weathered, white teddy bear slumped over its horizontal cross member. Over there, a head-on accident occurred on 5 January 1990. And here, another head-on accident occurred on 13 February 1997, claiming three victims. Farther along, a horrific accident occurred, signified by five crosses bearing the date 19 October 1998. I counted twenty-six white crosses along this thirty-four-mile stretch of desert road.
My mind raced, entertaining all sorts of thoughts about these people and their deaths. Horrific visions flashed across my mind. Then, suddenly, an overwhelming thought gripped me. How many of these men, women and children knew the Lord as their personal Savior? Were all twenty-six with the Father? Or, were some of these crosses actually lies or mistakes on a grand scale? Should there be nondescript headstones at some of these sites? Did the person hammering in each cross know the spiritual standing of the person being commemorated? How many of these folks are in heaven? Only the Lord and they truly know.
Next, I realized the impact and ultimate implication of these white crosses for me personally. Had I died along Fort Irwin Road during my first trip nineteen years earlier I would never have personally known the Lord Jesus Christ. The cross above my point of death in 1984 would truly have been a lie. I was as far from salvation in 1984 as water was from this desert on this sun-drenched day. However, a couple of years later someone cared enough about my soul to tell me at length of the Savior and friend she had in Jesus. She challenged me to accept Him into my heart. "When are you going to surrender your life to Jesus, Tom?" "Soon, Susan. Soon." And, in fact, it was very soon after that memorable night of witnessing that I accepted Jesus into my heart and life as my Savior. Eighteen months later in a chapel I said, "I do," to that same Susan.
I have since learned that Fort Irwin's Provost Marshal Traffic Section, Defensive Driving Course Coordinator, and Post Safety Office monitor Fort Irwin Road, and investigate each accident, pounding in a freshly constructed cross individually built to specifications by the Directorate of Logistics.
I have also learned that forty crosses currently stand testimony to deaths along not only Fort Irwin Road, but also Old Fort Irwin Road and on Fort Irwin itself. The authorities' intent in posting these crosses is to memorialize each accident's victims, and to slow down drivers and wake them up to the hazards of this road in particular, and to driving on all highways in general.
To me, these plain, stark white crosses serve as a wake-up call to focus on the immediate, the important and the ultimate in life. One day my fun and my sin will end and my judgment will come. "Just as man is destined to die once, and after that to face judgment..." (Heb. 9:27). "Since no man knows the future, who can tell him what is to come? No man has power over the wind to contain it; so no one has power over the day of his death..." (Eccles. 8:7-8).
I wonder how many folks occasionally or routinely traveling down Fort Irwin Road contemplate the true, deeper meaning and implication for their lives in viewing each of these crosses? You and I must tell others that Jesus loves them and came to earth to save them. I blithely skip through this life not making much of an eternal impact for the Kingdom, afraid of offending co-workers, relatives and friends, being unsure of myself. I hope you do not.
Do you know a young soldier, sailor, airman, marine, or coastguardsman who does not yet know the Lord? Do you know a homemaker heading to the store today who would perish in hell if you did not tell her about Christ's redeeming death and resurrection for her and her family? How about a civilian employed by the Defense Department? What are you waiting for? What am I waiting for?
Someday everyone you and I know will need the Lord Jesus Christ as he or she transits, one final time, the "Fort Irwin Road" that is this life.
As the barren white crosses along this highway cry out, let's also cry out to those around us that Jesus loves them and saves sinners' souls. Should the Director of Logistics pound in cross #41, may it portray the truth that a redeemed soul perished in that spot.