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Crossing paths again - Odessa American: News

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Posted: Tuesday, March 13, 2007 12:00 am

Christ’s cross motivated Thomas Kennedy to go to Nigeria as a Southern Baptist missionary. Almost 53 years later, another cross is sending him back.

Retired from African mission work for 27 years, the 82-year-old Kennedy said he plans to return to Nigeria within days, with precious stones he took from the land — crafted in the shape of a cross.

Purplish amethyst pieces line the mahogany cross with a plaque of dedication — a gift Kennedy said he’s taking to Nigeria’s head of state, President Olusegun Obasanjo.

“I don’t know him personally, but he is of my church denomination — Baptist,” Kennedy said.

Along with the colorful stonework, a framed photograph of Obasanjo and former U.S. President

Bill Clinton will accompany Kennedy on the journey.

Taken on Aug. 27, 2000, the photograph shows Clinton and daughter, Chelsea, worshipping with Obasanjo at the First Baptist Church of Abuja, Nigeria.

“I’m taking this along with me to Nigeria to give to the president,” Kennedy said. “I’ve preached in that church so I’ve had an indirect connection with him.”

Speaking “Hausa” as the common language in a land of about 260 different tribes, Kennedy said that in 1959, he stumbled upon a small quarry of amethyst stones near Zaria, Nigeria.

Prizing the beautiful, precious stones, Kennedy took small quantities of the amethyst back with him to Odessa during the years.

Today, a longtime member of First Baptist Church in Odessa, Kennedy said he has returned to Africa for visits with about 30 small cross pendants and lavalieres as gifts to pastors and their wives.

“We wanted to make something not very big, (but) nice and useful that I could take over there,” he said. “It was a stone from their country, and they thought it was pretty special. I judge they were pretty proud to wear it.”

Friend and fellow FBC member, David Richardson, 68, spent about 700 hours making the amethyst jewelry to be taken overseas.

“I cut the rock and polished it,” Richardson said. “It took a good while.”

Richardson also fabricated the larger cross piece to be given to the Nigerian president.

Financed through First Baptist Church and friends, Kennedy said this Nigerian trip will probably be his last.

And besides meeting the national leader, Kennedy said he looks forward to seeing old friends and reliving memories of his former ministry there.

“There are many reasons — to say farewell to my friends and see the places familiar to me and the churches I built,” he said. “Under the circumstances, I feel that work was very successful.”

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