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Jesus Signs

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There is a sign on a small red building on highway 521 that says, Yes…Jesus Loves You! That sign and many more like it have become as much of the trip from Columbia to Georgetown as the barbeque in Manning or the speed limit in Greeleyville. Most of the signs are positive, Jesus Saves or Trust Jesus but some have warnings, Hell is No Joke, Turn to Jesus, and You’re only one Heartbeat from Heaven or Hell.

I have seen those signs for most of my adult life. I am sure the signs are offensive to some and are silly to others, but I have wondered who in the world would go to the trouble to pay for signs and to put them along the roads, mostly in the Pee Dee. A few years ago, I pulled over and took a picture, and as I saw more signs, I took more pictures. Family members shook their heads as they heard about this strange new hobby. Was I making fun of the Jesus signs or worse, Jesus? Was I on the verge of stopping my car to put up new signs? Or was I just having fun? As the familiar, convenient roads gave up their Jesus signs, I took new roads and turned up new signs and my trips became longer.

My car always passes right by a sign the first time it appears and I have to turn around and get in position to take a good picture. The number one goal when taking a picture of a Jesus sign on the highway is not to join Jesus that very day. It is dangerous out there!

There are Jesus signs in other sections of the state, I can prove it, but the signs in the Pee Dee are professional. They are similar to each other and are consistently the same size. In no time, I could recognize a Pee Dee sign as soon as the car made the curve and the sign appeared on a barn or a local business or even a chain link fence. I started asking around; who makes these signs?

Craig Stephenson owns Custom Sign and Graphics in Kingstree, SC. His daddy, Jimmy, started the business in the 1950’s and struggled to feed his family as he put in many hours putting up signs and repairing signs and making signs. One way Jimmy made ends meet was by putting up beer signs. The beer manufacturer would drop off signs promoting a brand of beer and Craig’s dad would put them up around Williamsburg County. Jimmy decided one night he could not in good conscious continue to hang beer signs so he promised the Lord he would not promote the sale of beer again. The next morning a truck drove up with 20 beer signs. Jimmy looked at those signs and thought about the money he desperately needed and told the driver the commitment he had made. The driver said, well, if that is what you told the Lord, you best not do it.

Jimmy started putting up Jesus signs in the mid-1970s. He made them and gave them away to anyone who agreed to post them. Once a month, he and a group of men would spend Saturday morning putting up signs. When Jimmy died in 2012, Craig kept up the Jesus sign tradition and the custom sign business.

Craig’s place of business is an archaeological history of the ebbs and flows of a multi-generational family business. Some buildings are not used at all and others have remnants of projects of years past. Going through multiple buildings, looking at collectibles like large Shell signs and early machinery mixed in with random items of business, one wonders where the current work happens until Craig opens the office door and there sits the computer squeezed amongst the modern sign paraphernalia and current supplies.

Craig became the pastor of Piney Forest Baptist Church in Andrews, SC in 2011 and he continues to run his custom sign business. When he sees a Jesus sign as he rides around the county, he checks to see if the sign needs repair. When someone wants a larger sign for a building or fence, Craig is there, making the sign, helping put it up, expressing his faith.

January 26, 2014