William Hay spent six months in Liberia teaching the word of God by showing the movie, “The Passion of Christ.” (Staff photo: Tony Bullocks)
By Tonya Garner: CNJ staff writer
The walls of the First Baptist Church auditorium are lined with white butcher paper bearing thousands of dots. The blue, circular stickers represent the 11,022 Africans who have come forward to give their lives to Christ through the Holy Cross Movie Ministry.
The local man behind the movie ministry is William Hays. The 73-year-old recently spent six months in Liberia teaching the word of God by showing the movie, “The Passion of Christ.”
Although Hays now spends the majority of his time spreading Christianity, the road which led him there was long and bumpy, he said.
He moved to Liberia, Africa, in 1980, to mine gold and diamonds. During his 13-year stay in the war-torn country, he was held captive by rebels and eventually lost more than $2 million. Upon his return to the states, Hays began rebuilding his financial stability by developing several local restaurants.
He said the only reason he attended worship services was to keep his wife happy. With a shamed expression, Hays recalled feeling resentful as his wife placed money in the offering plate.
“I saw that as an expense,” Hays said. “I was 69 years old before I starting worshiping the real God instead of the almighty dollar.”
With a tear-choked voice and downcast eyes, Hays said the defining moment that led him to devote his life to God came when his wife asked for a divorce. Hays said the personal crisis led him to re-evaluate his priorities.
“I was on a direct road to hell,” Hays said, “and not giving the Lord the time of day.”
Following many nights of praying and crying, Hays said God sent him a vision of teaching the natives of Liberia about Christ.
With the support of several local churches, Hays showed the movie 59 times to more than 175,000 people.
“I cried every time I saw the movie,” Hays said, “and I was crying again when people stood in the pouring rain to devote their lives to Christ.”
He said the mission was exhausting.
He slept on a small fold-out bed in mud huts, bathed outdoors and ate the local food — which consisted primarily of rice.
“We always had rice,” Hays said, “either with a skinny chicken, monkey or maybe a dead pig that had gotten run over the night before and picked up off the road.”
Joel Horne, pastor of First Baptist Church, referred to the Hays as a unique man.
“He was very much burdened by his previous life,” Horne said.
The pastor said the children of his church placed the blue dots on the paper and the congregation prayed diligently for the missionary work. He said the banners are placed beneath a large map of the world and any reference made to the dots is always met with applause.
“He (Hays) really put his heart into it,” Horne said. “He became (the mission) is the best way I can put it.”