U.S. highways lead to heaven and hell for drivers

MONROE, Ohio Mon Jan 29, 2007 2:57pm EST

A billboard reading ''Hell Is Real'' is seen on Interstate 71 near Columbus, Ohio January 24, 2007. REUTERS/Andrea Hopkins

A billboard reading ''Hell Is Real'' is seen on Interstate 71 near Columbus, Ohio January 24, 2007.

Credit: Reuters/Andrea Hopkins

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MONROE, Ohio Jan 29 (Reuters Life!) - The giant Jesus on Interstate 75 is bigger than the "Hell is Real" billboard on I-71, and much fancier than the "I need U Jesus" on Route 56 in central Ohio. But the message of America's roadside evangelists is the same.

"We're all trying to convince people of the same thing: their need for Christ," said Ron Carter, administrator of the evangelical Solid Rock Church, which built a six-story Jesus statue three years ago to inspire travelers.

While highways around the world boast billboards and roadside attractions, a drive through the U.S. heartland often adds religious signs and symbols to the mix.

"When people come down the highway and see the statue, I think they brighten up a bit," said Carter of the $220,000 statue, which dominates the major north-south route through the eastern United States.

The creamy white Christ, dubbed "Big Butter Jesus" by those who think it resembles a giant version of dairy sculptures seen at state fairs, and "Touchdown Jesus" by those who see a football referee in Jesus's upraised arms, can't be missed.

But religious messages in America don't just come from churches. Roadside barns may be lettered with a simple "May God Bless You." Near Mt. Sterling, Ohio, Bill Warner's portable message board promotes Christianity on an smaller scale.

About once a week, Warner, 51, puts a new Christian thought on the car-sized board outside his scrap yard. "I need U Jesus," read one side this week. "Jesus save my soul," the other.

"I try to give people hope," said Warner, a father of two, who restores cars for a living but says his life's work is spreading the news of Jesus Christ.

HIGHWAYS OF HEAVEN AND HELL

Two much larger billboards dominate nearby Interstate 71, another north-south axis in Ohio. One side of the signs lists the 10 commandments. The other asks travelers: "If you died today, where would you spend eternity?" And: "Hell is real."

Real estate developer Jimmy Harston designed the massive billboards, which cost about $8,000 each. They are two of many he has erected across the south and Midwest United States.

"The Lord called me to do this about three years ago," said Harston, adding God cured him of cancer at that time. "I fear the Lord, and I have to do this or face the consequences."

The Biblical messages range from "Jesus Saves" to "Use the rod on your children and save their life."

While many assume it is only religious conservatives who raise Christian roadsigns in America, Bob and Nancy Hall are proud Democrats who answered one of Harston's newspaper ads seeking land by the interstate to erect a billboard.

"I'd been thinking of putting a sign up myself, something thought-provoking," said Bob Hall. He doesn't think the "Hell is Real" sign is particularly foreboding but said a sign about Jesus might be nice too. "You can't put it all up," he said.

Reaction to evangelical road signs is mixed. The giant Jesus has inspired a mocking song on online video Web site YouTube by Heywood Banks. Pranksters once changed Warner's message board overnight from a Biblical verse to "cusswords" -- although an early-rising neighbor fixed the scrambled letters.

But trucker Michael Walizer, 50, whose travels take him past many religious road signs, takes comfort from the.

"I believe in Jesus, I believe in free speech," said Walizer. "These Liberals are trying to get religion out of everything. To me, the more religion is broadcast the better."

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