Gigantic white roadside cross a beacon of hope for passers-by
by Jill Zimanek

I had to blink and refocus, because I wasn't sure what I was seeing. Heading north on Interstate 57 through Illinois near the intersection of Interstate 70 at the city of Effingham, we saw it.

The sky was white, the ground a winter gray and there towering in the middle of it was a gigantic white cross. ''Look at that!'' we called to one another in the car.

Right there seemingly in the middle of nowhere was this symbol of Christianity: immense, bright, with ridges, geometric angles and points at the top and ends.

As we drove nearer, we looked for the church that built this striking monument, but only saw a banner at the bottom which read: ''''

Naturally as soon as we got to a computer, we looked up the Web site to see what this was all about. Turns out this 198-foot-tall and 113-foot-wide steel structure was erected by The Cross Foundation, a group of folks in the Effingham community that wanted to build a structure that would be a ''beacon of hope'' for the nearly 50,000 people who drove by each day.

I wanted to do a little more digging and called Bob Shultz, secretary for the foundation and a member of the board of directors for the site, which includes a Catholic priest, Baptist minister, some Lutherans, Methodists and business and civic leaders.

Shultz told me a businessman in Effingham had seen an identical cross in Groom, Texas, and wanted to do something in his hometown along the interstate since so many travelers passed by each day. After approaching others in the community with his idea, a foundation was started to promote the idea. More than $1 million was collected and construction began with the folks in Groom, Texas, even supplying their architectural plans. Construction was completed in July 2001. In September, just five days after terrorist attacks in New York City and Washington, D.C., a dedication ceremony was held for the first lighting of the cross at night with four 1,000-watt bulbs. ''It was a very emotional day,'' Shultz told me. ''We had 2,000 to 3,000 people on site and cars lined up everywhere like in 'The Field of Dreams.' '' It was overwhelming.''

Why 198 feet tall? Because at 200 feet, the cross would need a light at the top for aircraft. Asked about the response of the public to the cross, Shultz said: ''We get e-mails daily from people who passed by the site and tell of the hope it brought them.''

As for negative feedback, Shultz said there have been some who questioned whether the $1 million would have been better spent feeding the hungry and housing the poor. ''But that's less than 1 percent of the comments we receive,'' he said. ''That money would buy less than 15 seconds of commercial time for the Super Bowl. We believe we are doing something that's more lasting.''

Additional funds have come in, so the foundation is considering a meditation path with scenes depicting the life of Christ, outdoor amphitheater and visitor center. Already they have purchased 10 granite markers which will be engraved with the Ten Commandments and placed around the site. And the donations keep coming in. ''We are trying to promote a foundation of faith and family,'' Shultz said. ''We believe the practice of a spiritual life is as important as your mental and physical well being. And we want this to be a spiritual experience for each individual.''

I have to say, the sight of that cross was breathtaking, and not any less so on our return home. And I look forward to future trips along that interstate to see the foundation's progress in their efforts at the site. It was a nice reminder in the middle of our long drive of God's love for us in the sacrifice made on the cross. It was uplifting to the spirit. And I couldn't help but whisper a thank you toward heaven ... and another to the folks at Effingham.

Donations to the Cross Foundation can be sent to: P.O. Box 808, Effingham, IL 62401.

Published in the Athens Banner-Herald on Saturday, January 19, 2002


© 2005 The Effingham Cross Foundation