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
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: ''www.crossusa.org.''
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