By Steve Raymond
News Report Staff
Near the cross, a trembling soul,
Love and Mercy found me;
There the bright and morning star
Shed its beams around me.
Near the cross! O Lamb of God,
Bring its scenes before me;
Help me walk from day to day,
With its shadows o’er me.
Whether it’s these words to “Jesus Keep Me Near the Cross,” penned by Fanny Crosby in 1869, or the traditional hymns, like “At the Cross” or “The Old Rugged Cross,” Christians have been singing about the cross for centuries.
It is possibly the single-most recognizable symbol of Christianity.
But the Cross does serve as a great contradiction. It represents both death and life, hate and love, violence and peace, accusation and forgiveness, sin and purity, destruction and restoration, defeat and victory.
Once the cruelest form of execution, yet now it is a symbol of abundant life.
Many people have talked about the impact the cross has had on their lives.
That is especially true for the people of Effingham and the thousands of travelers seeing the cross each day along the I70-57 corridor.
Whether it’s daytime or night, rain or shine, foggy or clear, the Effingham Cross stands as an inspiration for all that pass by. Some even stop to worship or meditate at the foot of the cross.
Others leave a note, send messages or photos on email or Facebook, or share their story with one of the volunteers.
But since its dedication in September 2001, the Effingham Cross has served as a beacon of hope and thankfulness for many. And their stories reflect that.
“My daughter and I were traveling home recently during a bad storm, and the car hydroplaned at the area where 57 and 70 meet,” one person wrote. “I swerved out of control and at one point we were facing south on 57 in the northbound lane staring at a semi and other cars heading right for us.
“Ultimately, we ended up spinning onto the shoulder, facing south – and completely out of danger. After assessing the situation and realizing neither of us was hurt, we looked up and pointed to the Cross. It was right there for us to see. I knew who had saved us and all of those traveling in those other vehicles that day. We were saved for a reason.”
But that’s just one of several heart-warming messages that have been received.
“We were returning home after the death of our adored and beloved 20-year-old daughter. Our grieving hearts reacted to the Cross well before our minds could absorb what we had seen. We felt like a gift, a sign and message had been given directly to us. Thank you for erecting such a beautiful monument.”
Yet another visitor wrote – “I visited during an event at the Cross and was greeted by a smiling volunteer. She talked with me about my faith journey and gave me a Bible. It’s the first Bible I’ve ever had and I am thankful for my visit that day. God has a plan for me and I will follow Him.”
A Cross volunteer shared a story about a family on their way to Chicago to adopt a child. They stopped at the Cross to pray about the adoption. On their way back home, they stopped again to pray – this time with their child. They knew God had a hand in it.
About 10 years ago, some volunteers were walking the grounds and found a small box at the base of the Cross. Inside were empty liquor bottles and empty packets of cigarettes. A note was left that said the man was “giving up his vices and instead following God.”
Another man and woman, who were divorced, met at the Cross each time they transferred their children. They knew how devastating divorce can be, but they wanted to keep Christ at the center of their lives.
“It makes you realize how far-reaching the impact of the Cross is,” said Christy Hakman, president of the board of directors for the Cross Foundation. “And how many stories just like these are there that we don’t know about. It truly reinforces our commitment here.”
Many stories are shared with the volunteers during the year. And they have a chance to share those with others at the Volunteer Appreciation ceremony each October.
“These stories are so heart-warming,” Hakman noted. “When the volunteers start sharing them, the whole room just lights up.”
The Effingham Cross will celebrate its 17th anniversary in 2018.
“The Cross has become meaningful in so many ways,” Hakman said. “We have made some amazing connections with people. It has definitely impacted many lives. I’m just so proud it’s part of our community. It’s a symbol of love and hope.”