Connected at the cross

Symbol of Korean unity goes on a journey in Pacific Southwest

Apr 15, 2019 by and

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Connections brought a wooden cross to Pacific Southwest Mennonite Conference, and further connections are taking it on a pilgrimage to each congregation.

Made of interlocking pieces of wood in contrasting colors, the “reconciliation cross” began its journey earlier this year when it arrived at Wholicare Community Missionary Church in Pasadena, Calif.

But its story, and symbolism, are a bit older.

Rob Muthiah of Pasadena Mennonite Church receives the reconciliation cross from Wholicare Community Missionary Church Pastor Helen Mfwilwakanda on March 24. — Kate Wentland/PSMC

Rob Muthiah of Pasadena Mennonite Church receives the reconciliation cross from Wholicare Community Missionary Church Pastor Helen Mfwilwakanda on March 24. — Kate Wentland/PSMC

Years ago, Pacific Southwest conference minister Clare Ann Ruth-Heffelbower read Fire in Coventry, about a congregation in England that lost its cathedral to German bombing in World War II. Before consecrating a new cathedral, a cross made of nails from the old building’s ruins journeyed from one parish to another, with the understanding that God desired not only a reconsecrated building but a reconsecrated people.

“We’ve looked at ways to build connections in our congregations,” Ruth-Heffelbower said. “We’ve talked about developing things like sister congregations, but that’s complicated with how we’re so spread out.”

Then, shortly before Ruth-Heffelbower visited the Coventry cathedral with her husband, ­Duane, last fall, the Pacific Southwest board was presented with a similar cross. While not made of nails, it carries its own story of pain and resisting division.

Woodworker and former Presbyterian minister Sung Hwan Kim created his reconciliation cross as a symbol of the hope to reconnect North and South Korea.

Former Presbyterian pastor Sung Hwan Kim holds a cross he made using wood from mountain forests at opposite ends of the Korean Peninsula. — Sung Hwan Kim

Former Presbyterian pastor Sung Hwan Kim holds a cross he made using wood from mountain forests at opposite ends of the Korean Peninsula. — Sung Hwan Kim

Living in California, Kim is familiar with Mennonites through the ReconciliAsian ministry of Hyun Hur and Sue Park-Hur, with whom he attended Fuller Theological Seminary. His wife, Jeehye Kim, sits on the Recon­cili­Asian board.

Kim collected pieces of wood from forests on volcanic mountains rich in symbolism at opposite ends of the Korean Peninsula. Paetku, at the northernmost border, is the highest point in North Korea; Halla, at the southern tip of South Korea, represents the southernmost reach of the two countries.

“When you go to the top of the volcanoes, there is this very big lake on top, and I thought of the sorrow and pain of the Korean Peninsula’s history,” Kim said. “I thought it was the tears of God when he looks at the Korean Peninsula.

“They are brothers and sisters, they are families separated by big powers, and I think the waters are tears of pain and sorrow and sadness, just like when Jesus went to the Jerusalem temple and wept because it was a city of peace.”

Thinking of 2 Corinthians 5 and being a new creation in God, he originally conceived of the cross as a wedding gift.

“In the Korean national anthem, there is a phrase ‘from Paetku to Halla,’ which is a reference to the entire nation,” he said. “I was intentional to make the cross out of material from those two mountains.”

A moving connection

Rather than let such a powerful symbol sit in a conference office, Pacific Southwest — an area conference of Mennonite Church USA — sent the reconciliation cross on the road.

Ruth-Heffelbower said the cross will spend 40 days at each of Pacific Southwest’s 25 congregations, giving opportunity for church members to pray for each other and for the rest of the conference to pray for the hosting congregation. Visits increase awareness not only of the conference and its ministry goals but also of the call to reconciliation all Christians share.

“When I first thought of taking it around to churches, I hadn’t necessarily thought of it as a reconciliation cross, rather simply as a symbol of something that draws us together as Christians,” she said. “But that is reconciliation, because our call as Christians is to work at reconciliation with God and creation. Reconciliation in its broadest sense is what we’re called to.”

Movement of God

Wholicare, the first congregation to host the cross, is predominantly made up of people from the Democratic Republic of Congo. With unrest surrounding elections in the DRC, Pastor Helen Mfwilwakanda said the congregation had specific ideas about how to pray for reconciliation.

“We prayed for no bloodshed, and also in our church we felt the Holy Spirit moving,” she said. “We had quite a few visitors, and the attendance increased, so you can tell the power of prayer. You can tell the power of friends.

“When people pray, God moves, and we saw the movement of God in our congregation.”

Mfwilwakanda said the congregation is in a time of transition as it looks for another location to worship, so it was good to know others were praying for them.

“The politicians want to divide the people in our country [the DRC], which is why we pray for reconciliation,” she said. “We need it all over the world, even in the United States, so it was good to have that cross reminding us that God used Christ to reconcile us to him, in our family, in our churches, in Congo, in the body of Christ and in the world.”


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