History of the Cross Puzzle

By Ken Rutt

The story of how the CrossPuzzle came into existence is a long and wonderful tale. I can’t begin to present it in total here. What I will briefly detail are some of the highlights of this project, a real “God Project”, that He seems to have recruited me on. It has truly been a pathway upon which all I can do is follow His marvelous logistical planning. He really does want to get the Good News of His plan of salvation for mankind out there to the whole world and somehow this little puzzle is part of His plan. All glory goes to Him!

I am a mechanical engineer who has designed anesthesia machines most of my life. My latest engineering job was working for Dave, a good friend who had started his own medical device company. He had been my boss twice before in life. Now, the third time he hired me, I came on board with his newly-founded company as the mechanical engineering resource for designing medical ventilation equipment for his company. We were acting as the engineering advisory team to a large Beijing medical company. As part of this team, I got to travel to China about three times a year for 2-week stints to work with their engineering department. The two weeks part was crucial, since it gave me the opportunity during the middle weekend to get acquainted with the people and churches in China.

It was during one of these trips to China in December of 2014 that I got asked a question that was to figure largely in the succeeding years of my life. It began on the 6th floor conference room at the company headquarters in Fengtai. We were to visit the brand-new production sites in one of those new “build-it-and-they-will-come” villages just outside the Beijing city limits to the east of the city. I would need a translator so that I could communicate with the production personnel there. I had not picked up very little of the Chinese language. At the meeting, I was introduced to Lu. She was assigned to help me with the language problem and she did so splendidly. A bit quiet and reserved, she demonstrated an impressive mastery of the difficult translation of medical and engineering terms even though she had only been at the company for a very short time. And, although it was inconvenient for her to come out to the plant on the second day and continue helping me with the translation work, she willingly offered to do so. After work that day, when it was decided that I would take the train back to the hotel alone, she volunteered to accompany me back to the city and look out for my safety.
It was on this subway ride that I found out that she was part of a house church in the university area of the city. This connection made, our talk quickly turned to a discussion of our faith and values. The question – the one that changed so much of my following history – came unexpectedly and quite surprised me. Holding my gaze with her dark brown eyes she first noted, “You have been an engineer all your life. You probably made a lot of money.” And then she asked, “When are you going to stop worrying about making money and just do the Lord’s work?”

My eyebrows surely lifted as have those of so many others to whom I have related this story. But it was asked innocently enough, and I felt it deserved an answer. “Well,” I stammered. “We don’t often ask questions like that in America, but I think it is a good question and let’s sit down and talk about it.”
Which we did, at a little porridge shop on the south side of ChangAn Boulevard, just west of Tiananmen Square. With my spoon dipping into that warm pumpkin porridge, I told her about this little ministry tool that God had sort of dropped into my lap about a year before. I recounted how I had been sitting in church one Sunday, listening to the preacher, to be sure, but actually tossing around in my head a passage from a book I had recently read. The book was “What’s So Great About Christianity” written by Dinesh D’Souza. The book included a page where it described all the major religions as following books that told you what good works and deeds you needed to do to get to God. All, that is except Christianity, which, quite contrarily, says that you can’t get to God by your own works. It was necessary for God to send Jesus to us so that we can get to God through him; not by our own efforts. The question that was toying in my mind during that sermon was how I might build an object lesson that would illustrate that simple truth.

GK Chesterton had made note in his book “Orthodoxy” about the paradox at the center of the cross.

Quote from GK Chesterton (speaking about religious symbols in his book “Orthodoxy”)

For the circle is perfect and infinite in its nature; but it is fixed for ever in its size; it can never be larger or smaller. But the cross, though it has at its heart a collision and a contradiction, can extend its four arms forever without altering its shape. Because it has a paradox in its center it can grow without changing. The circle returns upon itself and is bound. The cross opens its arms to the four winds; it is a signpost for free travelers.

As I thought about this image of a paradox and a collision of two pieces of wood, the answer to that question about how to create an object lesson suddenly dawned upon me. I would design a puzzle in the shape of a cross; two pieces of wood, locked together, that could not be taken apart by one’s own effort. It would be a puzzle that needed to be placed in different force field to be unlocked. A force field present everywhere in the universe, just like God’s love. A puzzle only unlockable by that force, just as the human heart, stained from birth with the effects of sin, can only be unlocked and cleansed by the belief in the death and resurrection of Jesus – God’s solution to our dilemma.

I rushed home after church and quickly created a design on my computer. We had Jerry, a Chinese exchange student, living with us. I gave him the task of looking up the Golden Ratio so that I could use it to create this puzzle with just the right proportions. And then I hurried out to my woodshop and cobbled-up the first prototype. And it worked! As designed! I called it the CrossPuzzle.

So now, sitting there in that porridge shop, I told Lu about this little puzzle that for some odd reason, the God of the universe had selected for me, out of all the 7.4 billion people in the world, to create. And he had laid it on my heart to share it with others; if only I could find some time!
I told her that if I was to take her question seriously, that I would like to get involved with this puzzle as a way of doing the Lord’s work. I laid out 3 main ideas to Lu that night:

  1. I would like to get the CrossPuzzle distributed across the USA. And I had recently found a way that might make that possible. It was a religious organization called Transport for Christ that worked with providing chaplains at truck stops across America. I thought that truckers would work particularly well with this puzzle because a) they like techy things and this puzzle is just that, and b) they are always meeting new people and this puzzle works well with new people, and c) truck drivers are the most mobile people in America; well suited for getting the puzzle across the country.
  2. I would also like to get this puzzle made more inexpensively so that missionaries could feel free to give them away to people they meet.
  3. I would love to travel around and talk about the puzzle. It is so easy to use as a good sermon illustration. And God had provided me with so many good stories surrounding it.

It was late December 2013 when I said goodbye to Lu and headed back to America. Over the next months I worked on various items from that porridge shop list. I got in contact with the local man who was an organizer for Transport for Christ and I got CrossPuzzles sent to all the 44 chaplains across the USA. The puzzle was now on the road and quickly made its way to California and to many other states.

June 2014 rolled around and one day my boss called me into his office. “Ken,” he said. “You know that the FDA is being really slow at approving new anesthesia machines. Ours has not been approved, which means we can not sell it in the USA. That means that the cash flow is down and the Chinese are requiring that I lay someone off. And that someone is, unfortunately, you!”

Expecting that I would be devastated by this announcement, my boss, my old-time friend, was quite perplexed that I took the news so well. But rather than being devastated, because of that question asked months before, I felt that one door had closed, and another had opened. And now I had the time! When I called Lu and told her the news, she reminded me that we had talked about this 6 months before! So, it was that question that provided the seamless link between my old life as an engineer and my new life in ministry. Not that my previous life had not also been a ministry. But this was a season of life that God was providing for me to focus on doing his work whole-heartedly. So, there I was, a 59-1/2-year-old engineer, suddenly freed to follow God’s calling more intentionally on a daily basis. And Lu’s prompting to ask the innocent question had been partially correct: I had made decent money and more importantly, had chosen to live a modest life-style so I didn’t immediately need to look for a job with similar earning potential. It was a chance to live as Proverbs 21:1 suggests – to just follow God’s watercourse!

The logistics for following that watercourse came by way of another question asked by a young man from our church. Tyler told me one day, “I love the puzzle, but it’s too big. Can you make one pocket-sized?” I told him, “No, because it contains too much interior mechanism.” However, I went down to my shop and made up a ½ scale version of the puzzle and got it to work. But it is one thing to have a working model and quite another to have a mass-produced product. And God had a plan for that problem as well. One day, Andy, a man from China came to visit Vision Video where my wife works. When she heard he was from China, she suggested that I might want to meet him. Over an American supper I showed him the ½ style prototypes that I was making. He was quite excited about the concept and said that he could take these back to China with him and get them made much more inexpensively. That sounded great to me and I gave him several to take along.

Then the next twist in the path presented itself. My youngest daughter got pregnant. And then my oldest daughter got pregnant. Their families were so happy to be having babies so close together and my wife, Karen, was planning to be with them for some extended grand-mothering. The problem was that our Chinese “son,” Jerry, who had lived with us for three years while going through high school, had offered Karen and me a free trip to China to meet his parents. When offered the choice between China and being with the new grandchildren, Karen predictably chose the kids! So that gave room on the trip to take Tyler along, the guy who had suggested the cost-saving version in the first place. With great anticipation, the two of us watched Andy open the closet in his house in the coastal city of Qingdao, China, and retrieve the Chinese prototypes of the CrossPuzzle. And they looked great – except they didn’t work! They had copied the design exactly – except for the most important part. I lay in my bed that night wrestling with God about what to do. They had already quoted me a great price. If I told them that they needed to correct the process to add the extra parts, it was likely to double the price. God left me to stew in my distress for a bit and then provided the answer. I didn’t need to change the design. I just needed to change the instructions. And He even provided the wording for the change. The first line in the clue should say, “Jesus said, “If I be lifted up from the earth, I will draw all men unto me.” Such beauty in that solution! Here a Chinese mistake had given me a better instruction sheet and a cost reduction!

We took a leap of faith and had a company in Shenyang, China make 10,000 of the crosses. They had been making crosses and other Christian items for many years but had never made anything like this. One of the largest churches in Singapore gave out 2,500 of the newly minted crosses. Soon I was shipping them to countries around the world and translating the instructions into 8 different languages. It was not long before I needed to order another 10,000 of them.

As can be seen from this short collection of anecdotes, it has been God who has been providing the direction and vision into this product. It truly is a way for people around the world to open spiritual conversations with people that they meet. It has opened its arms to the four winds. It has been a signpost for the free traveler. It places something tangible in their hands that makes them want to tell others about the secret of the CrossPuzzle and the Good News of Jesus.

The story has continued in so many unexpected and marvelous ways over the past 5 years. The following letter illustrates my dream realized of empowering others to share their faith. With 15,000 of these puzzles distributed around the world, my hope is that this kind of experience will be happening at many more places than I could ever have dreamed.