- Associated Press - Tuesday, December 29, 2015

ROSEBURG, Ore. (AP) - About three weeks ago, First Christian Church in Roseburg received an unusual gift. It came via Federal Express, in a package about three feet wide and three feet long, and weighing almost nothing. Office manager Diane Welch recalls wondering what it was. They hadn’t ordered anything.

She opened it up to discover lots of pieces of colorful folded paper. Lifting a string at the top she pulled and pulled, and pulled some more. What came out was a string of 1,000 origami peace cranes - a gift from the First Congregational Church of Santa Barbara, California, where, as in Roseburg, residents of know what it is like to experience a community tragedy.

Peace cranes are an international symbol originating from the story of a little girl born in 1943 in Hiroshima, Japan. Sadako Sasaki was 2 years old when the atom bomb was dropped on her city. She died of leukemia 12 years later. While hospitalized at the Hiroshima Red Cross Hospital before her death, Sasaki folded 1,000 of the cranes because she was told of an old Japanese legend that anyone who folds 1,000 paper cranes will be granted a wish. The cranes have since become a symbol of a wish for peace.

The Santa Barbara church’s gift is part of a more recent tradition of churches supporting each other in the wake of a series of the kind of tragedies that have become all too familiar in recent years.

The Rev. Allysa De Wolf, minister of the First Congregational Church of Santa Barbara, brought 1,000 paper cranes with her when she moved there from a church in Newtown, Connecticut. Newtown is the city where 20 children and six adult staff members were murdered at Sandy Hook Elementary School in 2012.

According to the letter sent to the Roseburg church, Rev. De Wolf’s church in Newtown had received 1,000 cranes from Pilgrim Christian Church in Chardon, Ohio, which had experienced yet another tragic shooting at a high school where three students were slain in 2012. The Newtown church sent those cranes to a Boston church after the Boston Marathon bombing in 2013, and it folded a new set to send with De Wolf to Santa Barbara. Then, after the UCC shooting, the Santa Barbara church folded yet another set to send to Roseburg.

First Christian’s pastor, the Rev. Daniel Mallipudi, said in about a week the Roseburg church will send its cranes on to San Bernardino, where 14 people were killed Dec. 2 by a couple who had apparently been radicalized by propaganda from the Islamic State.

Perhaps what Rev. De Wolf wrote in her letter best sums up the cranes’ meaning.

“We pray that these cranes remain with you as long as needed but also trust that you will let them fly away when another congregation or community faces an act of violence,” she said. “Together we hope that one day these cranes will no longer have to migrate for peace.”

Six people were murdered in May 2014, when a deranged gunman stabbed three people at his apartment before rampaging through the beach community of Isla Vista, killing three more and, finally, himself.

It’s a story that sounds all too familiar here in Roseburg, a community still healing from the Oct. 1 shooting at Umpqua Community College, in which eight students and a teacher were murdered by a gunman who also turned his gun on himself.

“As a community that has gone through our own journey of pain and sorrow after the shooting in Isla Vista … we stand with you in this difficult time,” the Rev. Allysa De Wolf of the Santa Barbara church wrote in a letter accompanying the cranes. “We are sending you these peace cranes as a sign and testament to our hope for peace in our world and belief that violence does not have the last word.”

The cranes have been placed on top of a coat rack in the First Christian Church’s sanctuary, and drape down the rack forming a shape that resembles a small Christmas tree. They have been folded from papers in a rainbow of colors and many patterns, from stripes to stars to polka dots.

“It’s so amazing that someone cares so much for our community that they would put so much work into this just so we could feel their love and prayers for peace,” Ms. Welch said.

“You can almost feel the prayers when you look at it. When you’re just quiet, looking at it, you feel it,” she said. “I picture them saying a prayer with each fold.”

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