The September 11, 2001 attacks on the World Trade Center in New York City rattled the entire country. The question for Oregon was how we could help, and the response was nearly 9,000 volunteers traveling to New York, many if not most under the auspices of the Red Cross Disaster Relief national effort.
That Red Cross effort took me to the city about a week after the attacks to join others alongside “Ground Zero” at what had been the Marriott Financial Center. We provided respite relief to recovery workers, police officers and fire personnel working desperately to recover bodies from that deep, awful pile, to secure the area from further injuries, and to begin a massive cleanup operation. My job on the graveyard shift was to help oversee a kitchen serving donated food brought in from some of the top chefs and restaurants in the city. The supporting staff was made up of volunteers gathered in from all over, and very few were trained in Red Cross mass care procedures.
It was stressful.
After a couple weeks and after a long night of work, a fellow Red Cross staff member from Georgia and myself set out one Sunday morning in search of spiritual refreshment at the Brooklyn Tabernacle. The church is an evangelical, non-denominational megachurch known for being a light house to its community and a source of vibrant, “real” Christianity to all who stop by. My friend and I had the address, we had become familiar with the subway system, and believed we would make it in time for the second of five services scheduled for the day.
But two hours later…
But two hours later, we were lost in the subways and beginning to feel really, really tired. Trudging down yet another flight of stairs to yet another platform, I suddenly had a brilliant idea. I turned to my friend and asked if it wasn’t time to ask our Heavenly Father for help – to get back to our hotel if not to the Brooklyn Tab. He agreed, and right there we leaned back against the wall out of the flow of traffic to bow our heads in prayer.
The answer God sent was immediate, beautiful, and in itself a deep invigorating answer to our great need for realignment of our perspective on life and restoration of what was being broken within us.
As we stepped on to the platform, there in front of us and turning toward us was a beautiful, African-American woman. Unexpectedly she smiled at us, and immediately I felt courage to walk up to her seeking help out of our predicament. Her answer was amazing: “You want to go to the Brooklyn Tabernacle? That’s my church! I’m just now on the way home from there, but I’ll take you part of the way there so that you’re sure to get in on the afternoon service. We’re about an hour away, but I’m delighted to go back with you so that you can receive what God has for you today.”
“So that you can receive what God has for you today…”
As we rode with her toward Brooklyn, this amazing woman showed us pictures of her grandchildren and shared how God was helping her during the trying times that had come upon the city. Somehow or other, the weariness fell away and we found ourselves once again laughing as we stepped out of the subway system and into the service of her church.
Story of kneeling firefighter: The dramatic statue of a firefighter on bended knee is located at 43rd Street near the headquarters of Emigrant Savings Bank. The “Kneeling Fireman” is one of NYC’s 1st memorials to 9/11. New York Post said on 09/20/2001: “A bronze statue of an anguished firefighter was displayed in Midtown yesterday, causing passers-by to reflect, shed tears and pay respect to New York’s rescue heroes. The statue, which needs a permanent home, depicts a kneeling firefighter with his face buried in his right hand.”