Do you remember where you were on Sept. 11, 2001? I know I’ll never forget.
I remember being awakened by a phone call from my wife, who was already at work. “Are you watching the news? We’re under attack.” I remember planes crashing and people running away from buildings in New York City and Washington, D.C. Meanwhile, firefighters, EMTs and police officers raced to the scenes. I remember the devastating loss of the 2,996 people who died that day.
I also remember two beacons of hope that eventually pierced the smoky darkness of the New York skyline. This “Tribute in Light,” strategically placed in the two footprints of the twin towers, shone for more than a month. The lights were symbolic of a city and a nation moving from recovery toward healing.
When I look at pictures of those bright shafts of light, I’m reminded of Jesus’ words from the Sermon on the Mount: “You are the light of the world. A city that is set on a hill that cannot be hidden. … Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven” (Matt. 5:14,16, NKJV).
As we remember 9/11 in the coming week, let us also reflect on this challenge. How can we teach and model to the church a biblical response to disaster?
"The effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much” (Jas. 5:16). One of the first responders to the twin towers on Sept. 11 was Father Mychal Judge, a priest and fire chaplain with the NYFD. One of the last videos taken of Father Judge shows him in his fire gear praying for victims on the patio of the World Trade Center. Moments later, he became the first identified fatality of the World Trade Center collapse.
But his testimony as a man committed to prayer in crisis has been established forever. One of my mentors taught me to pray while watching the news. I did that on 9/11.
Ecclesiastes 4:9-10 demonstrates the value of togetherness: “Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their labor. For if they fall, one will lift up his companion. But woe to him who is alone when he falls, for he has no one to help him up."
Our response to disaster may require us being right there to lift people affected by tragedy back to their feet physically, emotionally and spiritually. That presence may lead to future ministry opportunities.
On the first anniversary of 9/11, I was asked to officiate a service honoring the first responders who died during the attacks. Accepting that opportunity built trust that led the way for my ministry as a chaplain in my community.
When Nehemiah heard that the walls of Jerusalem had been broken down and burned, he first fasted and prayed. Having gained the favor of the king to return to the city and rebuild the walls, Nehemiah asked for safe passage to the city and a letter to the keeper of the forest requesting the timbers needed to rebuild the walls.
One way we can let our light shine and bring glory to our Father is by bringing into a tragedy the practical, physical resources needed to bring restoration.
- Pray for those who lost loved ones in the 9/11 attacks. Anniversaries of traumas can be difficult physically, emotionally and spiritually.
- Pray for the military and first responders who provide aid and protection to our citizens during disasters and tragedies.
- Pray for Foursquare chaplains and disaster-relief workers who respond to disasters nationally and globally.
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