Jewels From Judy
Thursday, September 11 2008
Will We Remember? Or Have We Already Forgotten?: A testimony of the Father's love in New York City after the World Trade Center Attacks on September 11, 2001
As I walked amidst the ash and the debris near the World Trade Center (WTC) site in New York City, I clearly remember, and will never forget how the magnitude of this surreal scene stamped itself into my heart.
It was September 21, 2001. When I emerged from the depths of the NYC subway, I was met by a horrible stench. The conflagration emitted a pungent smoke, combining electrical, metallic and organic elements in a terrible concoction of odors that permeated the atmosphere. Every store both small and large stood motionless - all the merchandise gloomily enshrouded with a thick layer of white ash. The frantic work to clear away the wreckage in hopes of finding any survivors was in full force, and a cacophony of wailing sirens, rumbling trucks, and deep growls from large machinery echoed off the city's walls.
The immense destruction of the WTC dazed and sickened me. Heavy black smoke continued to rise from the skeleton of the once gigantic center of trade. The crowd moved like one giant body that collectively came to a halt and gaped at the horrendous panorama set before our eyes. Gasps could be heard over the clamor. Some observers tried to steady themselves so they could take pictures, but everyone stood shocked by the magnitude of it. Many wept. It was as if the ability to hear, think or feel had left us. All we could do was look on stunned, first at the destruction set before us, then at each other in disbelief. My eyes met with another onlooker we shook our heads and shared a tearful, mournful sigh. Everyone shared the anguish of the moment.
A police officer startled us out of our stupor as he blew his whistle, waved at the crowd and hollered for us to keep moving. As I walked along with the crowd, who moved as if in slow-motion, I raised my voice over all the noise and commotion so the officer could hear me and asked him in all sincerity, "How are you doing?" He shouted back the short response, "I'm hanging in there." Looking him in the eye I firmly stated, "Thank you for all you are doing," then added, "The whole country is proud of you! God bless you!" The crowd joined me in thanking him and he seemed genuinely surprised and humbled by our support. He slightly lowered his head and modestly replied, "Thank you." I asked him how many children he had and gave him something to give to each child when he got home. It was a small card with a picture of a large warring angel holding fire in one hand and a spear in the other while standing guard over a sleeping child. It had a prayer on the back of it along with Psalm 91:11 For He will command His angels concerning you to guard you in all your ways." (Only as I write this do I see God's perfect hand at work in this Scripture reference.) He placed the cards in his cap and then his cap firmly on his head as he thanked me.
A similar scene was repeated as I continued to walk around the worst hit area of NYC known as "Ground Zero". This police officer's response reflected each of the exhausted servants that I spoke with while in the City to volunteer at the Family Assistance Center (FAC). Although I had come primarily to help the families of the victims after the September 11th attacks, it seemed I had also been appointed to bring comfort to the officers who were victims in their own right.
Earlier that morning I had waited at the Dunkin Donuts across from the Port Authority Bus Terminal for Kim Baldwin, a woman I had met the previous night during a midweek church service at Faith Exchange Fellowship. We had made plans to go downtown and take a look at the damage; but our main mission was to pray over the burning site. Pastors Dan and Ann Stratton's congregation were meeting in a hotel in Midtown, as they had previously been located in a high-rise right across from the WTC. Their whole building had been condemned and they were not allowed back in even to get their church records. All the businesses in close proximity to Ground Zero faced this frustrating dilemma. For these pastors it was particularly trying because the contact information to contact each person in their congregation was unavailable. Fortunately they were able to confirm that none in their flock were hurt or killed even though a Bible study was being conducted on Wall Street at the time.
As I waited for Kim, coffee in hand, I sat next to an officer and struck up a conversation with him. He was the first of the many officers I met while in NYC, and it was his story that galvanized me to their plight. It encouraged him that someone was genuinely concerned about what it was he had been facing, and the personal effort he was putting forth to help stabilize the city. He shared that he had been working double shifts because they had lost so many officers. His unit alone lost 37 men and women. I asked him how his family was coping with the tragedy and he told me that he had only been home long enough to catch a short nap, shower and come back into work. This father of three had yet to see his own children since the dreadful attacks, and he did not know when he would. While he maintained a tough NYPD persona, I could see that on the inside he was shaken to the core and beyond exhaustion. This was too common a story. None of the officers I spoke with had the benefit of a day off since the attacks and each was suffering tremendous grief from losing so many of their comrades. Before leaving the coffee shop with, Kim, my new friend, prayer partner and guide, I thanked the officer for sharing his story with me. I gave him three warrior angel cards for his children, and blessed him not only for his service to NYC, but to the whole United States.
After Kim and I had come out from underneath the subway system and suffered the initial shock of seeing Ground Zero, we walked around praying over the City. The methodical search at the site was strictly guarded, but there was one corridor open to the public that was still several city blocks from the center of this solemn work. We continued on our journey and Kim pointed out the building where her church had been located. We stepped aside to pray for its survival. Its foundation had been destabilized and authorities were determining whether it could be repaired or if the building would have to be demolished. When we concluded our prayer, we looked around and realized there was no one else in the vicinity, and suspected we had wandered into a restricted area by mistake. In such a big city, with so much commotion going on all around us, it was very strange to suddenly find ourselves alone on a quiet and abandoned street! We kept moving.
What we witnessed in this area left its mark on my soul. There were many vehicles abandoned in the streets while others were held captive in parking garages by anomalous objects like office equipment and pieces of furniture that were strewn around them. One car had been jolted out of its spot and was partially hanging outside the third story of the five story garage. Everything was caked with thick ash, evoking images of the Israelites covering themselves in sackcloth and ash while in mourning. Like a dagger, sorrow hit our hearts as we realized that some owners of the vehicles we saw may not have survived. We did not touch anything. As disturbing as everything was, both of us were completely at peace. At specific locations, we would scout the damage, pray and then move on; but as we exited an area, we noticed that there was a check-point for anyone coming in to where we had just come out. We would go around to another zone, scout the damage, pray and after we left there would be a checkpoint to get in! This took place a number of times. It was not for the lack of security, but it seemed our access was given by a higher authority. It was as if the Lord Himself was taking us in for reconnaissance.
Then I remembered a prophetic prayer spoken over me before I left home for NYC. The one praying stated, "The Lord is going to send you and another person into Ground Zero as Stealth Fighters to inspect and intercede over the ruins." While standing where my shoes were covered in the ash of destruction, I strongly sensed the Lord saying that He was giving us a promise similar to the one He gave Joshua. His promise being that where we placed our feet was ground being taken for the kingdom of God. This very Scripture was confirmed during a service later that week, when it was read by Pastor Dan at Faith Fellowship. He further urged his congregation to walk around the city's ruins and pray over it. Kim and I rejoiced!
That night, when we returned to Time Square, people were lined up on either side of the street waving flags, clapping their hands, and crying as trucks carrying monstrous machinery were being driven in to help remove the mountain of rubble. The truck drivers and construction workers, the heroes of this impromptu parade, were bewildered by the outcry of affection, and many were moved to tears. The amount of love and gratitude that emanated from the people really was overwhelming. This City which had always been known as a hard-hearted town was now transformed into the most loving place on earth. You could tell New Yorkers that you were praying for them and they would thank you. They received blessings from God with eagerness and would readily return the blessing. There was conviction of purpose and desperation in their voice. American flags flew from almost every apartment and office window. Kim, who was a NYC native, pointed at them and commented, "On September 10th you would have never seen these flags in people's windows! This is a new - New York!" There was such an astounding sense of the community's united commitment towards one another - it was as though New York City truly had been reborn.
It was late when I finally laid my head on my pillow in my little dorm room where I was hosted at Metro Baptist Church. I slept like a baby. Outside, at the same height as my window, was a busy highway leading directly into the Port Authority, and though the honking and commotion was constant throughout the night, it was like soft music to me as I slept. I was part of the city and was at peace with it.
The next morning, I walked the mile or so from the church to the Family Assistance Center (FAC). FAC had six different security points where everyone's belongings were searched and identification was confirmed. I reached the final checkpoint which was located right outside the front door, and was nearly thrown for a loop! They checked for my name on the volunteer list - but it wasn't there! I was stunned. They could not grant me access even though I knew the name of the supervisor and the organization where I had been asked to work. My beseeching only resulted in attracting the attention of a stalwart marine who discreetly tapped his sidearm making it clear to me that anyone who was there without the proper credentials would have to leave immediately! I complied. While there may have been many ministry opportunities in NYC, I was certain I was not there to have a personal testimony of prison life. As I slowly turned to walk away, I prayed that I didn't believe the Lord had brought me to NYC to be turned away. I asked Him what He wanted me to do. Looking up, I saw a police officer walking on the sidewalk toward me. Candidly I voiced what I was thinking, "Can you believe I came all the way from Atlanta to help and got turned away?" He thoughtfully asked what I was doing there and why I was trying to get into the FAC, so I briefly explained my situation. When he heard the name of the lady who was to be my supervisor, he enthusiastically replied, "Oh, I know her! I will go in and see if I can get her to get you on the list. Wait here." The officer re-emerged a few minutes later with a woman in tow and waved for me to come back up to the final checkpoint. Within a few minutes I was welcomed into the FAC! I was so excited and thankful to see how quickly God had worked on my behalf!
Once inside, the demeanor of the formidable marine surprisingly morphed into a very hospitable young man with an appreciation for lively humor. I was briefly shown around by the lady who let me in. The FAC was located in a huge convention center and every conceivable type of assistance had been set-up to help the victims; services ranging from insurance to FEMA, to spiritual counseling, to childcare. I had never seen anything like this highly organized facility. The sheer magnitude of it all was overwhelming. On all the walls and at the tables, were cards, letters and flowers which people from all around the world had sent for the families. There were whole murals that children had colored or painted, and they were all on display. Free telephones, computer services, television, couches and chairs had been provided for their use and comfort. Three hot meals were served daily, but there was always food available for them.
Food and drinks were also supplied for the police, firefighters, emergency response teams, and for all the workers and volunteers there. A separate area for these servants of the people had been set up, where they could eat, rest, talk to each other, and make personal calls in private.
The attack on the City had powerfully affected the entire country, and all the workers and volunteers were acutely sensitive to the fragile state of the victims and their families. Our jobs were to help them get whatever assistance they needed. I was assigned to help victims who had either lost their jobs or apartments get financial aid through the 9/11 donations. Even though there was a great deal of publicity about all of the money that had been contributed to help them, it had yet to be released for us to distribute. At this point it had already been 11 days since the attacks and the tension was very high. Normally, benefit money would only be given to injured victims or to the families of the confirmed deceased; however, the attacks did not produce a lot of injured victims or bodies of loved ones. Without bodies to identify, death certificates could not be issued and this certificate was what was required to get benefit monies. Because of the special circumstances, an emergency meeting was held to determine the criteria for aid and to have the necessary forms drawn up. It was decided that a death certificate could be issued if a family member had proof that their loved one was in the WTC. However, the greater hurdle for families to get over was for them to have to fill out a form stating that they believed their beloved was indeed dead. This created a psychological issue for already distraught family members, who felt that if they did this they were, in effect, giving up on their loved one. Therefore many of them would not fill out the form and we were at a stalemate.
Since I had little else to do, it seemed prudent to get acquainted with the other services available. As I walked around I came face-to-face with Michael Beckett. I was astonished! Meeting someone I knew in this giant hall was unimaginable. We had only met two nights before at Faith Exchange Fellowship where he had been invited by Pastor Dan Stratton to the platform to encourage and provide godly insight for the congregation. In conversation I learned that Michael has worked in many disasters and was there as a Chaplain for Christian Disaster Response International. He was tremendously helpful in coaching me as to what to expect while working there as well as when I returned home. Michael ministers with his wife Helen, at the Fountain Worship Center in Topeka, KS. They have a heart to prepare the church to be a place ready to minister to hurting people in times of crisis.
His heart for the Body of Christ is to know how important it is to get involved with the local officials in disaster preparedness. He urged us that if we would be willing to open the doors of our churches to be used as shelters, we could be given great opportunities to be the hands and feet of Jesus in times of tragedy. Michael revealed that there is a tremendous opportunity for each of us to help hurting people if we will but take the time to prepare ourselves. I believe this to be a great battle cry in light of the fact that none of us know when or where we will face calamity. We cannot forget what happened in America on September 11, 2001. The Lord Himself warned that there are catastrophic times to come. We must remember and ready ourselves!
(Here is a link to their website if you would like to know more about how to prepare yourself and your church: http://www.fountainsflow.org ordisastertraining).
When we received the news that the funds were released, the team made a game plan and went to work. A large number of people qualified for assistance and through the 9/11 funds, I was able to allocate desperately needed finances to them. They were all grateful for the help, as was evident by the change of their countenance. It seemed as though the finances came straight from heaven, and I was honored to be at hand to present checks to these heartbroken people. However, my world was about to be rocked in a very personal way. My supervisor asked if I would be willing to fill out a death certificate. I had little, if any, instruction how to do this, but everyone who had been previously trained to fill out this legal document was unavailable. In hindsight, it is an understatement to say that it would have been very good use of our downtime to train me for this task! I prayed, asking the Lord to help me, and told her I would do it.
A tall, young woman came in with her mother and I invited them to sit at the table with me. I reassured them that we were going to get through the necessary paperwork to get her the help she needed. They were both thankful for my assistance as they had come to the FAC several times, but did not have the required paperwork to fill out a death certificate. She told me that her husband was a carpenter who had been dispatched to install furniture on the 82nd floor of the #2 WTC South Tower that fateful morning. For days she had waited by the phone hoping to hear from him. He never called. It was clear she had gotten very little sleep since the tower's collapse on September 11th. She held the work order from her husband's employer along with all the other documentation she needed. The young woman and her husband had a 15 month old daughter who was at the FAC in the daycare area with her grandpa. The young widow's parents had accompanied her there, but her dad had graciously offered to sit with the baby. The woman's mother sat at the table with us in a daze and offered help when she could, but was really in a state of shock. I know she would have done anything to take away her daughter's grief, but considering the odor of alcohol emanating from her pores, it was clear that she herself was having difficulty coping.
After we finished the very difficult and distressing job of filling out the mountain of paperwork, I was able to hand her a check. What had seemed so wonderful earlier for those who had lost their jobs and homes - now seemed so insignificant in shadow of her loss. Her husband was dead. As I handed her that check, it seemed as though I was pouring an ounce of kindness in an ocean of grief. It was just not enough. It was merely a piece of paper with writing and a few numbers on it. I wanted to hand her the husband whom she longed to have and hold, but all I had was a piece of paper of little comparable worth. I felt so powerless. How could it compare to the warm embrace of her husband? And what of her daughter's future? Clearly this and any other monies that came to assist her could not compare to her daddy's hugs. These thoughts flooded my mind.
Fortunately the financial assistance did serve to encourage her as she was clearly grateful. When she turned to leave, she looked back at me and asked if I would like to meet her baby daughter. Her mother perked up at my invitation to see her granddaughter, and before I had time to really consider this, I had already answered with a wholehearted, "Yes, I'd love to meet her." As we sojourned through the FAC to where the daycare was located, I knew I was about to see a little girl whose daddy was just declared deceased. The tragedy of it overwhelmed me. Not only did this woman, who I had been sitting with face-to-face for nearly two hours, have a long road of heartache to navigate, but I knew this little child had a rocky future ahead of her. It was not just about her father dying - though that was rough enough in its own right. It was that she would have to face the whirlwind of discussions that surrounded his death. The thoughts haunted me that she would be brought up under the shadow of her daddy being a casualty of the 9/11 terrorist attacks. As a myriad of scenarios came to my mind, one thing was for certain - she would have to live her life without her daddy. He too would not see her grow up, nor would he be there to walk her down the aisle on her wedding day. All their birthday parties would be missing one important guest. The same man whose death certificate I had just filled out.
The closer we came to the little girl the more acutely aware I was that I really did not want to see her! I was unsure if I could trust my emotions at that point. I was feeling the anguish of this young widow's situation in a profound way. She interrupted my thoughts when she called out to a man with a small child on his knee. The little girl was playing with his fingers. He turned and looked very relieved to see his daughter and wife standing there. They introduced me and he happily lifted the baby girl for me to see. She was adorable. She was clueless as to what this moment of time meant for her life. I thought my heart was going to come out of my chest it hurt so badly for them. As they were leaving, I told them I would be praying for them. They thanked me and said their goodbyes. On the outside I may have looked all right, but inside I was deeply rattled.
My continued prayer for them is that they would know that their heavenly Father loves them deeply and that He will never leave or abandon them. Their loss has not escaped His attention. None who have lost loved ones have escaped His attention.
Many people have asked me where God was on September 11, 2001. God the Father was in the same place as He was the day His Son Jesus was nailed to a cross. God gave us each free-will and He has never taken that gift away. We each have the choice as to how we will use our free-will. Even now, He gives us each the choice. There are those in this world that will use their freedom to hurt innocent people as some did on 9/11, but others, like the servants of New York City, will use it to band together and help those in need - even if it costs them their life.
After the young widow and her family left, I went back to my supervisor and asked her if I could take a break and she agreed I needed one. Dinner was being served when I got there, and I thought that was exactly what I needed - some hot food. I got a plate, but as I sat down to eat I could feel myself begin to shake. My body felt like an earthquake inside! Next to my table was a makeshift wall where they kept the kitchen supplies. I quickly went behind that curtain and I wept as quietly as I could. I did not want any of the police officers to overhear me. They may have looked tough on the outside, but I could see their anguish and guarded against adding to it. I recognized that the Lord was giving me many opportunities to minister to them and I was not going to allow my sorrow to infiltrate their down-time. This was the only place that they could go and have some quiet; this is where they had a moment to call their loved ones; this was where they could sit on a couch and just zone out. My bursting into a crying fit was counterproductive to that purpose. It was common to hear crying and even loud wailings of grief where the families were located, but the conversation was soft where the officers, firefighters, workers and volunteers ate. There were tears, but they were very controlled. Behind that curtain I prayed and prayed for God to touch me and give me His peace. He gave it. I went back and ate a little and even ministered some to a detective at the table.
While in NYC I filled out many forms to help people who had lost their livelihood or home, but that was the only death certificate I filled out. Time has not erased the face of that young widow or her little girl from my memory, nor will their names leave me. I see that as the hand of God. Had I filled out many of them, maybe their stories would have begun to blur. This family's story is but one in thousands, and this young widow and her fatherless daughter can easily be overshadowed by the vastness of it all. Our heavenly Father sees us each as unique individuals and treats us as such, and I do believe it is His will that we understand the personal side of tragedy. In the weeks and months to come, long after I returned home, hundreds of these long and painstaking forms had to be filled out by many heartbroken family members. I tip my hat to the workers that continued day in and day out to help the families through that process, as it was a very weighty and arduous document to pen. Even if the stories began to blur, I know they each have loved ones that they will never forget.
It had begun to get late that first night at the FAC, and I had no idea how I was going to get back to the church dorm where I was staying. Most workers had left. I had walked there, but that was not an option for my return. As I began to get concerned, I heard the Lord clearly say that I was to stay there and work as long as they were open. He promised that He would safely get me to my little church dorm. That brought peace. My purpose in NYC was clear and this reassurance from my heavenly Father helped me to regain my focus. There were still many people who had been waiting there for days seeking assistance. I intended to stay as long as the supervisor would allow me and help as many of the families as I could.
When it was time to leave, I asked an officer what he recommended I do. He quickly talked to a man getting into a taxi and then he waved at me to ride with him. It ended up that I was sharing a taxi with an intern who worked in Mayor Rudy Giuliani's office. I told him how proud I was of the mayor and how he had really pulled not only the city together in its hour of need, but the entire country as well. He was very gracious. I especially remember the story he told me about how the Prime Minister of England, Tony Blair, and his wife Cherie, blessed them with their visit. The elegant demeanor of Mrs. Blair had made a huge impression on the mayor, his staff and particularly this young intern. They were all very grateful for the Prime Minister and Mrs. Blair's love, support and concern for America and for New York City. I shared a poem I had written while waiting for the 9/11 funds to be released and he took a copy to give to the mayor. Soon I was back at my dorm and sleeping peacefully again on my little cot. The remaining days of my trip were a blur and the next thing I knew I was back on the plane heading home.
As I reminisced on what I had witnessed in NYC, the rubble of 9/11 reminded me of the ruins of my own life before I asked Jesus to rescue me. For years I had rejected His help. He had been there holding out His hand, but I had refused to take it. I too had a mountain of rubble that had to be cleared away one bucket at a time. Fortunately, He was willing to do the necessary work even when I really didn't see how my life could be redeemed. When I surrendered my life to Christ, I asked Him to take it - literally. I wanted Him to just take my life and let me be with Him. There was so much wrong with me I truly thought death was the best solution. I could not bear the thought of disappointing Him. I knew as long as I was alive there was a really good chance I would let Him down. I did not have a death-wish - that was not it at all - it was just that I saw the depth of my transgressions and I did not see how that would ever change. However, just as the firefighters vigilantly and carefully removed each bucket of debris, so did the Redeemer of my soul remove the ash and broken things in my life.
When someone has been rescued from destruction, naturally there is a deep gratitude towards the one who saves them. This is how I feel about what Jesus has done in my life. He rescued me. He has championed my life and that is why I do not hesitate to say with gratitude that I belong to Jesus. I stand amazed at the miracles He has done and continues to do in my life. Even when I fall and stumble in my faith, He is there to lift me up and give me the strength to trust Him. He continues to help me up and saves me from destruction.
Jesus is the only One that has the ability to take every broken piece from our lives and make us whole.
The Lord warned that there would be wars and rumors of wars, but as His ambassadors we are to share His Gospel and minister reconciliation to God to all peoples. He would that none perish. So often the Body of Christ wastes its efforts giving personal opinions on worldly matters when it is called to pray and proclaim the Father's will on earth as it is in heaven. All such opinions will whither like grass. If we would spend our energies searching out His will and proclaiming that, we would be a much greater force to be reckoned with than any military power. The weapons of our warfare are not natural but they are mighty! We need to remember and not forget that. We need to remember that we have been reconciled with the blood of Jesus. Let us be of one mind, the mind of Christ, and stand for Him who sits eternally on the Throne.
I pray you realize that what Jesus did on the Cross was to pay the ransom for your freedom with His very life. We are called to a resurrected life in Christ. Will we remember Him? The Lord never forgets us.
In the Father's love,
Rev. Judy Bauman
Written August 2006