This coming Sunday marks the ten year anniversary of the heinous 9/11 attacks on America. I dedicate this tribute to Nina and her mother, Evan.
Jewels From Judy: Will We Remember? A Testimony of the Father’s Love in NYC
By Judy Bauman
Revised September 8, 2011
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 in Lower Manhattan, I was met by a horrible stench. The fires that had been perpetually burning since September 11 emitted a pungent smoke that combined 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, but everyone was 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. As my eyes met with another witness, we shook our heads with tears in our eyes and acknowledged the situation with deep mournful sighs. 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 yelled over the chaotic noise, “Keep moving!” As I walked along with the crowd, I raised my voice over the 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." Still moving along, I asked him how many children he had and handed him a “Watchers in the Night” card 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 – not only the words but the numbers.) He placed the cards in his cap and then put it 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. 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 and firefighters who were victims in their own right. They suffered horrific loses.
Earlier that morning I had waited at the Dunkin Donuts across from the Port Authority Bus Terminal for Kim, a woman I had met the previous night during a midweek church service at Faith Exchange Fellowship. She had volunteered to go with me to Ground Zero; 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 the church 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 reach each person in their congregation was unavailable! Fortunately they were able to confirm that none in their flock were hurt or killed. What is amazing too is that they were conducting a Bible study on Wall Street at the time of the attacks, and everyone there was able to escape to safety amid the falling debris!
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 had no idea when he would. While he maintained his 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 several city blocks from the daunting and immense work being conducted. We continued on our journey and Kim pointed out the building where Faith Exchange Fellowship 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! Kim had never experienced that kind of quiet in her home City. We kept moving.
What we had 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. NYC was indeed mourning. Like a dagger, sorrow simultaneously 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 and even though we felt grief, both of us were completely at peace.
When we exited this quiet and abandoned area, we noticed that there was a check-point for anyone coming into where we had just come out! There is no way we would have purposefully gone into a restricted area, but this occurred time and time again and Kim and I really couldn’t explain how it happened. It was not for the lack of security in the area, but it seemed our access was given by a Higher Authority. We would walk to another zone, scout the damage, pray and after we left there would be a checkpoint to get in! It was as if the Lord Himself was taking us in for reconnaissance.
Then I remembered a friend had prayed over me before I left home for NYC. She stated, "The Lord is going to send you and another person into Ground Zero as Stealth Fighters to inspect and intercede over the ruins." 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. Where we placed our feet, that ground was being taken for the kingdom of God. (This very Scripture, Joshua 1:3, was read by Pastor Dan later that week when he urged his congregation to walk around the city's ruins and pray over it. At this Kim and I exchanged a knowing glance and smile!)
After walking all over Ground Zero, 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 overwhelmed by the outcry of appreciation. The amount of love and gratitude that emanated from the people really was tangible.
It was late when I finally laid my head on my pillow in my little dorm room at Metro Baptist Church. They were kind to host volunteers there. Outside, at the same height as my window, was a busy causeway leading directly into the Port Authority. Though the honking and commotion was constant throughout the night, it was like soft music to me as I slept. I felt to be 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; 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! As I slowly turned to walk away, I prayed. I couldn't believe I was turned away at the final checkpoint. I asked the Lord what He wanted me to do. Just then I looked up and saw a police officer walking 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 vouched for me. 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, spiritual, mental and emotion counseling centers, medical services, childcare, auto services, employment centers, and so much more. Each booth was staffed to help the victims and their families. 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 the families 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, talk to each other, and make personal calls, check emails and rest in private away from everyone else.
At this point it had already been 11 days since the attacks and tension was very high inside the facility where the families were concerned. Even though there was a great deal of publicity about all of the money that had been pouring in from around the world to help them, it had yet to be released for us to distribute to the families of victims. All the workers and volunteers were acutely sensitive to the fragile state of the victims and their families, but our hands were tied. 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. 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 by the people in charge to determine the criteria for giving out financial aid. This was to include people who had directly lost their housing or jobs at Ground Zero. They also had to draft the necessary forms for us to fill out with the families. It was decided that a death certificate could be issued if a family member had proof that their loved one was in the WTC; though some distraught family members felt that if they did this they were, in effect, giving up on ever finding their loved one alive. If they would not fill out the form, there was nothing we could do to help them – other than offer the comforts of the FAC.
Since I had little else to do while the forms were being drawn up, 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! We had only met two nights before at Faith Exchange Fellowship where he had been invited by Pastor Dan Stratton to address the congregation. I had spoken with him briefly after the service to thank him for his encouraging and insightful message. Michael was a chaplain with Christian Disaster Response (CDR) and they had a booth in the FAC! Seeing someone I knew in this giant hall in New York City was inconceivable to me! Only God! We visited for some time, and he was tremendously helpful in coaching me as to what to expect while working there as well as when I returned home. Michael is now retired, but he and his wife Helen have worked diligently to serve victims who have suffered disasters and to prepare the church to be ready to minister to hurting people in times of crisis.
(Recently I went through CDR training that Michael recommended. They urge churches to prepare to be a place of refuge in times of trouble. There is a tremendous opportunity for each of us to help hurting people if we will but take the time to prepare ourselves. Here is a link to their website if you would like to know more about how to prepare yourself and your church for natural or manmade disasters click on: http://www.cdresponse.org and http://www.whenallplansfail.com)
When we received news that the funds were released, the team made a game plan and quickly went to work. A large number of people qualified for assistance and 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. I was honored to release funds 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 and assured me she would help if I needed it. I had been given no instruction how to do this, but everyone who had been previously trained to fill out this legal document was unavailable. She said it was this woman’s third trip to the FAC and hated for her to wait. I prayed asking the Lord to help me, and then told her I would do it. She gave me a quick lesson then called the young widow.
A tall, young, blond woman came with her mother. I invited them to sit at the table with me and explained I was a volunteer. I reassured them that we were going to get through the necessary paperwork together and get her the help she needed. They were both thankful for my assistance. They explained that they had come to the FAC several times, but didn’t 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 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 housing, now seemed insignificant in the looming shadow of her loss. Her husband was gone. As I handed her that check, it seemed as though I was pouring an ounce of kindness in an ocean of grief. I apologized for not being able to do more; fortunately the financial assistance did serve to encourage the young widow. 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 what this meant, I had already answered with an enthusiastic, "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. I couldn’t help but think of her daughter's future – what did all this mean for her? Thoughts of this woman and her fatherless child began to flood my mind and 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 difficult 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 and the political debates and leveraging that surrounded the 9/11 terrorist attacks.
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. Grief was hitting me in waves and 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 an older gentleman. He had a small child on his knee playing with his fingers. The man 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 could hardly talk but told them I would be praying for them. They thanked me and we said our goodbyes. On the outside I may have looked all right, but inside I was shaken to my core.
While at the FAC I filled out many forms to help people who had lost income, property or housing, 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. If I had filled out a lot of death certificates, maybe their stories would have begun to run together and the details blur. This family's story is but one in thousands, yet in my heart this young widow and her fatherless daughter will not be overshadowed by the vastness of it all.
My continued prayer has been that they would know 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. He comforts those who mourn – if we let Him in.
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 could see 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 sobbed. I tried to be quiet because I did not want to bother any of the police officers. They may have looked tough on the outside, but I could see the anguish in their eyes and guarded against adding to it. I knew the Lord was giving me opportunities to minister to them and I was not going to allow my sorrow to infiltrate their down-time. This where they get a bite to eat, rest, call their loved ones, or sit on a couch and just zone out. My bursting into tears would have been counterproductive to that purpose. It was common to hear crying and even loud wailings of grief where the families were located, but the conversation where the officers, firefighters, workers and volunteers ate was soft. 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 because I was so shaken up. He gave it. A warm wave of His love and peace washed over me. I went back and ate a little and even ministered to a detective at the table who was questioning why God allowed this to happen.
After I ate I realized it was getting late and I had no idea how I was going to get back to the church dorm where I was staying. Most workers were leaving or had already 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 bring me back to my little church dorm. That brought peace 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 and the funds were now available, so I stayed and helped as many of the families as I could.
When it was time to leave, I asked an officer what he recommended I do to get back to the dorm. 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 at 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. Soon I was back at my dorm and sleeping peacefully again on my little cot. The remaining days of my trip were a flurry of activity, 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. I saw the depth of my transgressions and I didn’t 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.
Many people, like that detective eating dinner at the FAC, have asked me where God was on September 11, 2001 and I tell them He was in the same place the day His Son Jesus was nailed to a cross. He was there weeping. He knows full well the cost of giving mankind freewill. 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 lives.
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
Isaiah 6:8; Matthew 24:6; Mark 10:45; Romans 8:28, 35-39; Second Corinthians 10:4,5; Titus 3:1-3; 1 Peter 2:13-17