I’ve been to many war zones around the world. I’ve seen villages burned and buildings shot full of bullet holes. But my night at Ground Zero affected me more than any trip to a war zone I have ever taken.
I was invited to be a pastor-on-call at Ground Zero a few weeks after 9/11. I would pray for comfort for the loved ones whenever a body was discovered and pray for the firefighters and policemen who needed spiritual support.
The fires were still burning below the rubble; they made my feet hot as I stood on the wreckage of what was once the World Trade Center. The smell of destruction still permeated the air and smoke rose from the depths of the wreckage. Gas masks were mandatory as the fumes of melted plastic filled the air, and ash floated into the night sky reflecting a pure bright light that shone down from cranes and buildings to light our work.
At the time Ground Zero was a recovery operation, construction zone, and crime scene all at once. Teams of firemen ran back and forth, digging through concrete and metal, looking for the bodies of friends and innocent victims. Large cranes picked up huge blocks from the mound of rubble placing them onto waiting trucks. Once the large pieces were removed, Firemen would slowly move in to see if it had uncovered any new victims. A make shift morgue and extremely tight security gave evidence that this was still a huge crime scene. No piece of evidence, no body or even body part would leave the scene unexamined.
Breaking the darkness around the site were the large lights shining down on Ground Zero. In the glow of the bright lights stood a cross made of steel beams, giving hope that Christ was present even in the midst of such destruction.
After leaving Ground Zero that incredible night I returned to Bright Hope with a realization that the World Trade Center was now a massive graveyard, hallowed ground of sorts. There was nothing left to do there but grieve, recover and eventually rebuild. Ground Zero was a tomb but like any other cemetery there were families grieving beyond its borders, left behind, left feeling alone and in need of God’s peace and comfort. Families were in pain but Christ had a message that could encourage them.
So we researched and found the names and addresses of over 500 relatives of the victims of the 9/11 terrorist attacks. The names of widows and widowers, children and brothers and sisters, parents and aunts and uncles filled our lists of people left behind with broken hearts.
Then we sent out word to churches and Christians all around America asking for them to write these victim’s families notes of encouragement, verses, and prayers. Children drew pictures and pasted construction paper into American flags. Schools sent photos of their classrooms writing notes and nearly every note or drawing had a Bible verse it.
My favorite was a simple heart made from white paper pasted on another larger red heart. On each side of the larger heart were two band-aids stuck on the paper. In the middle of the white heart the artist had written the verse Psalm 34:18, “The Lord is near to the brokenhearted.”
I made color copies of some of these notes, there were over 10,000, and a few are posted below.
We compiled 528 boxes of notes and placed a Bible in each box. Off they went, without fanfare or ceremony to the families trying to cope with their overwhelming loss and grief.
I was never sure if we would know how or if this work had been a blessing, but over the next few months some letters and cards of thanks started to arrive at my office. Below are some of the many cards of thanks we received.
“It’s a wonderful gift and I appreciate it so much. I’m at a loss for words right now because I’m shocked to see how much you care. You don’t even know me but you took the time out to let us know how much you really care and support us. I just wanted to let you know it makes a difference, and the Word of God can never be too much. I know God will always be by my side.” –Hopeton Richards, widower of Venesha Richards who was killed at the World Trade Center. Venesha left behind a 15 month old daughter.
“It is so kind of all of you to show Jesus’ love at such a tragic time. It is great to serve a God who specializes in bringing triumph out of tragedy!” -Mrs. Gary F. Smith, widow of Lieutenant Colonel Gary Smith who was killed at the Pentagon.
“On behalf of my daughter, Kathleen and my three sons, I would like to extend our thanks for the box full of cards and letters from schoolchildren, as well as for the Bible which you have included with your lovely letter. It has been a devastating tragedy, but we have found great solace in our belief that God will always cause something good to come out of evil.” – Patricia Coppo, widow of Joseph Coppo who was killed at the World Trade Center
Thank you for your kindness and generosity. Your warm wishes and continued prayers have given us strength during this difficult time” -Lyzbeth Glick, widow of Jeremy Glick, killed on United Flight #93. Jeremy left behind a son.
The pain and shock of 9/11 will stay with our generation for the rest of our lives. But the chance to give comfort and care and the Word of God in the midst of such painful tragedy was priceless to me.
Our God is the God of all comfort and nothing can stop His love from reaching those in need. No terrorist, no tragedy, no broken heart, no pain is too great for God to bring comfort and care.
God Bless America.