Offering Hope and Encouragement
December 1, 2001 - "In my mind I can see her face so clearly," the jewelry store owner said. "I can see what she was wearing. And her young daughter. I can be sleeping and see their faces, and I jump up."
by Bob Paulson
The store owner explained that on the morning of September 11—the day of the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center—a woman and her young daughter came into his store. The woman said that she would be back at lunchtime to put an item on layaway. She worked on the 103rd floor of one of the towers. She never returned to the store, and the owner feared that she was one of some 3,000 people killed or missing in the attacks.
With eyes closed as if to shut out the pain, the man cried out—nearly shouted—"How can a person do this to someone else? How can a person unleash this kind of pain on anyone else?"
The man was one of the thousands of people traumatized by the attacks. Within minutes on September 11 New Yorkers lost their tallest landmarks and their main point of reference. They also lost loved ones and their sense of national security.
The Billy Graham Evangelistic Association and Samaritan's Purse moved quickly to provide spiritual help to those who were hurting.
On Friday, September 14, a team arrived in New York City to assess the best way to meet people's spiritual needs. Within days, pastors and other volunteers were on the scene—some right at Ground Zero—to offer prayer and encouragement.
By September 21 the Billy Graham NY Prayer Center was operational, offering prayer to those who telephoned and to others who came to the Center.
Volunteers spoke with people who were dealing with all sorts of problems that needed prayer: Fear of additional attacks or of losing jobs; anger and desire for revenge; concern for loved ones working in the clean-up effort at Ground Zero; problems with family relationships. Volunteers talked with the callers and prayed with them, helping some of them to put their faith in Jesus as Savior and Lord.
When volunteers weren't staffing phone lines, they were out on the streets, talking with police officers, fire fighters, shopkeepers and others. They distributed fliers with the Prayer Center's phone number at Yankee Stadium on the day of a nationally televised prayer service; on subways; and at many of the memorial sites throughout the city.
The stories they heard were heartrending:
Parry Patel, owner of a newsstand near the World Trade Center, said that he saw both planes hit the towers, and he ran for safety. "It's the worst thing that I've seen in my life," he said. "So many people jumped from the building or were blown out. So many died."
Along with many others, storeowners in Manhattan's financial district face tremendous economic pressure. Some stores had windows broken in the attack, and their merchandise and equipment were covered with a thick layer of gray dust. Many other businesses, whose buildings weren't damaged, were in financial trouble because their stores were located behind police lines, where few people were permitted to go. One owner said that the amount of business he was getting would not even pay the electric bill.
But economic troubles pale in the face of the human loss. When fire fighters rushed to the scene to rescue people, 343 of them didn't come back out. Surviving fire fighters were in shock. One of them told a Prayer Center volunteer, "We can't react to this; we can't grieve. We can grieve for the loss of one fire fighter, but we can't deal with the loss of 343."
A fire fighter who had been off-duty on September 11 saw the towers from a distance. He was concerned for the fire fighters, knowing that men from his company would be there. He said, "I knew it was the end of the world for them. I knew that anyone who was in there wasn't coming out."
Into the midst of this pain and devastation, the Billy Graham NY Prayer Center is bringing encouragement and hope. One fire fighter, after speaking with a Prayer Center volunteer, said, "Thank you, thank you, thank you. You've got to go to all the fire stations—we all need this."