Wiping Away the Tears
December 1, 2001 - The veteran New York fire fighter couldn't understand. Fifteen of his friends—his brothers—died when they rushed into the World Trade Center on a mission of mercy. Why were they dead? And why was he still alive?
by Simon Gonzalez and Karen Pierce
Tears ran down the big man's face as he said, "I don't know why I'm still here and they're dead. I guess the reason I'm still alive is that I have a huge deficit with God, and I've got to work real hard to make up that deficit. Maybe now, with all that I'm doing, I'll get some points with Him because I'm trying to help these families."
Penny Muller, a volunteer with the Billy Graham NY Prayer Center, gently explained that all of us have a huge deficit with God, that none of us can repay it no matter how hard we work, and that it is only through the blood of Jesus that God forgives our debt.
"You'll never pay that deficit," Mrs. Muller told him. "You can't. That's why Jesus came, and that's why Jesus died."
Mrs. Muller explained later, "His words opened the door for me to explain the Gospel. I took his hand and prayed with him, and he put his arms around me and cried."
Mrs. Muller, a member of Alliance Bible Fellowship, in Boone, North Carolina, was in New York City participating in a street ministry through the Billy Graham NY Prayer Center, a project of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association and Samaritan's Purse.
"We didn't go to New York to ask people, ‘Are you saved?' " Mrs. Muller said. "Our purpose was to represent Jesus to them, to be His arms and His tears. But God opened the door for us to explain the Gospel to some of those dear people."
From Central Park to Wall Street, teams of volunteers are out on the sidewalks of New York. Volunteers have come from all over the United States to minister to hurting people.
"Our mission here is a mission of compassion, of empathy, of listening," said Michael Fichera, of Doylestown, Pennsylvania.
Added his wife, Linda Scotto, "And then, when there's an opportunity, to talk about Jesus Christ."
They had planned to be in Italy celebrating their fourth wedding anniversary. Instead, they felt called to minister in New York.
Near Ground Zero Mr. Fichera encountered Andrew, a young professional.
"I saw this guy standing there—a young guy wearing a business suit and holding a briefcase—just staring at the rubble," Mr. Fichera said. "I stood next to him for a minute or so. Then I said, ‘Devastating, isn't it?' He just looked at me and said, ‘Yep.' "
Andrew told his story: He had been scheduled to be in a meeting on one of the top floors in the World Trade Center on September 11. That morning, as the meeting was being organized, it became apparent that Andrew didn't need to be there after all. Four of his friends died that day.
Much of the Prayer Center's street ministry is directed toward fire fighters and police officers. Linda Scotto visited a fire station that had lost 14 fire fighters.
"Working at the station is not like working in an office," she said. "Those guys watch each others' backs. They live together. They eat together. They cook together. They socialize. When I heard that they lost 14 people, I thought how losing even one friend would devastate me. I think of all the wives and the children who are alone right now. It overwhelms me."
Penny Muller's team visited 15 fire stations, where about 150 of the 343 fire fighters who lost their lives had worked.
"Outside every firehouse were flowers and candles," Mrs. Muller said. "A couple of firehouses lost everyone who went out on September 11: They went out. None came back. The trauma is beyond anyone's description."
The team also had opportunities to minister to police officers.
"I prayed with police officers on the street," Mrs. Muller said. "They were extremely open. They have the image of being a New York cop, being a tough guy, but some of them broke down and cried."
Mr. Fichera said that such stories are examples of how God is using the evil of September 11 for good.
"People's hearts are softened," he said, "and they're searching for something." He said that they realize that some people may not want to talk about personal issues with a stranger on the street.
"So I always ask them, ‘Would you mind if I prayed with you?' " Mr. Fichera said. "If they want me to pray, I will." He is quick to add that God leads the teams' actions.
"God has really put this on our hearts to move in His grace and with His direction," he said. "We're giving, but what we're receiving is greater."