I was living with my family on the north edge of New York City on September 11, 2001. The entire nation was stunned and outraged by the attacks on the Twin Towers. The shock reverberated across the nation. The effect on those living in New York was something else altogether.
Our neighbor was one of the first firefighters into the building after the attack. He was climbing the stairs to help people escape from the building. He lost his life along with thousands of others when the building collapsed.
My entire immediate family and some of my extended family had been on the top of those towers only two months before while I taught a class in Lower Manhattan. When I finally made it home to my family the evening of September 11 I held my family close and thanked the Lord that they were safe.
Students at the college where I taught were desperately trying to find out the fate of family members and friends. Television stations were converted into disaster communications networks. People scanned the lists of names of people confirmed safe.
A group of children my daughters knew had lost their mother to cancer a couple years before. Their father worked in lower Manhattan. Since most communications were down in the city, they had no contact from him. He walked out of the city, arriving home in the middle of the night, half a day after the attack. They were thankful to not lose a father after the loss of their mother.
For the first two days after the attacks, I did almost nothing but minister to others through prayer. Students, neighbors, and unchurched people….everyone was open to prayer.
My most poignant memory—and my most precious—is of two evenings in the church where I served part-time as worship pastor. If you have never lived in New York, you may not realize how spiritually dark that area is. Our church was one of the “megachurches” of our county—with a mere 300 people in attendance on Sundays. A visiting missionary from West Africa who had a vibrant prayer ministry joined me in reaching out to our neighbors that first night. We hung a sign outside our church letting people know that the church was open for people who wanted to pray. We were stunned when more than one hundred people on the night after the attack—and then again on the following night—poured into the building. Many of these never would have thought of entering a church in any other situation. We shared in the weeping of person after person who came to the front of the church and told of missing family members. People who never thought anything about God decided to pray that day. As my ministering friend and I laid our hands on person after person and asked God for his mercy, we knew that God was doing some needed internal work in many people who desperately needed him.
In the decade since 9/11, New York has seen some growth in number and size of evangelical congregations. “In 1975, there were only about 10 evangelical churches in Manhattan. Now there are more than 200. Four out of 10 were started after 2000.” Some of these new churches may be largely drawing from existing believers who have decided to start worshiping in the City. Still, it is hugely encouraging that more Christians than in many decades are worshiping the Lord Jesus on Sundays in the Big Apple. Did the prayers offered up in the aftermath of this awful terrorist attack have anything to do with what God is doing there a decade later? I don’t know for sure, but I’m hopeful that God may be using one of the worst moments in the history of the USA to turn the hearts of some toward him.
Bob Smietana, “Urban Planters: Building Off Believers? Who fills the churches of the Big Apple?” http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2011/may/urbanplanters.html