Where were you on the morning of Sept. 11, 2001?
If you were old enough to recognize what was happening, you likely have a series of images seared in your mind from that devastating and tragic morning.
While most Americans will always remember, over the years the visceral thoughts have become painful memories rather than open wounds.
In New York City, however, the October 31 terror attack brought 16-year-old trauma to the surface. Known for their resilience, New Yorkers found themselves flashing back to 9-11 and reliving the trauma and uncertainty that marked those dark days.
Jeff Naber, manager of chaplain development and ministry relations for the Billy Graham Rapid Response Team, spoke with a woman who lives in a building adjacent to where the the World Trade Center towers once stood. She watched the billowing smoke and unimaginable terror of that morning unfold as she stared out her window.
“We started a conversation. She told me with tears in her eyes that the feelings that she had 16 years ago resurfaced and she couldn’t understand why,” said Jeff.
“She spent several minutes talking about 9-11 and what those emotions were: the depression, the anxiety, the fear. How she couldn’t sleep. The physical symptoms. She wasn’t eating—worried so much for her friends and family. And now it’s a repeat of the same thing.”
Billy Graham Rapid Response Team chaplain Cherie Sims has heard the stories too.
“We saw in the eyes of the people that what they felt was handled in terms of grief, fear—was bubbling up again, and they just simply needed to talk. It was kind of a blind-side effect,” she said.
“I prayed with a man yesterday who was still not whole after the events of 9-11,” she said. Suddenly this attack came up and he was reminded of the frailty of life, and really looked at his life in terms of ‘what if that would have been me.’ He was shaken. He was drawn to the crosses,” Cherie said, referencing one of many memorial areas that have popped up along the fated bike trail where the recent attack unfolded.
After spending an hour discussing the attack, his memories of 2001, the brevity of life and the hope of Jesus, the man made a commitment to Christ as his Savior.
Following their conversation, the man wanted to get his picture taken with Cherie to commemorate the moment, and—after glancing at the image on his phone—he excitedly showed it to her. In the background was the Freedom Tower, the largest building in the Western Hemisphere which was constructed on the World Trade Center’s grounds.
He made a correlation between the name of the building, and his newfound hope in Jesus.
“It was a sign to him that he was free,” said Cherie.
More than 270 deployments later, it’s a little hard to remember that the Billy Graham Rapid Response Team’s genesis took place on the very streets the chaplains recently traversed.
While the wreckage of the Twin Towers still burned, the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association (BGEA) dispatched representatives to help meet the needs of those who lost loved ones.
“People of faith came here and gathered and prayed and tried to help people who were so emotionally distraught. Spiritually just in anguish. Still walking the streets with photos,” said Jeff.
The BGEA’s response developed into the Billy Graham Prayer Center, which served four functions in New York City: to help the pastors and Christian leadership in the area; to establish a phone center where people could call in and receive counseling and prayer; to provide counseling for people who walked in off the street and to mobilize volunteers from all over the country to come and serve in the area.
The need became clear and after much prayer, the Billy Graham Rapid Response Team was born.
Through hurricanes, earthquakes, fires and floods. From terror in the streets of Brussels, to mass shootings in Newtown and Las Vegas, to civil unrest in Ferguson, Missouri. Out of the ashes of 9-11, hope has sprung up in the darkest of times and most difficult of situations. Thousands have found eternal peace in the midst of unspeakable suffering.
“I’ve heard it today several times, and in the past couple of days. People don’t know why they come down to the memorial or why they come to see where it happened, but they’re drawn there,” said Jeff. “They don’t know why, and that’s the Holy Spirit drawing them there. That’s God wanting to use these situations and He does. He uses them to share His love with people.”
And still, through it all, the human condition—and the ultimate need—remains the same.
“Just Jesus. I pray Jesus into each and every person here. That they realize that we can put barricades up, we can install bollards at the end of every road, but the enemy will always get in. There’s a way, and we can’t rely on man-made anything. We’ve seen the world heading in a direction that none of us are able to control with better government, better military, better anything,” said Cherie.
“We have to be free inside of our own hearts and then step out and share that with another person, regardless of where we are in this world. We can be free and at rest in the midst of a crisis—with Jesus.”