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9/11 survivor Ingrid Robertson: ‘A hand of comfort came over us’

NEW YORK (BP)–What would it be like to run down 99 flights of stairs, praying all the way and not really knowing what had happened to you? That is what Ingrid Robertson of Brooklyn, N.Y., experienced on September 11.

It began as a typical day for her. Ingrid, a wife and mom of two children, caught the bus and subway into Manhattan that morning to her job at an insurance brokerage firm in Tower Two of the World Trade Center. Within minutes after she arrived, they heard that a plane had hit Tower One. Even though no announcement to evacuate was made, she and other coworkers decided to evacuate immediately. They began the long walk down. Ingrid took her shoes off and started down the stairs. Within a few floors, someone instructed them to go back to their offices. Something inside Ingrid told her to keep walking. Minutes later, Tower Two shook. Ingrid knew something bad had happened. She decided to continue down the stairs.

When asked what was going through her mind, she says that she was thinking of her children, ages 15 and 4, and her husband back in Brooklyn. She froze for a moment and then began praying out loud. She noticed that others were praying out loud, asking Jesus to save them. All of a sudden, she says, “A hand of comfort came over us and we felt a covering of God’s Spirit, and we knew we would get out.” She prayed for people along the way. She told her coworkers to rely on God because “He promised that He would never leave us or forsake us.” About halfway down the stairwell, she immediately felt a peace come over her that went beyond her imagination. A voice inside told her to keep walking down and keep praying for the other people. It was chaotic on every side, but she knew that God had arrived to bring help and reassurance.

When she got down to the bottom level, there was more chaos. She never looked back as she began a trek to Brooklyn. She couldn’t find a free pay phone to call home, so as she walked she began to pray again. A cab showed up, and the driver said that the bridges and tunnels were all closed, so it would be hard to get to her home in Brooklyn. She asked him to take her to her sister’s home in the Bronx. She got there in the early afternoon. That evening, she finally got in touch with her husband and children. They were all relieved. Ingrid stayed in the Bronx until the next day. She didn’t sleep much that night. All night long she had dreams of the falling towers and not being able to escape.

She found out later that her boss had gone back to make sure everyone had gotten out, and he died. She knew then that the inner voice telling her to keep walking had helped her stay alive that day, because if she had gone back with her boss she also would have been killed.

The days ahead were hard. She went to the doctor and was told that she had severe spinal and muscular injuries from running down the stairs. The trauma to her muscles was so bad that she couldn’t walk for weeks. She also was in counseling for months dealing with the emotional trauma. As of this writing, she is still recovering but is back at work. She is trusting God for her transition back to work.

In October 2001, through a coworker, Ingrid was able to get assistance for her family through a local Christian missions group. She was on disability but had not received any compensation because of all the chaos at her company. These Christians were able to help her for four months with basic bills, groceries and Christmas toys for her two kids. Times were tough in the fall and winter, because Ingrid had been the primary breadwinner in her family.

Ingrid grew up in Brooklyn. She met her husband at her job, and after dating for a while got married and settled in as a young couple in love. A few years later she became pregnant with their first child, Kimberly, who is now 15. Kareem came along four years ago. Ingrid attended church growing up but had never made a profession of faith until 1987, when Ingrid found God in an intimate way and began a new journey. She knew that she needed a personal commitment to the Lord in order to live life more fully. As she has grown in her faith, she has been given a keen sense of discernment. She prays and listens for those “nudges from God.”

If you had met Ingrid before September 11, you would have seen her as a wife and mother who cared deeply for her family. She is a bright woman, faithful to her job. She was active in her church and teaches Sunday School. She was a good listener and an encourager to others. She did all the right things to be a “Christian.” People liked her and her children adored her. She lived her life in a comfortable manner until that day.

What is different now? She says she feels that God wanted her to wake up and see people in a different way. She has become more fervent in sharing her faith and ministering to people in very real ways — even while she was on her back. She has talked to others about what God has done as they came to visit her and challenged them about their own life and following God.

Ingrid also feels that God wants her to be more appreciative of people around her. Each day, her family spends more precious time together because of that urging from her experience. She sees now that every day could be the last day of her life, and she tries to live it fully. She continues to heal and, with that, watches her children and husband heal. Her children are now fearful of her leaving the house and as she gets better and gets out more, a whole new set of issues with her children are coming out. She assures them of her love but most of all teaches them about God’s everlasting love, reminding them that God will never leave them or forsake them. She feels that this is a good learning experience for her children to see who God really is and what He can do. She makes it very clear that God can allow some to die and some to live, but with each situation, His purpose is to show His love and allow us to grow from this experience. They have seen their mom continue to praise the Lord even in her difficult situation. She shares her faith more fervently. She continues to encourage others, making sure that they get an extra helping of encouragement.

She feels that September 11 was a wakeup call for all Christians. Ingrid discerns that we have been somewhat lazy in telling the Good News of Christ to others. She wants to tell Christians that we should be doing the work of the Lord in all areas of our lives, not just at church. She wants us to look around and see what God has brought to us to do and then do it. She hopes that we will all fervently pray for God’s direction in our lives so that we can hear God when we need to. She was glad that she listened to Him in that stairwell on September 11.

Concerning trials and difficult times — including terrorist attacks — Ingrid feels that what she knew has been reinforced through this experience. She says, “When we put our hearts in the hands of God, fully believing and trusting in Him, then we can have peace and confidence, even when we are tried, tested, tempted and tossed by the circumstances of life or troubled by the enemy. We will be refined like gold in the fire. Then we are ready for service of value. We become a useful tool in the hand of God to bring gladness, comfort and joy to the hearts of many who are challenged by what life brings.”

Ingrid smiles as she says again, “I tell you, I am so thankful that I am alive today! I will serve the Lord today and every day til I die! God doesn’t have to tell me twice anymore.”
Excerpted from a new book, “As the Towers Fell” by Lisa Chilson-Rose, released Aug. 1 through Christian bookstores by New Hope Publishers, a division of Woman’s Missionary Union, a missions education auxiliary of the Southern Baptist Convention. Used by permission.

    About the Author

  • Lisa Chilson-Rose