NEW YORK (BP) — Amid soulful, toe-tapping tunes like “Just a Closer Walk with Thee,” and all the laughter and smiles, one may not have guessed it was an event related to the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
Nor would it seem obvious that the crowd represented 9/11 survivors.
Yet the upbeat melodies from the trombone and tambourine seemed only fitting, for this was not a somber occasion at Graffiti Church in the Lower Eastside of Manhattan. On the evening before the 10th anniversary of 9/11, survivors gathered together for a night of hope — a night to remember, rejoice and give God thanks for His faithfulness even in the darkest days.
The evening included dinner and times of prayer, listening and sharing from survivors such as Jacqulyn McNally, whose stepfather died during the 9/11 attacks. It took three weeks for McNally and other family members to find out for sure that their loved one indeed had died at the World Trade Center.
McNally, after hearing about the attacks, was concerned for her aunt who worked at a hotel near the World Trade Center. She didn’t even know her stepfather was there until his boss called later in the day to see if anyone had heard from him. It was then McNally learned that her stepfather’s delivery route had included a stop at the World Trade Center.
Her stepfather knew Jesus as His personal Savior, McNally said.
McNally had prayed to receive Jesus as her Lord and Savior in 1998. Two years later, her stepfather came to faith. Now, many members of her family have come to know Jesus Christ, as God has used her faithfulness in sharing her faith with her family.
Trina Craft, a 15-year member of Graffiti Church and another 9/11 survivor, also gave a testimony. Craft had a job interview that day on the 86th floor in one of the towers. A neighbor called her that morning to see if she had already left for the interview and to tell her what had just happened at the World Trade Center.
Craft, who usually is one to be a few minutes early, was running late that day and was still home when her neighbor called.
However, Craft’s cousin, a rescue worker, died on 9/11 trying to help people.
One year after the attacks, Craft came to Graffiti for help. She took computer classes at Graffiti to help her in finding a job. She then began volunteering in the computer lab, and now show works full-time at Graffiti teaching computer and ESL classes and running the soup kitchen.
Craft said she has learned to trust God in the decade since 9/11 and to know that whatever happens is His will for her life.
Ashley Allen, director of Embrace Women’s Missions and Ministries for the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina, began praying last year for an opportunity for North Carolina women to minister to those whose lives were forever changed by 9/11. The Sept. 10 dinner was an answer to those prayers.
Allen and a team of 16 women from North Carolina Baptist churches came to New York City to work with Graffiti Church and Kareem Goubran, Graffiti’s director of adult ministries, to host the event. The North Carolina team also spent several days serving in mission projects throughout New York City.
“We wanted to encourage survivors of 9/11 and to help them remember that there’s still hope in the midst of tragedy,” Allen said. “Jesus Christ is the one constant.”
Allen said what impressed her heart the most was seeing the “raw transparency” of the survivors. “You could tell the grieving process takes time,” she said, speaking of a woman who cried as she talked about running for her life as the towers fell.
Lisa Chilson-Rose, author of “As the Towers Fell: Stories of Unshakable Faith on 9-11,” also was on hand to help bring to life what happened that day. She spoke about believers like police officer Brian O’Neil, who worked to pull body parts and personal items from the rubble. In her book she writes that after 9/11 O’Neil is more outspoken about his faith and has a stronger relationship with Jesus.
Chilson-Rose now lives in Alabama and serves with the state Baptist convention, but she spent 16 years living in New York and working at the Metropolitan New York Baptist Association. She was also a member of Graffiti Church, which has been ministering to 9/11 survivors for the past 10 years.
After the terrorist attacks, Goubran was brought on Graffiti’s staff to direct the church’s 9/11 recovery program. Aiming to help minister long-term as well as short-term, the church offered financial assistance, grief support and job development opportunities. Partners such as North Carolina Baptist Men assisted in the effort.
Goubran said the night of hope dinner was a way for ministry to continue with 9/11 survivors and to remind them that even after 10 years they are not forgotten and people are still ready — and will continue to be ready — to care for them.
“Ministry is about being present, because God is present in the struggle,” Goubran said. “God does not forget us when we’re in need. If we don’t believe God can bring the best from the worst, then why the cross?”
Perhaps the greatest testimonies of hope that night at Graffiti came not from those who shared on the stage, but from those who died on Sept. 11, 2001.
“Their testimonies continued to live on,” Chilson-Rose said. “We don’t realize what an impact we have on others. Never take for granted what influence you will have on someone’s life.”
Melissa Lilley is research and communications coordinator for the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina.