NEW YORK (BP)–On September 11, 2001, Al Braca began his workday at his office on the 104th floor of One World Trade Center. He had been a vice president/bond broker for Cantor Fitzgerald for 16 years. He was on the phone that morning when an earsplitting explosion happened beneath him. The person on the phone with Al heard people yelling “Evacuate!” in the background; then the phones went dead. Those were the last words spoken by Al Braca to anyone who knew him well.
The plane had hit several floors below, at about the 90th floor. Cantor Fitzgerald offices were above the crash site; most likely, people in Al’s office were trapped. Many people, as the nation saw in news reports, were trying to get to the roof via the windows and ledges because the heat and smoke were penetrating the upper floors rapidly. They did not make it. Most likely, Al and his colleagues were trapped and couldn’t go down to get out. Al’s wife, Jeannie, knew by the end of the day that her husband had died. Al was the kind that he would not have let her suffer all day if he had been alive. As Jeannie says, “He would have found a way to call me!”
We have at least a few details of Al’s last moments.
Cantor Fitzgerald is a high-powered brokerage firm where power and money were very important. Things like marriage, kids and God can easily become a low priority. Many of Al’s coworkers called him “the Rev,” half out of affection, half making fun of him. They noticed, though, that he lived a different life. Al was very open with his colleagues about his faith and what God had done in his life. Some coworkers harassed him about his “morality,” but they were usually the ones who also went to him privately to talk about marriage, work or some other personal problem. They often asked him to pray for them, and he challenged them to also spend time in prayer themselves.
When the World Trade Centers were bombed in 1993, Al was there helping his coworkers get down. It took three hours to get all the way down, and as people passed him in the halls they’d yell, “Hey, pray for us, Rev!” He’d respond by telling them that he had them covered! He stopped along the way and prayed with people who were upset or nervous. Even though some of his coworkers taunted him, they came to respect him and admired what he had.
In his last moments, Al continued his obedient journey to Christ. After the plane hit his tower on September 11, 2001 (according to spouses of some of Al’s coworkers who died with him), “the Rev” got everyone in a circle, holding hands and praying. Some received the Lord for the first time. As usual, he thought of others more than himself. He stepped into eternity, ready to meet his Lord face to face, bringing with him some of those he had prayed about for so long.
What a way to go. That must have been such a lovely moment for Al. According to his family, he was not afraid to die and this was a great way to go — serving the Lord in the middle of such a terrible time. He was able to help those who were with him to know a peace that goes beyond fear and pain.
His Christian life
According to friends and family, Al Braca was a man who never wavered in his faith. He loved God with all his heart for 23 years — the length of his life as a Christian. He and his wife, Jeannie, both became Christians after they saw God heal their then 4-year-old daughter, Christina, of a rare blood disease. Although they had grown up going to church, neither Al nor Jeannie had made a personal commitment to Christ. Once they did, it was real and long-lasting. Al was the kind of person who was very real about his faith, never falsifying the Gospel by pretending that everything was okay when it wasn’t. He knew that being a Christian didn’t protect you from hard times. It meant that you had the faith and strength to get through those hard times.
Al’s family was very important to him. He was proud of his children — older son David, twins Christina and Deanna and younger son Christopher. By September 2001, David, Christina, and Deanna had married and had kids (three grandkids for Al and Jeannie and one on the way). The Brancas’ youngest son, Christopher, was in his junior year of high school. All of his children said about their father: “Our dad didn’t yell at us a lot. He taught us right from wrong. He trusted us and that made us not want to do the bad things that other kids seemed to be doing. He respected us and encouraged us all to have our own personal relationship with Christ and find our own calling in life.” They were taught that they couldn’t be saved through their parents, but had to make that decision on their own. Eventually, all of Al’s children became Christians.
Deanna, one of the twins, admired her dad because he seemed to never waver in his faith and taught them that the most important thing in life was a relationship with Christ and following His plan. She feels that her dad taught them to be faithful to God even when everyone around you is faithless. To follow God is the highest calling that anyone could have. Their parents also modeled a good marriage for the children.
Al was adventurous and included his family in that adventurous spirit. The kids were always exposed to things that would broaden their worlds. From traveling to seeing Broadway shows in the city, they did a lot together and saw the rest of the world. He and Jeannie were proud of the way God had helped them raise their kids. Al would be proud of them now. They all had personal relationships with Christ and they all were good people.
Deanna said that although it has been very hard to not have their dad around, they have the promise of seeing him again in eternity because of their faith in Christ. Holidays and special days have been sad at times, but there is an inner peace that surpasses all understanding in their hearts and minds. God has been the Great Comforter for this whole family.
Al was a supportive and caring husband as well. He and Jeannie met as young people and had a friendship that took its time. When they got engaged, they stayed pure until marriage. They knew how important the marriage commitment was even at that young age. He and Jeannie grew to know that in order to have a successful marriage, you must die to self. Jeannie remembers how much Al respected and loved her. She felt important to him — he seemed to make it his goal to show her that, often. According to Al and Jeannie’s relationship, marriage is not a 50/50 compromise but a 100/100 percent giving of self and serving each other.
Al knew how to serve in his marriage. One way that Al served his wife was to care for her after she had a massive heart attack in the late 1990s. He came home from work each day and cooked, cleaned and made sure the kids were ready for school. Jeannie got better — a miracle herself, since she had only 16 percent of her heart’s function left after the heart attack. She has been alive and well since. She attributes it to Christ’s healing in her life and her husband’s sweet care.
At church, Al Braca was very active. An elder at his church, Calvary Chapel in Four Winds, N.J., Al was very involved in living out his faith. He took the role of elder very seriously. He prayed for the church and what they could do for Christ. He and Jeannie were the head of the Couples Fellowship. They loved these couples and prayed for them often. In the last seven months before he died, Al had begun ministering to a small group of men. There were some challenges going on in his church. He was called on to help and he stepped up to the plate. He had also just been chosen as a deacon, to serve others.
Jeannie tells that Al believed their home should be a place where people could come and know Christ, whether that meant meeting Him for the first time or meeting Him as healer, comforter, counselor. Al tried to be the best friend and “brother” he could be to the men of the church. It was not unusual for them to have a breakfast Bible study or a baptism at the house. It was built for God, used by God, belonged to God. Early on, they had dedicated the house to God to be used for ministry; Jeannie continues with that commitment.
When Al ministered to others, they would often ask him to pray. When they did, he would ask them, “Did you pray about it too?” If not, he’d tell them to go to the Lord first, pray, and them come back. He continued to direct others to God, and not himself. He said that to everyone, including his family. Al was very concerned that people knew that their personal relationship with Christ was first and foremost.
A Christian at work
Many people turned to Al for help at his job as well. There were times when Al wasn’t sure about staying at his job but he continued to feel called to stay and be an example to those he worked with. He respected the business, but saw the hardships that came with being in a very power-driven, money-hungry business world. Al felt strongly that everyone should have the chance to have the Gospel shared with them both in word and deed. He knew that he had a purpose and even though there were times when he wanted to quit, he felt the Lord telling him to stay, so he did. He often called his wife and asked her to pray for him to get through a certain situation. Al wanted to be “light” in the darkness, and he was glad that he could count on his family and church to encourage him in his calling, his job.
They say that the way we conduct ourselves in a challenging time shows our true character. The character of Christ certainly shone through many times in Al’s life. He followed Christ with an obedient heart, and at the end of his life he stayed true to Christ.
Early in the morning of September 11, 2001, as Jeannie was having her quiet time, she asked the Lord to tell her what she should pray for. Her family came to mind. She prayed especially for her husband’s protection that day, although that was her prayer every day. An impression that morning told Jeannie that God was going to “take Al home” that day. She dismissed it. As the morning went on, she learned of the planes attacking the Trade Centers and heard that Al’s building had been hit just below his office. She still thought he was safe but would be the last down because he was probably helping others. The kids were called together and they waited. Hope diminished for them as the second plane hit. When the towers fell, there was even more fear that he may have died.
Church friends gathered around the Braca family and brought comfort and strength that only those close to you can bring. According to friends, a pastor’s wife who knew the Braca family had a dream the night of September 11th. She dreamed that Al had been God’s witness on the 104th floor and that, like Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, Jesus had been with Al through the fiery furnace he faced that day, and that he was not burned.
About a week later, Al’s son went to the city to see if there was any chance of identifying him. As the workers heard his description, they asked if he had these certain characteristics, and certain clothes, including a particular ring — and sure enough, Al’s body had been preserved. According to reports, his was one of only 100 complete bodies found unharmed from the devastation of that day.
What can we learn from Al’s life? A Scripture that was a favorite of Al’s certainly speaks to his life. Proverbs 3:5-6 says this: “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, lean not to your own understanding, in all your ways acknowledge Him and he will make your paths straight.” This is what Al lived. He trusted, acknowledged and didn’t lean on his own understanding. God walked with him all along his path and right into eternity, bringing with him some who learned in their last moments the Truth that Al lived all his life.
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. (BP) photo posted in the BP Photo Library at http://www.bpnews.net. Photo title: AL BRACA.