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Firefighter’s cross stands tall as message of hope amid rubble

NEW YORK CITY (BP)–The rescue worker whose story is being syndicated in newspapers around the world sought out Florida Baptist volunteers to help share what he believes is a miracle amid the rubble of the World Trade Center.

In the process of removing debris from a fallen crosswalk that connected the North Tower to Building Three two days after the disaster, recovery worker Frank Silecchia found two steel beams in the perfect shape of a cross.

The beams, at least six feet high and four feet wide, were naturally bolted together as part of the total structure. When the other beams were ripped away, they were all that remained. The edges of the beams bear no markings of being cut or welded to make the shape. In fact, some of the bolts that once attached the edges to other beams are still intact.

The most heartwrenching discovery was that a silver object melted onto the cross’s left side was the remains of a firefighter’s jacket who died in the blast. Firefighters say the fire-resistant jacket turned silver and took on the look and consistency of metal when it encountered extreme heat and fire. Now, it is wrapped around the left arm of the cross.

This revelation, along with several smaller crosses found amid the rubble of Building Six, has led Silecchia on a crusade to save the metal crosses from demolition. He has petitioned Mayor Rudolph Giuliani to spare the crosses so they can be included in a memorial to the victims.

The discovery also has led Silecchia, a Christian, to lead fellow rescue workers to the crosses to pray with them. Since then, the firefighter’s cross has been filled with yellow and red writings made by rescue workers in memory of their colleagues. The most visible of these markings runs down one side, “God bless our fallen brothers.”

Near the pile of rubble where the other crosses stand, Silecchia spraypainted “God’s House” on an inside shell of a building and drew an arrow pointing to the crosses.

“It looks like Calvary down there,” Silecchia told Floridian Fred Edwards, pastor of Suwannee Baptist Church in Suwannee. “It took me back a little bit when I found it. I couldn’t believe it and I just had to stare for a while.

“For the terrorists, terror is their faith. For us, God is our faith. Who’s going to win? God is. He’s going to have the last word. And he did here, through his presence revealed in the crosses.

“I bring people to it who need encouragement when they are depressed or sad. It helps restore their faith in God, because the crosses couldn’t just be a coincidence. It doesn’t happen like that. They are there for a reason. He never leaves us. He is here right in the midst of us.”

Other Christians also are making an impact in the lives of rescue workers at the World Trade Center disaster. In the month that NYPD chaplain Frank Doig has been on-site, he has led 197 of his colleagues to faith in Christ.

In talking to them about their feelings of guilt at surviving when their friends didn’t, Doig uses the New Living Bible translation of Romans 13:3-4 to tell them that police officers are called by God to keep order and protect the innocent.

As a further outreach to the colleagues, Doig reassures police officers guarding perimeter checkpoints that they are a crucial help to those working at ground zero.

“Officers there have told me that they feel useless, like they are standing around while their brothers work to get the remains of their fallen comrades out. They would rather be on their hands and knees digging through the rubble.”

Doig uses a police analogy to bring his point home. “You are not doing nothing,” he tells them. “You are like a partner in a diner to those workers. You are watching their back so they can work. They trust you to protect them.”

Salvation Army chaplain Will Ford has witnessed a similar responsiveness to the gospel.

“I’ve seen countless firefighters and rescue workers who have opened their hearts to us,” he said. “They need a touch from the Lord. May we be the instruments of that touch.”

In a greeting to fellow Salvation Army members in ground zero, volunteers hold up their right index finger and say, “One God. All for him.”

“It’s incredible the opportunities we have here to naturally share our faith in what we do as well as what we say,” said Richard Allen, a member of the Salvation Army command staff from New York City. “That’s really what we’re all about anyway. We can feed the rescue workers’ bodies. We can feed their minds. Anyone can do that. But we, as Christians, can also feed their spirits, spirits that are searching and questioning.

“And they are down there, they are waiting for us. They want us to be there. It shows them we care and they are not alone. It’s not a pleasant place to be but it’s where Jesus called us.”

As a show of support for the workers, Bill Stevenson, a member of Terry Parker Baptist Church in Jacksonville, Fla., gave firefighters and rescue workers hand-drawn notes of encouragement from preschoolers at the church.

Fellow team member Dick Leonard of First Baptist Church in Ocala, counseled with a firefighter who had lost 12 of his company mates in the disaster.

“He told me, ‘I’m getting to the point where I’m accepting it now,'” Leonard recalled. “He said, ‘If I didn’t have my faith in God, I don’t know how I’d handle it. Some have had more than their share to bear.'”

Anticipating the needs of recovery workers after the cleanup is complete is part of Southern Baptists’ continuing ministry responsibility through this crisis, said Fritz Wilson, disaster relief coordinator for the Florida Baptist Convention.

“The time they will really need us is six months to a year from now when they don’t have the disaster site work to focus them on a task,” Wilson said. “They will have time to reflect and all the things they have been pushing back in their minds will come to the surface.

“We’ve learned from the Oklahoma City bombing that when something like this happens, recovery workers face thoughts of suicide or leave their work as firefighters or police officers entirely. When the memories all come flooding back, we will need to have ministries in place to help them cope. Our ministry to them can’t stop here, it has to see them through.”

(BP) photo posted in the BP Photo Library at http://www.bpnews.net.

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  • Kristi Hodge