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FIRST-PERSON: Bibles & witnesses for New York

ALPHARETTA, Ga. (BP)–As a child, I would visit the observation deck of the World Trade Center. My dad helped lay the iron in the basement of the buildings, and he loved to show us “his” work. My aunt’s company had an office there. She was missing until the next morning after 9/11/01; she was fielding calls from the relatives of her coworkers. I had stayed in the destroyed Marriott several times as an adult. I was even in the city the week before the attacks, visiting and ministering for a church in Chinatown, just a few blocks from the World Trade Center.

I have always had a connection to New York. I was raised on the edge of the city and used to take the Long Island Railroad into Manhattan — to Grand Central, to the Empire State Building and to that observation deck. My grandfather was a fire battalion chief and my uncle a NYC cop. So, for me, so much of that day was personal.

Most of us remember where we were. Yet, no one would know how it would end that day. When the second tower collapsed, Aaron Brown, new CNN anchor, summed it up by saying, “My Lord … there are no words.”

A few weeks ago I returned to the site of the World Trade Center. It is so different now. Everything is clean — cleaner than before September 11. The new West Side Greenway has added a new sense of community. While there, I visited a new Southern Baptist church, Mosaic Manhattan, which meets in what would have been the shadow of the World Trade Center.

The school where Mosaic Manhattan meets, Public School 89 at the corner of Chambers and West, was an emergency triage on that fateful day. Today, the church that meets there provides spiritual healing to a lost community. Sitting there I thought about the city and its people.

On the second anniversary, we need to reflect on our response. Most of the initial unity has passed. Democrats and Republicans are not singing “God Bless America” on the capitol steps. Instead, we have moved on to Ten Commandment monuments and political campaigns.

So, how do we respond today? Like most Americans, I rejoice as we track down the bad guys. I want justice. But what the city needs most is not justice, but Jesus.

We need to take the Gospel to New York City. That may be difficult for most of us. As Southern Baptists, we tend to be a rural and southern people. Many of us say “y’all” and eat grits. Most New Yorkers don’t do either — but they still need Jesus.

In his first interview on September 11, Mayor Giuliani was asked how bad it was. He responded, “More than any of us can bear.” He was right. But there is a greater tragedy. What if Southern Baptists were to minister only where they were comfortable — in the Bible Belt?

Thousands died that day, but many more go into eternity every day without Christ. Many firemen died in the buildings, but my retired firefighter grandfather died without Christ years before. They are both tragedies.

When will we realize that it is “more then any of us can bear”? When will we be as shocked by the lostness of the world and act accordingly? When will our churches love the people of New York like we did on September 11? We sent so many work boots and water bottles that they said “no more.” My prayer is that we will send as many Bibles as we did boots and as many witnesses as we did water bottles. Only then can we truly love New York.
Ed Stetzer is manager of the discovery and development unit of the Southern Baptist Convention’s North American Mission Board’s church planting group.

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  • Ed Stetzer