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FIRST-PERSON: Watching hope rise from the ashes at Ground Zero

FORT WORTH, Texas (BP)–Grayish dust blanketed abandoned cars littering the streets. It took a minute before I realized that the owners of these cars had stepped into eternity, never coming back for such earthly possessions. In the evening shadows of the abnormal city skyline, a green patch of grass with luscious trees provided a respite for those compelled to be close to where the tragedy occurred. Many had nothing but questions, and several religions offered insufficient answers.

The Wiccans gathered on one corner of the park. Scientologists passed out tracts to those who entered the park. You could see that their answers did not satisfy.

We didn’t really know why we were there, but 10 years ago, on Sept. 14, 2001, the tragedy of 9/11 compelled five seminary students to do something. We rented a van, loaded Bibles and tracts, drove eight hours that night, and slept in the van parked in an overnight parking lot.

It’s not something I would recommend for my daughter, but the danger of sleeping in a van on the streets of New York didn’t bother us nearly as much as the desire to help the hurting compelled us. We woke up the next morning and began ministering in any way we could find. We stood on the street corner praying for the workers. I will never forget a six-foot, muscular man coming out crying uncontrollably at the enormity of the situation. Nothing can prepare you for this type of ministry, but God’s grace is sufficient. We listened and prayed with them. A few came to faith in Christ. As dusk descended, the crowds began to gather in the parks, and would you believe that only a few days after tragedy, we saw hope emerge?

As we sang, others would come to help us sing. Some knew the songs and others gathered out of curiosity. When a crowd of 15 to 20 would gather, one of us would preach. We touched on the question everyone wanted to know, “Why did this happen?” But more than the problem of evil, we focused on the problem of individual evil — the personal defiance of our Creator, the sinful rebellion that dominates each of our hearts resulting in personal, tragic sin. The only freedom from such bondage is repentance of our sins and faith in Jesus Christ’s death for us on the cross. After each short sermon, we would give an invitation and break up to pray with those who responded.

Two came to faith in Christ, and others confessed sin after the first sermon. Excitement began to build in our group as we saw the glimmering hope of a brighter future overtake the darkness of hurting expressions. We sang with more fervor, and the crowds continued to assemble. Just singing two or three songs would attract as big of a crowd as we could handle. I kept noticing what appeared to be the same faces standing in the back helping us sing. I don’t know who they were. Perhaps Christians who didn’t want to interrupt us by introducing themselves, or perhaps, we entertained angels unaware. Either way, God sent helpers for us that evening.

What I know for sure is a trip that began out of a desire to do something in a time of tragedy resulted in many who found eternal hope in the midst of the earthly ashes. And whatever personal tragedy you may face, that same eternal hope still exists for you today.
Thomas White is vice president for student services and communications and associate professor of systematic theology at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas. This column first appeared at thomaswhite.wordpress.com.

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  • Thomas White