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Jessica Sachs’ memory lives on in college town

AMHERST, Mass. (BP)–While only a few students remain who were attending the University of Massachusetts at Amherst at the same time as Jessica Sachs, her legacy includes a Southern Baptist presence in this college town.

A total of $50,000 in donations in the 9/11 victim’s memory enabled Mercyhouse to make the down payment on the college-oriented church’s home, pastor Robert Krumrey said.

The congregation purchased a building owned by Wesley United Methodist Church, which has continued holding an early Sunday service there but is moving to a new home Sept. 10.

“We may continue to get money,” Krumrey said of the gifts that have come from across the nation. “I haven’t seen a donation in about six months, but with the anniversary coming up, you never know.”

Sachs was a 2000 graduate who was working at PricewaterhouseCoopers when hijackers crashed her flight into the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2001. She was a key leader in the formation of the first SBC ministry near the Amherst campus.

Krumrey said Sachs eagerly was awaiting his arrival and original co-leader Joe Green’s in 1999. The church, which averages 150 in Sunday attendance, started with 25 students that summer.

“When we came she was ready,” Krumrey said. “She had been waiting for a couple years for something to happen. She was ready to roll up her sleeves and help.”

Although many new students aren’t attuned to Sachs’ influence, the pastor said Mercyhouse will have a brief time of remembrance for her during its Sept. 10 service, when it prays for the victims’ families and the nation.

Her memory also lives on in Krumrey’s mind. His favorite comes from the church’s first baptismal service at First Baptist Church (American Baptist) in Amherst in December 1999.

“There was a small group gathered at the baptistery,” Krumrey recalled. “I remember her standing in the choir loft singing her heart out, so happy, with her eyes closed, like there was nobody in the room but her and God. That’s what I remember about Jessica.”

Sachs’ home church, New Colony Baptist of Bellerica, Mass., also will remember her on Sept. 10. Pastor Phil Wilkes said the church always marks the occasion on the Sunday nearest the anniversary.

“It’s something we take into account every September,” said Wilkes, New Colony’s pastor since August 2003. “We take time in worship to remember what happened and pray for the victims’ families.”

For those who wish to meditate at other times, New Colony erected an outdoor prayer garden near the sanctuary to honor Sachs and the other hijacking victims.

Although former pastor Jack Parrott, now a bivocational pastor in Florida, conducted Sachs’ memorial service the week after her death, Wilkes said he learned about her during his first month as pastor.

Two stoves in the church kitchen were donated by her parents, Steve and Karen Sachs, with a plaque noting they were given in her memory. (Before the family moved to St. Louis to be closer to their son in June 2003, Karen Sachs served as church secretary.)

“I asked about the sign and heard the story,” said Wilkes, who previously pastored First Baptist Church in Forest Park, Ga. “I know she was well loved in the church…. What I have heard and seen from [members] is Jessica loved the Lord and enjoyed life.”

Angie Harrington, longtime minister of music at the Boston-area church, said many new people have joined over the past five years and there aren’t as many left with personal connections to Sachses.

Still, Sachs left a legacy of courage and inspiration, particularly for young people, Harrington said.

Noting that her son is 12 years old, Harrington said she and her husband tried to shield him from much of the news in 2001. However, they now discuss Sachs openly.

The tragedy is much more real for children in the church than in other areas where they don’t have a personal connection to 9/11, Harrington said.

“I think they respect and remember her more for who she was than they talk of her as being a heroine,” Harrington said. “She was just Jessica and she died in a tragedy.

“I remember her as someone who loved her family very much,” Harrington added. “I feel a great deal of sorrow and loss. When I see a young woman who is married or is having a baby, I think what it would be like now for her.”

Sachs is fondly remembered by another former New Colony member, John Ramirez, leader of collegiate ministries for the Baptist Convention of New England (BCNE) who attended the church from 1996-99.

“My enduring memory of Jessica is she had one of the biggest smiles of anyone I’ve ever known,” Ramirez told Baptist Press. “That’s what opened doors for Jessica -– she immediately disarmed people. That’s a big gift in an area where people are skeptical of evangelicals.”

Even before she transferred to Amherst, Sachs was a vital participant in a UMass branch at Lowell, Ramirez said.

Her inquiries about starting a Southern Baptist ministry in Amherst helped spark plans for what became Mercyhouse, he said.

Having a student on a particular campus opens the door, Ramirez said. With more colleges and universities (278) than convention churches (230) in New England, resources are always limited, he explained.

“It was very much a coming together of things,” Ramirez said. “Jessica said, ‘I’m moving to Amherst, what do we have going there?’ And we said, ‘Nothing. How can you help us?’

“She could have easily become involved in Campus Crusade for Christ, InterVarsity Fellowship or Navigators, but she wanted to see a Baptist collegiate ministry started there.”

    About the Author

  • Ken Walker