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Jessica Sachs’ parents believe she was a witness on Flight 11

BILLERICA, Mass. (BP)–The parents of Jessica Sachs, who died Sept. 11 on the first jetliner to crash into the World Trade Center, are comforted by the possibility that in her final moments she told other passengers about Jesus.

A member of New Colony Baptist Church, the 23-year-old Sachs was aboard American Airlines Flight 11 from Boston when it was commandeered by terrorists.

“This is one of the comforts the family has taken hold of,” said pastor Jack Parrott. “The thing that offers some degree of peace is their belief in the last minutes Jessica was sharing her faith and telling others God was in control of this uncontrollable situation.”

Sachs will be remembered in a memorial service on Monday, Sept. 17, at 7 p.m. at the Southern Baptist church northeast of Boston, just north of the Interstate 95 belt that encircles the metropolitan area.

In an e-mail circulated to dozens of persons expressing condolences since the tragedy, Jessica’s father, Steve Sachs, commented, “The only thing holding the family together is that we know Jessica is being held in the arms of Christ.” Jessica was the youngest of three children, after her brother, Eric, and sister, Kathy.

Parrott said it is likely the victim shared her faith after it became apparent the plane had been hijacked and was en route to another destination.

“Jessica’s personality was not boisterous or flashy,” Parrott said. “She wasn’t a ‘surface’ person. She reminded you of a businesswoman. Even as a student, she tended to be more serious, but she was also that way about her faith.

“She wanted to see other people helped. She believed people needed a personal relationship with God through Jesus. She didn’t just talk about it, she did it.”

In going through some of their daughter’s belongings after the tragedy, her parents discovered writings that indicated she had meditated often on her faith, the pastor said. Jessica also wrote notes about other people’s need for Christ and ways of showing love to them, he said.

Active in the New Colony’s youth Bible study program while in high school, one of her favorite Scripture verses was 1 Corinthians 1:18: “For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God” (NIV).

Her parents found the passage written in her journal, circled with the notation, “I really like this verse.”

A 2000 graduate of the University of Massachusetts, Jessica was an accountant with the Boston office of PricewaterhouseCoopers. Along with several co-workers, she was bound for Los Angeles on business.

Ironically, she had considered not going after spraining her ankle two weeks earlier, but had decided she needed to do her part, Parrott said.

Her devotion to duty reflects the family’s dedication to New Colony, the pastor said. Her mother, Karen, is the church secretary, while her father teaches an adult Bible study class and formerly served as a deacon.

“This is a leading family in our church,” the pastor said. “Every time the doors were open the Sachs family was here. In a new convention [like New England], you need to have families you know you can count on.”

In addition to being active at New Colony, in college she was involved with Mercy House, an SBC church being started in Amherst.

Parrott said he learned that when her employer called the university after her death to exchange information, a dean remarked that Sachs was one of the most unique students he had ever known when it came to sharing her faith.

While Sachs is the only New Colony member who died at the hands of terrorists, several church members are also grieving the loss of co-workers or acquaintances, including:

— Brian Sweeney, who was stationed at Hansom Air Force Base in Bedford, Mass. He was a co-worker of Thomas Harrell, an Air Force captain and volunteer ministry associate at New Colony.

— Fred Rimmele, a physician in partnership with Dino Crognale, a member of the youth leadership and mission teams at the church. Crognale and his wife, Janice, who is also a doctor, have been on two medical missions to Middle Eastern nations.

“Dino had been witnessing to Fred,” the pastor said. “Our prayer is that as Fred faced crisis, he remembered the message he heard and reached out to Christ.”

— Richard Ross, who formerly employed church member Sheila Clifford as a nanny to his daughters when they were younger.

“This is a tremendous opportunity to share the love of God and hope through Jesus Christ,” said Parrott, noting that a Sept. 12 prayer meeting attracted about four times Wednesday evening’s customary turnout. “That is what Steve and Karen want to happen with the memorial service.”

The losses have been especially hard on the church, the pastor said, since the growing congregation is home to many who accepted Christ at New Colony or started attending after their conversion.

The church has been reminded that there are situations in life that only God can enable people to face, Parrott commented. Not only is this the first time something of this magnitude has affected America since the Civil War, it has challenged the nation’s sense of security, he said.

“Now it’s something we’re reminded of daily,” Parrott said. “Whatever network people are watching, the towns they’re mentioning are towns right next to where we live. It’s gripping for me as well. This is a hard lesson in applied Christianity.”

The pastor related the following description of how the tragic news unfolded:

Steve and Kathy Sachs first learned of the possibility of their daughter’s death while vacationing at a campground an hour away in New Hampshire. As they were returning from the beach, another tourist was listening to a portable radio.

At first, the news sounded so unreal the couple wondered if the man was listening to a tape of Orson Wells’ famed broadcast, “War of the Worlds.”

But after hearing that the plane Jessica had been on may have crashed, they rushed back to their trailer and turned on the television. After briefly watching the news, they packed up and returned home. Then they drove to the Hilton Hotel at Logan Airport for a meeting with the FBI.

Tuesday evening, American Airlines called the Sachs to inform them of another briefing Wednesday morning. Parrott accompanied them to the second meeting. He said the hotel was full of weeping families; many of the airlines’ caregivers and chaplains also were crying.

“Death on this large a scale ought not to be a part of anyone’s life,” said Parrott, a Kentucky native. “To be at the Hilton with those grieving people was one of the most sobering experiences of my life.

“It is humbling but I think C.S. Lewis said that pain is God’s megaphone. In the midst of pain God is the only place we can go. The loneliest people there were the people who had no God to go to.”

Despite this sorrow, Parrott plans a pair of triumphant messages in the next few days.

His sermon text for Sunday, Sept. 16, will come from Isaiah 43:1-2, which talks about the Lord being with his children whether they pass through deep waters or scorching fire.

“This is like Easter,” the pastor said. “The message of the resurrection is hope and this is a message that is needed, that there is hope through Jesus Christ.”

While still working on his remarks for the next night’s memorial service, he said the gathering will be a time of celebration and proclaiming the gospel.

“There will be many people who are seeking who will come to the service,” Parrott said. “Her parents asked for testimonies from people who knew her in college. The songs they selected all speak of the love of God and encourage people to believe.”

Jessica Sachs would be pleased.
EDITORS’ NOTE: PricewaterhouseCoopers is the way the company spells its name on their Web site. (BP) photo posted in the BP Photo Library at http://www.bpnews.net. Photo title: JESSICA SACHS.

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  • Ken Walker