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Nation cries out in prayer over the Sept. 11 onslaught

ALPHARETTA, Ga. (BP)–Since Sept. 11, Americans have prayed in a way unheard of for decades.

Prayer was voiced across the nation Sept. 14 in response to President Bush’s proclamation of a “National Day of Prayer and Remembrance for the Victims Of the Terrorist Attacks on September 11, 2001.”

Staff members of the Southern Baptist North American Mission Board in Alpharetta, Ga., and Fort Worth, Texas, for example, met for an hour of prayer to remember victims and their families impacted by the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks in New York City, Washington and Pennsylvania. Prayers also were voiced for President Bush and other U.S. leaders as well as the ongoing recovery and rescue efforts, which has been joined by Southern Baptist missionaries, chaplains and volunteers.

At noon, NAMB President Robert E. Reccord and staff in Alpharetta held hands around flags in front of the agency’s offices representing every state in the nation as well as Canada and U.S. territories to remember the victims and their families.

“God, open hearts during these days, and may the gospel seeds that fall on the open hearts take root and grow into eternity,” Reccord prayed. Following his prayer, the group spontaneously began singing “God Bless America.”

Employees at the SBC Building in Nashville, Tenn., observed President Bush’s call for a Day of Prayer and Remembrance in a noontime vigil led by Richard Land, president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, and Morris H Chapman, president of the SBC Executive Committee.

Land said that while the service was in response to the president’s call to prayer, Christians should be responding to a higher call as well. “We are called to remember those who are suffering as if we ourselves were suffering,” Land said, citing Hebrews 13:3.

God’s Word is a constant comfort to his followers, Chapman said. Looking to Isaiah 43:1-3, he noted that the Lord is sovereign and faithful to lead his redeemed through times of unimaginable grief and pain.

John Franklin, prayer and discipleship specialist for LifeWay Christian Resources, led in a time of prayer in small groups for the families of victims, President Bush and other local and national government leaders and those involved in the rescue and recovery efforts.

“The beginning point of all prayer,” Franklin said, “is that we instinctively turn to God in dependence.” He said the ending point of prayer is to have “the perspective of God.”

Franklin said that all great movements of God started with the people of God coming to him in prayer. This is “a wakeup call,” he continued. “We have a mandate to go out in the culture.

“A lot of people are going to be asking questions,” Franklin said. “Only Christ has the answers.”

Land suggested that the ERLC and Executive Committee jointly fund the placement of a flagpole in front of the SBC Building to fly both the U.S. and Christian flags. Land said the pole would be marked with a plaque that will memorialize those who died in the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

An offering was collected to aid Southern Baptist-led disaster relief efforts in New York City and Washington. Land commended the SBC’s North American Mission Board and state Baptist conventions in their food and relief work and chaplaincy ministries to those impacted by the attacks.

At St. Matthews Baptist Church in Louisville, Ky., some 250 persons heard associate pastor David Stancil emphasize that — just as God promised in Psalm 23 — there is safety with the Lord.

“One thing we’ve been asking all week is, ‘Is there a safe place anymore?'” Stancil said during the Sept. 14 prayer vigil there. “If you listen to the media, many are saying, ‘No.’ I stand here to say that is not true. God is with us. His promise is safety in the middle of fear. It’s safety in the presence of our enemies.

“Even the worst storms in the sea only go 300 to 400 feet deep. The safety God gives us is in the deep places. There we are secure in him. As Peter found on the sea, nothing is safe unless it is placed in his hands.”

In a line that prompted laughter, the pastor recalled a joke from his service in the U.S. Navy: “If you can keep your head when everyone else is losing theirs, you don’t understand the situation.”

“But we can keep our faith, even when we understand the situation,” Stancil said. “Hopefully, we have emptied our hands of things we have trusted in and opened them to him. Jesus said you need to focus on God and he will take care of your needs.”

The lengthy prayer list distributed to worshipers was a vivid reminder of the widespread effect of the Sept. 11 tragedy. The requests for church members, friends and relatives traveling abroad or living in New York or Washington spanned nearly 60 individuals and couples.

It included several churches and 45 members of the Kentucky Baptist Convention’s disaster relief team currently in Manhattan assisting with mass feeding for the American Red Cross.

During his prayer to open the service, Joel Wayne, St. Matthews’ minister of students, asked for guidance and protection for President Bush and other national leaders.

“In some ways we feel like our country has been knocked to our knees,” Wayne prayed. “As we’re on our knees, may we call out to you. So many people with faces like ours are weeping because of the struggle that has occurred. May we stand with them in their suffering.”

In other prayer vigils around the nation since the Sept. 11 tragedy:

— In Roanoke, Va., more than 5,000 people, many wearing yellow ribbons, packed into Victory Stadium Sept. 12 for a candlelight prayer vigil sponsored by the Roanoke Valley Ministers’ Conference.

The aftereffects of the previous day’s terrorism were felt in the stadium as participants were confined to the seats farthest from the National Guard Armory on the north end. Guardsmen, on alert after the terrorism, assisted Roanoke police with crowd control.

“I think this was a great night,” said 14-year-old Jamie Lewis. “The prayer time really helped me cope with what happened.”

Jim Evans, a member of Mt. Pleasant Baptist Church in Roanoke, said he senses a spiritual movement being generated through the tragedy. “We’re seeing people really asking questions about why this happened and who God is,” said Evans, general manager of a local Christian radio station.

While most of those in the audience carried candles, which many kept lit through its 40 minutes, David Peery carried a single white rose. “I thought about getting red, but that reminded me of blood,” he said. “So I got white. White for life.”

Peery, a Roanoke banker, said he spent the day in bed getting over the flu, but came to the prayer vigil to show his “support and solidarity.” That was the sentiment of many who found themselves just needing to do something.

“I thought this was a tragic and senseless act,” said Steve Martin, a Roanoke County deputy sheriff who came with his father, retired Roanoke firefighter Clarence Martin. “I think it’s important for us to come together.”

Support and faith, he added, “can carry you through a lot.”

Jenny Fife, a public school teacher, found herself going around the church-state issue when school officials forbade teachers from talking about the incident.

“I did break the rules when we stopped and had a moment of silence,” she said. “That’s all we were allowed to do. I understand the separation of church and state, but it was hard.”

— At New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary, students were praying in classrooms and at the altar before the start of the morning chapel service Sept. 11. With a voice that underscored the calamity of the day, seminary President Chuck Kelley spoke to the auditorium filled with students and staff: “This will, without a question, be one of the most horrible days in the history of the United States.”

Announcing that classes would be canceled for students and faculty to spend time in prayer the remainder of the day, Kelley voiced several areas of intercession. Pray for the nation’s leaders, family members and friends who have been impacted by the tragedy, he began.

Guard against a backlash against Arabic people and followers of Islam, he advised. “A few terrorists are not representative of an entire people,” he reminded, indicating that most Arabs and Muslims are likely to be just as horrified as Americans. “We need to be praying that God will show whatever Christianity our nation has left in our culture,” he said.

Pray for members of the family of Christ who are wrapped up in the crisis that is beyond one’s ability to imagine. Noting that disaster relief efforts were already being mobilized, Kelley said, “Right now, Southern Baptists will be gearing up to do whatever they can in what enfolds. We need to be praying that we will do the very best that we can to take this very tragic situation and use it as an opportunity to express the love of God for all those who have been affected by this.”

Pray that God would provide wisdom and direction for the seminary family as they minister to their congregations, Kelly continued. “Everyone in this room will be the people to whom others will look for interpreting this tragedy,” he said. “Because you have given your life to a fulltime call of God, you are now on the point of interpreting this situation on behalf of those who know you and whom you are serving in your churches.”

Underscoring God’s power and authority, Kelley read from Psalm 46, “God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble” before chapel-goers broke into small groups to pray.

In his prayer, Kelley pleaded with God, “Show us in the midst of the horror the restorative power of your grace.”

Concluding the somber service, Kelley said, “It is highly likely that more U.S. citizens will have died on this day than any other day in our history.” To the seminary family, he counseled: “For such a time as this, God has called you out to minister and to represent him in the lives of the people you know.

— Staffers at the SBC Building in Nashville earlier gathered for prayer at 11 a.m. Sept. 11.

“Nothing like this has occurred in our lifetime,” SBC Executive Committee President Chapman said in opening the prayer time. Reading from the 23rd Psalm, Chapman said the Lord wants his followers to be comforted when walking through “the valley of the shadow of death.”

“He will never forsake or leave us,” Chapman said. Just as a shepherd carefully guides his sheep along a narrow path, Christians can be assured that God cares, he continued. “We are encouraged and strengthened in him. We must never forget that in our weakness he is made strong.”

“We are humbled by the loss,” Chapman prayed, saying the carnage from the terrorist attacks are “beyond our comprehension.” He asked God to comfort “the families that will be devastated today by the loss of their loved ones.”

The attacks were an unjustified “declaration of war upon free citizens,” he continued, asking God to establish “a hedge of protection” around the nation.

Christians are called to bear witness even in times of tragedy, Chapman said, adding, “Though the earth give way, God is still in charge.”

“Our greatest hope is that through this God will be lifted up and that our nation might experience a spiritual awakening,” Chapman prayed, asking that “the heart of the country” would turn back to God.

Chapman prayed for the injured and those involved in rescue and recovery attempts, calling on the “power and presence of your Spirit to touch those who are hurting.” He prayed that President Bush would receive divine wisdom and godly counsel, expressing appreciation that Bush is “a man of faith.” And Chapman voiced prayer for Southern Baptist chaplains, disaster relief workers and others who would be ministering to those who are hurting.

— In Louisville, Melbourne Heights Baptist Church opened its sanctuary for prayer throughout the day Sept. 11.

Among local residents who stopped in was a woman who had planned to celebrate a mutual birthday with a friend in two weeks — only to discover the World Trade Center employee was assumed dead.

Another woman had a distant relative working at one of the 110-story towers, but at the time didn’t know his fate.

During a special half-hour prayer service Tuesday evening, pastor Bill Shoulta told the Lord that in some ways, people weren’t even sure how to pray.

“We need to seek your love and understanding,” he prayed. “We need to be in a place that’s safe. As we join our hearts together, we pray for those who are hurting, those who are waiting and those who are grieving. We pray for those who will struggle for weeks, months and years.”

Several of the 60 people at the service told of extended family or friends who were affected by the violence in New York.

“I was mad enough to put on an old uniform and go,” remarked Bill Kaufman, a retired Southern Baptist pastor and World War II Air Force veteran. “I don’t think anything has made me as angry as this.”

Kevin Howerton, a third-year student at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, said when he first heard reports of the attack he was shaken by shock and disbelief.

“Other than that, I had the same reaction as when they started the Gulf War,” said the native of Huntington, W. Va. “Not just over the people who died, but if we start a military action, for the people who will be involved in that. From an evangelistic perspective, these [dead] are people we’ll never be able to reach.”

Shoulta, pastor of the suburban Louisville church since 1991, was late getting to the office Tuesday because he has been recuperating from cancer surgery. After learning of the tragedy, he immediately changed the church’s sign board to let people know the sanctuary was open.

“I think people needed to find comfort and sense God’s presence,” Shoulta said. “Anytime something like this happens we sense our mortality and need for God.”

— In New Mexico, prayer meetings were held within hours of the tragedy at the Baptist Building in Albuquerque; First Baptist Church, Clovis, which issued an invitation by radio to people from across the community to a prayer meeting at the church at noon; and First Baptist churches in Sante Fe, Texico and Socorro, among other congregations.

In Albuquerque on the morning of the attacks, the staff of Sandia Baptist Church contacted the American Red Cross to offer the church and members’ homes to house passengers stranded when the Albuquerque Sunport, as well as airports nationwide, was shut down. They also scheduled a prayer meeting for 6:30 that night.

Also in Albuquerque, interim pastor Don Murray, in an e-mail to Del Norte Baptist Church members, stated: “As pastor, I realize that each day calls for prayer in our own lives, the life of our church and the safety of our great nation. Come to a special called prayer meeting tonight, Sept. 11, at 6:30, as we pray for our nation and the events of the day.”

The afternoon of the attack, Claude Cone, executive director of the Baptist Convention of New Mexico, e-mailed directors of missions, pastors and churches across the state, writing: “What took place today in our nation is brutal, treacherous and rash. May our Almighty God step in and prevent any further hurt and harm.

“I am so thankful our churches are responding with prayer,” Cone continued. “We must pray for our president and all who lead us. Millions of prayers must go up for the families of the victims. We must pray the people responsible will be caught and fair punishment given.

“We must pray God will use this to bring America to a position of total commitment to his Son, the Lord Jesus Christ,” the state executive added.

— In Apex, N.C., about 250 people attended a Sept. 11 “Prayer for America” service at New Horizons Fellowship, where pastor Ray Wickham exhorted the group to take their fears to God.

“The rules of the world changed this morning,” Wickham said. “The world you and I live in will never be the same. You’ll never board an airplane or climb a tall building or look at a stranger the same.”

Wickham led the group through a prayer guide that included Scripture references in 11 areas. One of the prayers was for the people and organizations behind the attacks. Wickham said he wished he could strike that item.

“There’s a part of me that wants to light them up,” Wickham said. “Let’s just carpet-bomb them. Kill them all; let God sort them out.” But following Jesus compels a different approach, the pastor said. The Bible teaches to “overcome evil with good,” he said.

Wickham also asked the gathering to pray for help with prejudices and anger, noting that if the terrorists are found to be from other countries, some people might look at people from those countries differently.

“Things will happen in our country we won’t be proud of in the years to come,” he said. “Let that not be said of God’s people.”

When Americans see other nations celebrating tragedy in the United States, Americans get angry, Wickham said. “There’s a part of you that doesn’t want to get mad, but to get even,” he said, noting that Christians should pray for God to “re-channel” the anger to a productive use.

“Let us see the people of the world as you see them, Father,” Wickham said in his prayer.

— At the Baptist Building in Cary, N.C., Gene Garrison read the words from Isaiah 43, “Do not be afraid, for I am with you” to lead the Baptist State Convention’s General Board staff in a time of worship and reflection on Sept. 12.

Garrison, who is minister to the chapel for the BSC staff in Cary, was pastor of First Baptist Church in Oklahoma City when the Murrah Federal Building was bombed in 1995, killing 168 people. But that did not prepare him for the tragic events of Sept. 11, he told the gathered staff, noting, “The Oklahoma City bombing pales in comparison to this.”

Garrison said there is much that Christians cannot understand. “We don’t understand such hatred,” he said, “or how there can be such evil in a world that God created.”

“As people of faith, we must accept the reality of mystery,” Garrison said. “We must confess our ignorance to God and ask for his help.”

Garrison quoted the familiar beatitude, “Blessed are they that mourn, for they shall be comforted.” Many commentators say the verse only refers to those who mourn over their sins, he noted. “But that is not what the text says,” Garrison said. “There is no comfort apart from mourning, and the great comforter is God himself. Without mourning, we would never know the intimacy of God’s presence — and that is what we seek today.”

The American church has done a poor job of equipping people to deal with suffering, Garrison said. Dealing with suffering requires honesty in facing one’s feelings and offering them to God, he added.

Garrison invited the staff to describe some of their feelings in the wake of the attacks. People spoke of anger, sadness, grief and confusion. One spoke of the hypocrisy evident in those who turn to God in crisis but ignore him when things are going well. Others described feelings of fear and uncertainty but also of gratitude and hope.

After a time of prayer, Garrison read Psalm 46:1: “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble,” and worshipers concluded by singing “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God.”

Two more national prayer vigils have been scheduled:

— On Saturday afternoon, Sept. 15, a number of evangelical leaders will lead a satellite-linked “America Prays” vigil.

“Prayer of Jabez” author Bruce Wilkinson of Atlanta will be joined in the prayer gathering by Franklin Graham of Samaritan’s Purse, James and Shirley Dobson of Focus on the Family and author/pastor Max Lucado. The Atlanta-based INJOY ministry led by John Maxwell is hosting the outreach.

The prayer vigil is scheduled for 4-5:30 p.m. (EDT/MDT) and 3-4:30 p.m. (CDT/PDT).

More than 115,000 people in an estimated 1,000 churches in all 50 states are expected to participate, organizers said.

INJOY will be broadcasting from a church in either Lawrenceville, Ga., or Lake Charles, La., depending on travel conditions.

— The National Association of Evangelicals, the National Prayer Committee, National Day of Prayer and Mission America Coalition have joined in a call for a “National Day of Mourning and Prayer” on Sunday, Sept. 16.

The groups are sponsoring a full-page advertisement in USA Today on Friday, Sept. 14, calling for the national effort.

The National Association of Evangelicals encompasses 51 member denominations and 43,000 churches.

On the Internet, the White House proclamation can be viewed at https://www.whitehouse.gov/news/.

For an updated list of churches in the America Prays vigil or to register to receive the downlink, see the website at www.INJOY.com/AmericaPrays.

Media information about the prayer vigil can be obtained by contacting Rob Forrester or Jennifer Sheran at (770) 813-0000 or by cell phone at (770) 757-5031 or by visiting www.DeMossNewsPond.com.
Lee Weeks, Dwayne Hastings, Ken Walker, Shannon Baker, John Loudat & Tony Cartledge contributed to this article.