NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–Jon Merryman was one of hundreds who gathered Tuesday morning in LifeWay’s Van Ness Auditorium to offer up prayers for those suffering from the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on New York City and Washington. He sat quietly towards the back of the chapel with his head bowed and hands clasped.
“Personally, when I first heard the news,” said Merryman, referring to the hijacked airliner attacks on the World Trade Center in Manhattan, “my thoughts went out” to the people who were on the aircraft.
Merryman, 23, was touring with the Ouachita Baptist University choir in June 1999 when the American Airlines plane he was traveling on crashed in Little Rock, Ark. Eight-five people were injured in the accident and 11 killed, including two of his friends.
“Since I was traveling on the same airline,” Merryman said, “I was immediately concerned for the people on American,” the airline targeted by terrorists in the New York City attack.
Hundreds of other LifeWay employees packed the pews and lined the back wall of the chapel to pray for the nation.
“We’ve lost a sense of security, a sense of peace, a sense of hope,” Barney Self said to the gathering. “We offer up prayers of comfort for those who have been affected.”
One by one, several people left their pews to walk to the front of the church and speak softly into the microphone. Prayers went out for the families of those involved in the accident, for President George W. Bush and his staff. There were also cries for peace and mercy.
A time of silent prayer was held at the end of the service.
At Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest, N.C., President Paige Patterson did not take the day of terror sitting down; rather, he is leading his students to take it on their knees.
Patterson responded to the days’ events by leading a very sobering prayer time during the regularly scheduled chapel time.
With heads in their hands and all knees bended, students let their heart-felt prayers echo throughout Binkley Chapel.
Following the chapel service, students congregated outside for individual prayer as Patterson returned to his office where he was briefed by his staff on the latest news.
“First, we grieve for the families of those who have lost their loved ones. We pray for God’s tender comfort,” Patterson said. “We will pray for the president of the United States … that his response will be both thorough and just to this defacto declaration of war on the American people.”
Addressing the terrorist issue, Patterson said “the vast majority of terrorism grows out of the failure of the governments of this world to mandate and guarantee religious liberty. Any religious faith that has to be generated at the point of the sword is manifestly wrong.”
Patterson said that until there is a time when the nation insists that such liberties be guaranteed and the value of human life guarded in all situations we “will continue to observe such carnage.”
Southeastern Seminary currently has more than 20 families serving as missionaries in Middle Eastern countries. Several Southeastern missionary families arrived in the Middle East to begin ministering as recently as the week before the Sept. 11 attacks.
“The responsibility we have to share Jesus’ life and peace will not be preempted by the intolerance and violence of wicked men,” Patterson declared. “Our students are remarkable for their faith and for their courage. Indeed, we take it that this is greater evidence of the supremacy of Christ and the way of peace.”
Keith Eitel, director of Southeastern’s Center for Great Commission Studies, said his initial concern was for Southeastern students serving in Muslim lands, yet he believes this confirms the fact that the seminary should redouble their missions efforts.
“My heart goes out to the parents and families. [They should] not worry. I hope that Americans will not be bitter toward all Muslims and that we still can share the gospel and befriend them. We must make Jesus known and share the gospel,” Eitel said. “We need to redouble our efforts to be there and share Christ’s love. This is a prime opportunity for us to show our love when they expect anger.”
Showing love when the enemy expects anger is what seminary student Chad Hood said distinguishes Christians from non-Christians. “God is sovereign; this does not take him by surprise. Our immediate concern is for families who have lost loved ones in this tragedy. It is extremely important for Christians to be mobilized to help physically and spiritually with the needs of fellow Americans,” said Hood, a master of divinity student.
Phil Roberts, president of Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest, N.C., was on Southeastern’s Wake Forest campus as chapel speaker and noted that “this event should lead our nation to genuine revival. We need to make progress for the gospel. This has great impact for the deeper need of renewal and return to God.”
At Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky., the tragedy likewise turned the morning chapel service into a season of urgent prayer. Seminary President R. Albert Mohler Jr. began by the service by reading Psalm 94 and 95, where in one verse it reads, “The Lord knows the thoughts of man, That they are a mere breath.”
Saying that the order of worship was being abandoned, Mohler began by praying for the nation and then urged the students in attendance to gather in small groups and pray. More than half of the chapel service was spent either praying or reading Scripture.
While the chapel service was being held, both World Trade Center towers collapsed. “I am reminded of World War II, when faithful Christians reported that even in the midst of bombings, they knew not what to do except to gather together to pray,” Mohler said. “It seems right that the most important thing we can do is to gather together and pray.”
Among Baptist colleges across the country, Union University students, faculty, staff and administration met together in chapel to pray for the victims of the terrorist attacks at the World Trade Center and Pentagon as well as President Bush and the country as a whole.
“This is very much a Pearl Harbor kind of day,” Todd Brady, minister to the university, said as he addressed the somber faces of the university family. Students filled the aisles, kneeling on the floor as several faculty and staff members led in prayer.
Already reports are beginning to trickle in as students are trying to find out about loved ones who worked in the World Trade Center, or near the areas that were attacked.
Michael Foust, Sara Horn & Art Toalston contributed to this article.