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‘This is the city I know & love,’ Baptist worker agonizes amid chaos

NEW YORK CITY (BP)–Michael Chance’s morning commute into New York City Sept. 13 was anything but normal. Riding in a transit bus, Chance looked out over the smoldering ruins of the World Trade Center and began to cry.

“I wept this morning coming into the office,” said Chance, director of church development for the Baptist Association of Metropolitan New York.

“For 15 years I’ve been coming into the city on a bus and today, looking at the scarred Manhattan skyline, I felt totally violated,” Chance told Baptist Press. “I feel grief, hurt. This is the city I know and love. This is the city where I work and the people we minister to work.”

Chance, a native of Louisiana and a 1976 graduate of New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary, joined his fellow Southern Baptists in the hours following the Sept. 11 terrorist attack in ministry efforts across Manhattan’s financial district.

The ghastly toll of the terrorist attack on the nation’s largest city came into focus Sept. 13, as more than 4,700 people were reported missing in the devastation of the World Trade Center. President Bush said he would visit New York and thank its people for exhibiting “the bravery of America.”

Chance and his daughter, Gail, a graduate student at Fordham University, rushed to the scene of the attack where they encountered a group of distraught New York University students.

“One was just in tears,” Chance said. “The boys were in their early 20’s and many of them couldn’t understand why something like this had happened.”

Chance also took time to minister to several of the law enforcement officers guarding the crime scene.

“When I told them I was a pastor, they would perk up and we sensed a tremendous sense of gratefulness from them,” Chance said.

Taylor Field, pastor of East Seventh Baptist Church, found himself involved in the early moments of the blast as a parent: His 17-year-old son attends school just a block away from the World Trade Center.

“We got a message that all the students would be moved out of the school and since I didn’t have a car, I grabbed my son’s bike and took off towards the school,” Field told Baptist Press.

“The last 10 blocks of that ride was a hellish quiet,” he said. “I kept looking for the towers but they weren’t there. People looked like mummies, covered in soot and ash. There was just a huge mountain of debris and smoke.”

After two hours of searching, Field located his son, Freeman, along with 14 of his friends, many of whom were stranded in Manhattan.

Field’s wife, Susan, who is the Baptist chaplain at Columbia University, located their other son and their small apartment soon became a safe place for the family and Freeman’s high school buddies.

“I just can’t imagine what my son must have gone through,” Field said. “He and his friends were literally running for their lives.”

After caring for his family’s immediate needs, Field set about caring for the needs of the community. East Seventh is the closest Southern Baptist church to the blast zone.

“The place was in a crisis,” Field said. “We set up a prayer room and pulled a television outside so people could get some information. We heard some incredible stories of how God worked.”

Jack Lok owns a travel agency in New York’s Chinatown. His building provided a spectacular view of the World Trade Center — and its devastating end.

“We had a group of tourists who were up in the tower and we haven’t been able to locate them. We feel terrible,” Lok said as he placed a banner declaring, “God bless the victims and God bless America.”

Lok said it is up to the community to pray for the victims of the tragedy. “We’ve all been deeply touched by this,” he said.”

While not New Yorkers, Carl and Janyce Schmidt felt the Lord calling them to the nation’s largest city moments after the attack.

The Schmidts, members of the First Baptist Church in Vermillion, Ohio, are volunteers with the American Red Cross who are operating a relief booth inside the blast zone.

“I just want to break down and cry for these people,” Carl said. “Many of them have no homes, no clothes. It is so sad, so sad.”

“All these people were murdered and for what?” he asked.

Even through a deep faith in Christ, some New York Baptists are finding themselves emotionally exhausted in the days following the attack.

“Today, we are wasted,” Field said. “Emotionally speaking, we are trying to pick up the pieces.”

“When you let this stuff sink in,” Janyce Schmidt said, “you have to sit down and cry for about three weeks.”

Field said a verse of Scripture from Psalm 76:10 has sustained him during these dark days. “The anger of men results in the praises of God,” Field said, quoting the verse from memory.

“There is a book called ‘Atlas Shrugged.’ The plot suggests what would happen if all the structure was gone,” he added. “On Tuesday [Sept. 11] it felt like that.”
(BP) photo posted in the BP Photo Library at http://www.bpnews.net. Photo title: TAYLOR FIELD, JACK LOK and BUSINESS NOT AS USUAL.

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  • Todd Starnes