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Tragedy stirs prayer, renewal among Southwestern students, local churches

FORT WORTH, Texas (BP)–Just before dawn the day after terror struck New York City and Washington, students were waiting at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary’s Memorial building to begin a prayer vigil.

Soon, Southwestern’s international students also would be meeting for prayer on the Fort Worth, Texas, campus.

Students began coming to the Memorial building before 6 a.m., waiting for the doors to be unlocked. Some students, sensing the urgent need to pray, knelt outside the building.

At 6 a.m., the two dozen students entered the building’s rotunda to pray for the families of the victims, for the injured and for the nation and President George W. Bush.

Retaliation was not mentioned in prayers this day; instead the prayers included cries for revival to sweep the land.

Just after 7 a.m., a group of 40 international students gathered to pray outside at the seminary’s garden. Jeffrey Kwok, prayer coordinator for the International Student Fellowship, organized the prayer vigil.

Most of the foreign students, knowing the devastation terrorism leaves on a country, cried out to God to end the tragedy and bring peace to the land. At one point during the prayer vigil, students began praying aloud in their native language.

“It was so awesome to hear the voices of the world lifted up to God and know that he understands,” said Laura Gimenez, an international student from Uruguay. “It showed me a part of heaven. I did not have a clue what the people next to me were saying, but God did.”

The day before, as students packed the seminary’s auditorium where fall revival services were set to begin, Southwestern President Kenneth S. Hemphill called for students and faculty to pray for the families and victims following a terrorist attack against the United States, as well as to pray for the state of the nation. Hemphill’s words were the first news to those who had been in class and were unaware that four jetliners had been hijacked, with three of them flown into the World Trade Center buildings and the Pentagon.

“Time is too short and conditions are turbulent for business as usual,” Hemphill said. “Two years ago almost to the date, a gunman walked into Wedgwood [Baptist Church] and began to fire. Those of you who were there that day will never forget that chapel experience. The question came, What do we do today? And I said, We come to pray and worship.”

The auditorium was filled with the muffled sound of praying and weeping as groups of students and faculty gathered around the altar, throughout the auditorium and spilled outside due to the capacity crowd.

As President Bush called for the nation to pray, prayer meetings were held all across the Fort Worth-Dallas metroplex the evening of Sept. 11, with Southwestern students in many of the gatherings.

One seminarian, Joe Thomas, was preaching in revival services at Westland Heights Baptist Church in Fort Worth, Texas. “There is no greater time for urgency than right now,” he said. “God is present with us, and he is calling us to pray.”

Westland Heights is a small church on the west side of Fort Worth normally running 35 in Sunday morning attendance. The night of Sept. 11, however, the church was filled to capacity, with nearly 100 people praying for the nation to come back to God and to experience spiritual awakening.

“At times like these we always are filled with questions,” Thomas said, “and there are three ways we can find the answers. One, we can look inward, which turns it in on ourselves and brings destruction inside us.

“Two, we can turn it outward in hate and anger, but this also brings destruction. Or three, we can turn upward and give it to the only one who can do something about it, our Savior Jesus Christ.”

Thomas encouraged the congregation by reminding them of Jesus’ words in John 16:33, “Tragedy comes and in the world you have tribulation, but take courage; I have overcome the world.'”

With the altar full and people kneeling wherever they could, seven people prayed to accept Jesus Christ and another surrendered to the gospel ministry.

“It is only the beginning, but a very important movement of God has begun in this church,” one church leader said. “I am glad I can find comfort in God’s words and the cloud of witnesses who have gone before us, and in the hymn by Horatio Spafford, who after losing everything could still say, ‘It is Well With My Soul.'”

At Southwestern’s revival service Sept. 11, music leader Larry Black, from First Baptist Church, Jackson, Miss., said, “Today is like no other that we have known in our lifetime … but one thing is true, Jesus is the same yesterday, today and forever.” Black then led the gathering in singing the hymn “It Is Well with My Soul.”

“Lord, you just rearranged our schedule today,” Hemphill said as he prayed for the message revival leader Ralph West, pastor of Brookhollow Baptist Church in Houston, was to bring. “You prepared this message for today and how critical it would be for the life of this institution and the life of this nation.”

Hemphill also prayed that “we would not be a nation gripped in fear, but that we would be a nation gripped by revival. Lord, perhaps this will bring our nation to its knees to acknowledge your sovereignty. May we not waste this moment.”

For those who were ministers and would face congregations with questions, Hemphill prayed, “Lord, I believe that this Sunday there are going to people sitting in pews that want to hear a word of hope. May we as men and women who have been called to interpret everyday events in light of your Word … take these days to fill the pulpits with your good news.”

Hemphill also encouraged and prayed for students with families and children. “We pray for our children who are having to grow up under the specter of horror and fear,” he said. “Help us … to be able to interpret these events to our kids and to give them hope.”

West, in his message, described how God uses the experiences of his followers to shape them into the kind of people he intends.

Taking his text from 1 King 16:29, West reminded the crowd how God sent Elijah to the land of Kerith, explaining the meaning of Kerith from a Hebrew word for “the cutting place.”

“If this is where God wants you in history, then be where he assigned you to be,” West said.

God shows up uninvited sometimes but for a purpose, West said, and sends his followers to places sometimes for their protection, for preparation, for provision and for his purpose.

Making reference to Elijah showing up unannounced before King Ahab, West said that God “has way of breaking in on the scene. Strangely God shows up on the canvases of life.”

Hemphill called the seminary family to continue praying at 6 each morning during the week for the victims of terror and for the nation.
(BP) photos posted in the BP Photo Library at http://www.bpnews.net. Photo titles: INTERNATIONAL PRAYER, MANY LANGUAGES, and TWO OR MORE.

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  • David Porter & Richard D. McCormack