SBC Life Articles

Chaplains At Ground Zero

A team of Southern Baptist chaplains from the Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma ministered to firefighters, police, and rescue crews searching for survivors at "ground zero," the site where two passenger jets slammed into the World Trade Center towers Sept. 11.

The chaplains, many of whom ministered at the site of the 1995 Murrah Federal Building bombing in Oklahoma City, arrived three days after the twin towers collapsed, killing more than 5,000 people.

"Only God could have pulled off getting us here to New York City," said Sam Porter, men's ministry and missions specialist for the Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma. "We consider it an honor to be asked to serve and minister to the men and women who are working so hard to dig through this rubble."

The Oklahoma chaplains were asked by New York officials to take charge of ministry at the site's temporary morgue, set up in the plaza of the World Financial Center, about 200 yards from the front of what was once the World Trade Center.

"They said they needed someone to handle the morgue and I told them that we are here and we are ready to work," Porter said. "We put together a multi-denominational team of ministers to work together to assist with the spiritual side of this incident."

Their primary responsibility was to coordinate eight-hour work shifts for morgue chaplains.

"This is a very professional operation," Porter said. "These guys are focused on doing the job at hand."

Within hours of arriving, the chaplains observed a tender, heart-wrenching scene.

"The guys found one of their fire captains in the rubble," Porter told Baptist Press. "There were forty firefighters there and they all gathered around the captain's body and brought him out — together. Then they just stood there. The New York Police Department brought in a few police units and escorted the captain's body out of the blast zone.

"Most of the time," Porter said grimly, "they just bring out body parts."

Waving off the stench of rotting garbage and smoldering debris, the chaplains walked the lines offering encouragement to firefighters and praying with the men and women digging through the ruins.

Jack Poe, head chaplain of the Oklahoma City Police Department, witnessed the horror of the Oklahoma City bombing. He said it was hard to keep one's emotions checked when looking at the broken remains of the towers.

"It's really about managing your emotions," Poe told Baptist Press. "You have to stay focused and on mission. Our mission is to provide comfort and spiritual guidance to these people. We'll process all of this for the rest of our lives.

"You have to stay objective," Poe noted. "That's our job. I can tell you that the hearts of these firefighters and police officers are breaking. Their guts are in knots.

"With this much carnage, it's hard to see the similarities with Oklahoma City," Poe said. "We've got people in there who served in Vietnam and they're coming out of the debris in shock. This is a hundred times worse than Oklahoma City."



Online Sunday School Lessons Addressing The Tragedy

As one response to the Sept. 11 terrorist attack on New York and Washington, employees in the E-Business Group, Church Resources, and Information Systems Department of LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention worked together to prepare Sunday School lessons to help Southern Baptist Sunday School teachers be ready for their Sept. 16 classes.

By Thursday, Sept. 13, LifeWay had lessons available on www.lifeway.com for adults, youth, children (older, younger, and kindergarten age), according to Jim Johnston, Publishing Services and Multimedia.

As of October 8, a total of 233,425 downloads of the online materials had been registered by lifeway.com.

    About the Author

  • Todd Starnes