NEW YORK – It was hard to listen to the soulful,
toe tapping, jazz-like tunes and not clap along, especially during the group’s
rendition of “Just a closer walk with thee.” From all the laughter and smiles,
one would not have guessed the crowd to be gathered for an event related to the
terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001.
Nor would it seem obvious that those gathered
represented 9/11 survivors.
Yet the upbeat melodies from the trombone and
tambourine seemed only fitting, for this was not a somber occasion at Graffiti
Church in the Lower Eastside of Manhattan. On the evening before the 10th
anniversary of 9/11, survivors gathered together for a night of hope; a night
to remember, rejoice and give God thanks for His faithfulness even in the
The evening included dinner and times of prayer,
listening and sharing from survivors such as Jacqulyn McNally, whose stepfather
died during the 9/11 attacks. It took three weeks for her family to find out
for sure that their loved one had died.
When McNally first found out about the attacks
it was her aunt she was worried about.
Her aunt worked at a hotel near the World Trade
Center. She didn’t even know her stepfather was at the World Trade Center that
day until his boss called later in the day to see if anyone had heard from him.
It was then McNally learned that her stepfather’s route that day of making
deliveries included a stop at the World Trade Center.
McNally shared that her stepfather knew Jesus as
His personal Savior, and she knew that her hope was only found in Jesus Christ.
McNally prayed to receive Jesus as her personal
Lord and Savior in 1998. Two years later, her stepfather came to faith in
Christ. Actually, since McNally was saved, many members of her family have also
come to know Jesus Christ. God used McNally’s faithfulness to share with her
faith with her family to draw others to Himself.
Trina Craft, a 15-year member of Graffiti
Church, is another survivor who gave a testimony. Craft was supposed to have a
job interview that day on the 86th floor in one of the towers. A neighbor
called her that morning to see if she had already left for the interview and to
tell her what had just happened at the World Trade Center.
Craft, who is usually one to be a few minutes
early, was running late that day and was still home when her neighbor called.
Craft’s cousin died on Sept. 11. He was a rescue
worker trying to help people.
One year after the attacks, Craft came to
Graffiti for help. She took computer classes at Graffiti to help her be better
able to find a job. She then began volunteering in the computer lab, and now
her full time job is teaching computer and ESL classes and running the soup
kitchen at Graffiti.
Craft said during the last decade she has
learned to trust God, and to know that whatever happens is His will for her
Ashley Allen, director of Embrace Women’s
Missions and Ministries for the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina,
began praying last year for an opportunity for women in North Carolina to reach
out and minister to those whose lives forever changed after 9/11. The Sept. 10
dinner was an answer to those prayers.
Allen and a team of 16 women from North Carolina
Baptist churches came to New York City to work with Graffiti Church and Kareem
Goubran, Graffiti’s director of adult ministries, to host the event. The North
Carolina team also spent several days serving in mission projects throughout
New York City.
“We wanted to encourage survivors of 9/11 and to
help them remember that there’s still hope in the midst of tragedy,” Allen
said. “Jesus Christ is the one constant.”
Allen said what impressed her heart the most was
seeing the “raw transparency” of the survivors. “You could tell the grieving
process takes time,” she said, speaking of a woman who cried as she talked
about running for her life as the towers fell.
Lisa Chilson-Rose, author of As the towers fell, also helped bring to
life what happened that day. She spoke about believers like police officer
Brian O’Neil, who worked to pull body parts and personal items from the rubble.
In her book she writes that after 9/11 O’Neil is more outspoken about his faith
and has a stronger relationship with Jesus.
Chilson-Rose now lives in Alabama and serves
with the state Baptist convention, but she spent 16 years living in New York
and working at the Metropolitan New York Baptist Association. She was also a
member of Graffiti Church, which has been ministering to 9/11 survivors for the
past 10 years.
After the terrorist attacks, Goubran was brought
on church staff to direct the 9/11 recovery program. Graffiti wanted to help
minister long-term as well as short term, and so the church offered financial
assistance, grief support and job development opportunities. Partners such as N.C.
Baptist Men assisted in those efforts.
Goubran said the night of hope dinner was a way
for ministry to continue with 9/11 survivors and to remind them that even after
10 years they are not forgotten and people are still here – and will continue
to be here – to care for them.
“Ministry is about being present, because God is
present in the struggle,” he said. “God does not forget us when we’re in need.
If we don’t believe God can bring the best from the worst, then why the cross?”
Perhaps the greatest testimonies of hope that
night came not from those who shared on the stage, but from those who died
September 11, 2001.
“Their testimonies continued to live on,” Chilson-Rose
said. “We don’t realize what an impact we have on others. Never take for
granted what influence you will have on someone’s life.”