Imagine India’s Yamuna River without the Taj Mahal, or Paris without the Eiffel Tower. The loss of the World Trade Center’s twin towers left a similarly unimaginable hole in the American landscape and psyche.
Sept. 11, 2001’s terrorist assaults on the United States changed more than the lower Manhattan skyline. The unprecedented attacks that ended so tragically in New York City and in Washington, D.C., and rural Pennsylvania also forever changed the face of Southern Baptist Disaster Relief.
Out of chaos came advancements that few disaster response pioneers would have dared dream. In the decade following 9/11, tens of thousands of Southern Baptists became trained disaster relief volunteers; relationships were forged and deepened with faith-based groups, law enforcement and government entities; and Southern Baptist Disaster Relief (SBDR) gained recognition and influence.
That influence grew from the respect victims and other responders gave SBDR volunteers, who have used those opportunities to present the gospel and seen thousands come to faith in Christ. The SBDR logo — now widely recognized — opened doors for a historic response to Hurricane Katrina. It continues to remove barriers. North Carolina Baptist Men was in the thick of the response in Washington, D.C., and New York. By Sept. 12 there was a team at the Pentagon watching the sun rise along with the smoldering remains.
Skip Greene, of First Baptist Church in Boone, was leading the team in charge of organizing meals for first responders.
“I saw a lot of emotion in those men’s and women’s eyes,” said Greene in one of the videos made after the attack. “Our prayer is that we never have to go but the reality is that we live in a hurting world.”
Greene has been involved in disaster relief work since the early 80s. Because the crews were working so hard to feed people, they had no idea what was going on in the world. “You knew more about what was going on than we did,” Greene said.
This response was different than a hurricane or flooding, however. “Our nation was attacked,” Greene said.
Each meal you might sit with a responder pulling out bodies from the rubble or hear a story of how a person should have been in the spot where the plane hit but went to the restroom.
A vivid memory for Greene was a parking lot near the Pentagon. Greene remembers 13 cars in the lot one day.
“All I could think was that they were victims,” he said.
“We stopped and prayed over those cars.”
As leader of the disaster relief team for the North American Mission Board, Mickey Caison often is at the center of disaster response and for development of the ministry.
Like many Americans on the East Coast that morning, Caison was in his office working on something that quickly became less important.
“It is difficult to believe that it has been 10 years (since 9/11),” Caison said. “The memories still flood in. A co-worker came into my office and asked to turn on the television. The first tower was burning. A short time later, the dozen people standing in my office gasped as the second jet hit. My heart sank.”
Months earlier, Caison had participated in discussions with the New York City Office of Emergency Management in a meeting held in one of the other World Trade Center buildings.
‘Seen as strong leaders’
A cooperative agreement between the Salvation Army and the North American Mission Board in 2002 — followed the pattern of — similar agreements with the American Red Cross, Federal Emergency Management Agency — and other response organizations.
“We are seen as strong leaders in the response community,” Caison said. “We probably mobilize more trained and credentialed volunteers than anyone else…. Southern Baptists have a passion to live out their relationship with Christ and they choose to demonstrate it.”
Another area of change since 9/11 is training — the desire of people wanting to be trained and willing to respond in an organized way, Caison added. In 2001 there were 24,874 trained Southern Baptist Disaster Relief volunteers. Today there are more than 82,000. The first year Southern Baptists provided more than 2 million meals in disaster response was 2001. In 2004, that number was 3.5 million. In 2005, the year of Hurricanes Katrina, Rita and Wilma, Southern Baptist volunteers prepared more than 17 million meals.
The Southern Baptist Disaster Relief fleet — units equipped by churches, associations and state conventions for mass feeding and a range of disaster relief services, from chainsaw response to childcare — has grown from 335 in 2001 to 1,552 in 2011.
Hurricane Katrina and 2005 are the benchmarks for Southern Baptist disaster response, but it was 9/11 that set the stage to make those responses possible. Some services now expected from Southern Baptist disaster response did not exist prior to 9/11. “A unique ministry came out of the response to New York,” said Gaylon Moss, disaster relief coordinator for North Carolina Southern Baptists. “North Carolina volunteers assisted with the apartment clean-up and provided some base camp logistics. One of our on-site coordinators, Beddie Tarlton, contacted Richard Brunson (North Carolina Baptist Men executive director) regarding the need to wash clothes for the Red Cross volunteers. The laundry unit was built with three washers and two dryers. This was the beginning of the organized laundry ministry for Southern Baptists.”
North Carolina’s first unit was followed by six more. Southern Baptists now have 21 laundry units in their disaster response fleet. Brunson said the disaster also helped formalize the ministry more. “It made us aware of new ways to minister,” Brunson said.
In the three months following Sept. 11 North Carolina Baptists had 600 volunteers who had worked in New York and at the Pentagon.
Tom Beam, student mission mobilization consultant with the Baptist Men, was one of the N.C. Baptists who spent time at the Pentagon. He served as a white hat coordinating 24-hours of feeding with two shifts of volunteers.
“We were feeding those that were securing the area, military personnel as well as investigators,” Beam said. “You were constantly wondering if there was going to be other retaliations.”
It was an unsettling time for people because the country was considering war or at least a retaliation for the terrorist attack.
Greene’s church is planning a special service Sept. 11 called “We Remember.” A special cross, only one of four made out of the Pentagon rubble, has been moved to Boone from the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina offices in Cary. The cross was presented to North Carolina Baptist Men in 2002 on the anniversary of the attack.
Greene’s trying to pull the whole Region 7 team back together. During the special services — two morning services — a number of people will share reactions and what they remember of the first few days.
“It changed everyone of us,” Greene said.
Other churches have special sermons or times prepared to recognize the 10th anniversary of 9/11. Some will be participating in a simulcast featuring Anne Graham Lotz and Joel Rosenberg. The two are hosting “A Wake-Up Call for God’s People.” Visit annegrahamlotz.org for more information.
Copies of the videos are available on YouTube or on DVD from the North Carolina Baptist Men. Visit ncmissions.org.
(EDITOR’S NOTE — Conway is a writer for the North American Mission Board. Dianna L. Cagle, the Biblical Recorder’s assistant managing editor, contributed to this report.)
5 ways to commemorate 9/11 at church
How 9/11 changed hearts, minds & missions