“Get up! Get up!” my husband yelled, “Someone’s bombed the World Trade Center!”
I struggled to sit up, but one glimpse of the fear in Brian’s eyes jolted me fully awake. I jumped out of bed and followed him to our terrace.
Brian and I had just moved into this apartment only six blocks south of the World Trade Center complex, and our 24th-floor terrace provided a coveted view of the city. Now, we could see thick black smoke rolling from the North Tower.
Emergency vehicles raced toward the World Trade Center—lights flashing, sirens blaring. Suddenly, something caught my eye. Looking up over my right shoulder, I saw a plane flying low—too low. With a thunderous, deafening roar, the jet swooped like a hawk between the buildings and banked to the left until its wings were at about eight and two o’clock.
We felt, rather than saw, the impact. One moment we were standing on the terrace, and the next we were lying on our backs in the middle of the living room floor.
Although I was barefoot and still wearing my nightgown, I knew we had to get out of my apartment. We raced down 24 flights of stairs, with Brian carrying Gabriel, our 40-pound Boston terrier. Outside, we joined hundreds of people fleeing the burning buildings. Men in suits and ties and women in blazers and skirts rushed past us. Many were in their stocking feet. Paper and scraps floated through the air.
We dodged fire trucks screaming toward the towers as we raced across the West Side Highway. With the towers to the north of us, we headed south—to Battery Park, at the tip of the island of Manhattan.
At the edge of the park, I felt a sense of relief; surely the worst was over. Gasping for breath, we finally turned around to get a glimpse of the danger we had been fleeing. The top half of the Twin Towers were engulfed in a black cloud, smoke rising a quarter mile into the bright blue sky.
Voices from the panicked crowd floated around us. “This was a terrorist attack.” “More planes could be in the air!”
Suddenly, the ground began to shake violently, and I heard a rumble like a freight train. Somehow, I knew what was happening. “Brian, a tower is coming down!”
I froze in terror as a mass of something hit me in the face. I felt like someone had thrown a bucket of sticky sand over me: gunk filled my nose and mouth, covered my pajamas, and coated every pore of unprotected skin.
I opened my eyes slowly, trying to protect them from whatever was on my eyelids. Brian hadn’t moved, but he looked completely different—like an upright mummy.
All around us, panicked people were searching for a way to escape the chaos and devastation. I slowly began to realize we might not survive. I began to silently pray for my mother and to consider my own relationship with Christ. Although I had always considered myself a Christian, I knew I had never made Jesus the center of my life.
Physical redemption came to us that day from an unexpected source: a ferry that had joined an unofficial evacuation fleet of boats rushing to the tip of Manhattan to rescue the thousands of people who had been trapped there by the burning, falling towers. We were dropped off in New Jersey, filthy and traumatized and with little understanding of what had just happened to us.
Over the next few days—that stretched into long weeks and then months—friends and strangers offered us comfort and shelter as we faced homelessness and unemployment. Only later did we realize we were also struggling with PTSD.
A good friend advised me to approach Redeemer Presbyterian Church, which had created a 9/11 disaster relief fund, for help with paying the bills that were piling up. I was grateful for her concern but reluctant to ask the church for money.
I identified as a Christian, but my faith was shallow, untested, and compartmentalized. Sporadic church attendance was the extent of my spiritual involvement. I went anyway.
When I timidly arrived at the church office, I was greeted warmly and asked a simple question about our experience. I didn’t have to elaborate, but I did. I described how my worldview had been shaken and how I was seriously questioning my previous beliefs that everyone was basically good.
As I vented my sorrow and frustration, these Christian women listened intently. They bore witness to my pain and validated my experience. And they cared. At the end of our meeting, I walked out the door holding an envelope with financial help.
And something shifted inside of me. I felt hope.
That simple act of Christian mercy began the process toward restoring my faith in humanity. The weight of injustice I’d been carrying began to lift. I felt less like the world was against me. And I had a new desire to learn more about God.
Within a few weeks, Brian and I attended a service at the church and fell in love with the atmosphere, the music, the people we met, and the message the pastor delivered. We returned each Sunday, eventually making friends, joining Bible study groups, engaging in church activities, and volunteering with outreach programs. All led us into a deeper relationship with Christ.
Twenty years after the 9/11 attacks, I remain profoundly grateful that God used his church and its disaster relief work to reach out to Brian and me at our lowest point and bring us into a renewed relationship with him.
Over the past two decades, I have learned repeatedly that injustice and suffering will be a constant presence in this broken world. Because of our 9/11 experience, we were molded more into his image, and we enjoy a deeper relationship with him.
We have freedom to give away in increasing measure to others as a result. We now live with the assurance that through faith in Christ, we don’t have to fear anything because our brokenness is where he meets us in his strength.