America assaulted, God exalted
By John W. Kennedy, John Cockroft
and Peter K. Johnson
September 11 begins as any other Tuesday for Stanley Praimnath, an
assistant vice president of loan operations at Fuji Bank Limited in
New York City. As is customary, he arrives at his desk on the 81st floor
of the World Trade Center south tower by 8:30 a.m., before co-workers
arrive. Here he spends time reading his Bible and praying.
"For some reason, I gave the Lord a little extra of myself that
morning during prayer," says the 44-year-old Praimnath, who is
also a deacon and Sunday school superintendent at Bethel Assembly of
God in Queens, N.Y. "Over and over I said, Lord, cover me
and all my loved ones with Your precious blood. "
Praimnath and family
Fifteen minutes later, he is retrieving phone messages when a red-orange
flash catches his eye. Outside his window, flames cough black smoke
as a result of American Airlines Flight 11 plunging into the WTC north
tower next door. Praimnath puts down the phone.
Watching fireballs fall to the ground, Praimnath tries unsuccessfully
to call his boss in the north tower.
"Go, go, go," he says to Delise, a temporary worker, the
only other person around. "Lets get out of here."
They rush to the 78th-floor sky lobby to catch an express elevator
down and are joined by three top Fuji executives. At ground level they
are met by a security guard. "Dont leave the building,"
the guard says. "A plane accidentally hit the north tower; youll
be safer inside because of falling debris."
Praimnath and the executives return to the elevator, but Praimnath,
sensing uneasiness in his soul, sends Delise home. The three other men
head off to their departments. Praimnath will never see them again.
As Praimnath enters his office, his phone is ringing. A friend from
Chicago asks Praimnath if he heard about the north tower being hit.
He assures her all is fine.
But all is not fine. It is 9:03 a.m. and United Airlines Flight 175
is staring him in the face.
"Suddenly I see this big gray airplane with red letters on the
wing and tail filling my window," Praimnath says. "Its
coming right at me."
Praimnath drops the phone and tucks under his desk in a fetal position
as the plane obliterates the wall. The impact is a prolonged, gut-wrenching
screech, a hideous, metallic roar. "It sounded like a huge steel
cage being ripped apart," Praimnath recalls. Intense smoke and
soot punctuate the agonizing explosion.
A flame interrupts the awful blackness, revealing a protruding aircraft
wing blocking the exit only 20 feet away. Im going to die,
Praimnath thinks. Yet he cries out to God.
"Lord, help me," he prays, trying to stand. "I cant
do this by myself. I dont want to die. I want to see my two little
girls." Tears spill from squinting eyes as he realizes he is buried
shoulder deep in debris. A nail pierces his right hand. Pain sears his
"Lord, You take control," Praimnath says aloud. Struggling
to his feet, he is instantly showered by dust and debris anew as the
ceiling gives way. Hands claw; legs thrash. Mercifully, his desperate
plea seems momentarily answered.
"God gave me so much power in my body that I was able to shake
everything off," Praimnath says.
Now standing, he begins to scream. "This is Stan from loans operation!
Can anybody hear me? Help!"
Sparking electrical wires are the only sound in return. He must get
out fast. Crawling away from the burning plane, Praimnath knows he has
little time to escape. Cuts and bruises emerge as he crawls through
hundreds of feet of the newly created war zone that had been his company
a few moments earlier. Tearing off his bloodied, shredded white shirt
to cover his nose and mouth, Praimnath focuses on breathing and finding
Miraculously, a light pierces the haze. "I see the light!"
Praimnath screams, crawling toward what he thinks must be his guardian
angel in these surreal surroundings.
"Come toward the light," a voice answers. "Im
here to help you."
A wall separates him from the stairwell and this unseen helper. "I
cant breathe," Praimnath says, the smell of jet fuel burning
his nostrils. In desperation, he calls out to the voice with the flashlight.
"Do you believe in Christ?" Praimnath asks.
"I dont miss a Sunday going to church," the voice answers.
"Do you believe in Christ?" Praimnath presses.
The voice on the other side tells Praimnath that he must break a hole
in the plasterboard wall to escape. Now Praimnath is certain he will
"Im going to write down my name and number," he tells
the would-be rescuer. "Call my wife and daughters, and tell them
I love them."
"No," comes the reply. "You are going to break through
Praimnath draws from his karate lessons and his Lord, rising with newfound
determination. "I punched and punched until I saw a hole big enough
for my arm and head," he says.
Praimnaths deliverer turns out to be not a guardian angel but
Brian Clark, a man in his early 60s who works at a brokerage firm on
the 84th floor. Clark pulls him through the wall, and the men collapse
in an embrace. Now it is Praimnaths turn to be the strong one.
"I dont think I can make it," Clark confesses.
"You saved my life," Praimnath says. "I owe you mine."
Arm in arm they descend, stopping on the 77th floor. A man with a broken
back lies twisted in a pool of blood. A security guard tells Praimnath
to send help. "This building is going to blow up," Praimnath
"Steel does not burn," the guard says.
Praimnath and Clark continue their twisting descent, shrouded by dust
now caked into mud by sprinklers as they near the bottom. They reach
the concourse level. Eerie moans of building fragments falling are replaced
abruptly by shouts of emergency workers and others scurrying about.
"Are there others?" a firefighter yells at Praimnath.
"Yes," he replies. The firefighters push past in a frantic
ascent to find survivors. Glass is exploding; flaming debris is flying
everywhere. Worse, human carnage carpets the floor, and more screaming
bodies plummet to fatal crimson thuds outside ground-level windows.
Fire surrounds the concourse. Praimnath knows he and his new friend
are still in danger, but he is determined to survive.
"Youre going to have to soak yourself under the sprinklers,"
he informs Clark. "The only way out is through the fire."
Drenched and ready, the men burst through a flaming revolving door,
stepping through a horrific spread of body parts and broken glass as
they dash across the street toward historic Trinity Church two blocks
away on Broadway.
"I have to get to the first church I see to thank God," Praimnath
says. As he grasps the gate of the Episcopal church, the tower he just
Praimnath hands Clark his business card as he pushes the older man
into a passing vehicle, instructing the driver to take him to safety.
Praimnath flags down another vehicle and is driven to the Brooklyn Bridge,
where he joins a human tidal wave out of Manhattan. He is safe, and
soon is reunited with his wife, Jennifer, and daughters, Stephanie,
8, and Caitlin, 4.
Praimnaths account is but one example of how the terrorism that
struck the United States on September 11 has impacted Assemblies of
God churches and members throughout the country, both directly and indirectly.
As with Praimnath, some inside the 110-story Twin Towers miraculously
escaped before the buildings collapsed. Others felt led by the Lord
to go to work later than normal. Several woke up ill that morning and
phoned in sick.
Still more people have worked heroically and valiantly in rescue and
relief efforts. Nationwide, churches opened their doors for services
and prayer vigils. While some deeds of goodwill may never be known,
this issue of the Pentecostal Evangel tells how some Assemblies
of God believers played a role in facing the most widespread disaster
in United States history.
Saved from disaster
Gods providential hand includes delays that seem inconvenient
at the time, but turn out to be a blessing.
David Hee-Don Lee customarily boards a 7 a.m. flight on Tuesdays from
Washington, D.C., to attend World Trade Centers Association executive
board meetings in New York. Normally he arrives at his 77th-floor office
around 8:45 a.m. to prepare for a 10 a.m. board meeting on the 85th
But September 11 is a different routine. The night before, Lees
wife, Sun Song, has an allergic reaction to coffee that convinces Lee
she should stop drinking the brew. Rather than drink his normal cup
of coffee in front of her the morning of September 11, Lee decides to
go to a coffee shop at LaGuardia Airport. Yet when he arrives, all the
coffee shops have extraordinarily long lines. Lee goes to a soft drink
stand and purchases a strawberry juice concoction mixed in ice cubes.
The effect is immediate. Lee runs to an airport restroom.
"Suddenly I felt stomach pain like I never felt before,"
says Lee, 42. "It was the first time Ive ever had to spend
15 minutes in a restroom."
Those 15 minutes save his life. As he emerges from a taxi and heads
for the WTC south tower entrance at 9:03 a.m., Lee sees the jet crash
into the building.
"If I had not been late I would definitely have been killed,"
says Lee, who attends Washington Christian Church, a Korean Assemblies
of God congregation in the nations capital.
For Lee, who is also vice president for regional development and education
for the World Trade Centers Association, it is not the first time he
has escaped chaos at the building. He had been in the lobby when the
1993 truck bomb exploded in the parking garage below.
"We should be ready as Christians for whatever happens,"
says Lee, who believes that intercessory prayers offered by others spared
his life. "We dont know what will happen in the next minute."
and Preetha Jesudason
That same morning, Daniel Jesudason of Hackensack, N.J., chats online
with his brother a little longer than expected. That puts him behind
schedule and he cant catch his normal 7:45 a.m. train into Manhattans
financial district, where he is a senior information technology auditor.
Had Jesudason, 31, followed his typical schedule, he would have arrived
at 8:40 a.m. at his Morgan Stanley Dean Witter office on the 56th floor
of the World Trade Center south tower. At 8:55, he reaches for his cell
phone to let his boss know he will be late.
But the train he catches, the 8:15, comes to a screeching halt before
reaching its destination. An intercom announcement explains there has
been an "emergency situation" at the WTC. After he exits the
subway, Jesudason, a member of New Life Assembly of God in Hackensack,
sees for himself.
A second plane strikes the south tower above the location of Jesudasons
The tragedy subsequently has given Jesudason opportunities to evangelize
receptive listeners. "Most of the people I work with are not very
religious," he says. "But I tell them [my escape] has nothing
to do with luck; it is Gods divine will. God still wants me on
this earth for something."
Assault on the Pentagon
Just before 9:40 a.m., Air Force Col. Gary West receives notice from
the Pentagon command post that a hijacked plane appears to be headed
toward Washington, D.C. Seconds later, he feels a vibration as American
Airlines Flight 77 crashes into the opposite side of the headquarters
for the U.S. military.
Alarms begin to sound. Smoke fills the complex. Most personnel are
ordered to evacuate. But as executive assistant to the Joint Chiefs
J-3 staff headed by a Marine three-star general, West moves into the
command center situation room where the militarys top brass determine
how to respond to the crisis. The J-3 staff is responsible for the Joint
Chiefs planning, policies, intelligence, manpower, communications
and logistics functions being translated into action. It is the hub
for synchronizing and monitoring worldwide military operations and activities.
The conflagration grows in intensity. As West, a member of Manassas
(Va.) Assembly of God, hurries down a hallway he ponders reports that
a fourth hijacked jet is en route to the nations capital, perhaps
as a second assault upon the Pentagon. The colonel, a combat veteran
of Operation Desert Storm, has experienced such defining moments before.
"At such times you have absolutely no control over the events
around you," he says. "You must put your total trust and faith
in God because you dont know if youre going to live or die."
West has peace. He has been buoyed by Gods mighty protective
hand in the past, but he is ready to be called heavenward if necessary.
As the apostle Paul expressed, for him to live is Christ and to die
Eventually, the fourth plane crashes into a rural Pennsylvania field.
The Pentagon fire is brought under control. West works late into the
evening. In crisis-management mode, he participates in meetings where
the nations highest leaders, including President Bush and Chief
of Naval Operations Admiral Vern Clark, a fellow Assemblies of God member,
make important decisions. During the next several days he sometimes
sleeps on a cot in his office, catching only three hours of sleep a
night. Yet his walk with the Lord sustains him.
"These are difficult times that we find ourselves in," West
says. "I dont know how people carry on without Jesus as their
Laboring at ground zero
"Its worse than Vietnam," says an exhausted rescue worker
near the World Trade Center ruins on September 15, four days after the
terrorist strike. Rolling up his sleeves, he displays the Social Security
number printed in large numerals on his forearms. He wants to be identified
if killed during the dangerous rescue and clean-up operations. While
several pastors lay hands on him praying for Gods comfort and
protection, he asks Jesus to forgive his sins.
The devastation is inconceivable. Mountains of smoldering twisted metal,
glass and pulverized concrete hide thousands of bodies. Windows are
blown out of surrounding buildings plastered with debris. Many appear
beyond repair. "Its like walking through hell," a police
Thick globs of white soot and crumpled business memos cling to tombstones
in the cemetery behind St. Pauls Chapel, a historic Episcopal
church near ground zero. Portable morgues arrive on flatbed trucks.
Anxious families affix pictures of missing loved ones on buildings all
across New York City.
Yet in the midst of this carnage and suffering, God is moving through
Assemblies of God pastors and churches. They bring comfort, spiritual
support and practical aid to rescue workers and families of victims.
It is an unexpected opportunity to share the love of Christ.
Carl D. Keyes, pastor of Glad Tidings Tabernacle, a 600-member Assemblies
of God congregation in midtown Manhattan, sees a ball of fire shoot
from the north tower while riding on the Long Island Railroad. "It
was incredible," says Keyes, a nationally appointed home missionary.
"I rode the last train into the city."
Rushing to his church, he immediately sets up a command post for a
relief effort. The church has 20 emergency phone lines installed. Hundreds
of members volunteer to assemble critical supplies for the rescue effort.
Before the Red Cross arrives on the scene, Glad Tidings furnishes vital
Glad Tidings provides food, 1,000 gallons of water, saline solution,
towels and other necessary items via ambulances. The church spends $22,000
in the first four days. When local stores run out of towels needed by
the rescue workers, Keyes buys 500 T-shirts at a dollar apiece from
street vendors. He also purchases 500 pairs of boots for rescue workers.
The church pays for paper and pens at the victims registration centers.
Keyes doesnt sleep for 63 hours. He spends time at St. Vincents
Hospital triage center counseling grief-stricken family members searching
for relatives. He prays with them and distributes Christian literature.
In addition to relief efforts, Glad Tidings collects funds to aid members
who have lost their jobs as a result of the catastrophe. Most of those
employers are out of business, leaving middle-income families without
essential weekly paychecks. Because of this, the church pledges to provide
60 percent of a members wages.
Mark T. Gregori, pastor of Crossway Christian Center (Assemblies of
God) in the Bronx, helps coordinate a network of pastors and churches.
They organize the Ground Zero Task Force to provide financial aid, relief
supplies and long-term counseling for the victims families and
rescue workers. Everything revolves around evangelizing by meeting practical
needs. "Now is the time," says Gregori, who is a home missionary
and sectional presbyter for Manhattan. "We can really reap a harvest."
The opportunity for individual and collective evangelism is ripe. People
are hurting. Fear reigns.
"When we see one of the greatest things that man has ever built
collapse before our eyes, we realize that there is nothing on this earth
that will last," Keyes says. "Christians have got to unite
and proclaim the gospel. We cant sit back."
Fellowship at prayer
The morning of the tragedy, Assemblies of God General Superintendent
Thomas E. Trask in Springfield, Mo., dismisses 1,100 Assemblies of God
Headquarters employees, instructing them to go home to pray and fast.
The Fellowship sends messages to its 57 district offices, urging officials
to ask members to pray and fast. None of the dozen Assemblies of God
churches in the Manhattan area sustain damage from the WTC towers collapsing.
"There are many, many people who have lost their lives or loved
ones this morning, and probably many more who are injured and in need
of medical attention," Trask tells workers. "We need to pray
and pray right now that God intervenes in the lives of
those suffering, as well as for our nations leadership."
The day after the disaster, Convoy of Hope, an international compassion
organization and cooperative ministry of the Assemblies of God, begins
to ship more than 150 tons of food and supplies to assist the wounded
and relief workers. In Washington, D.C., Convoy of Hope supplies food
and materials to Dennis Nissley of Manassas Assembly of God in Bristow,
Va., who has established an on-site feeding center at the Pentagon.
The supplies provide meals for hundreds of rescue team members stationed
Within the first five days, Convoy of Hope, based in Springfield, Mo.,
dispatches 44 tons of food and supplies to a former naval base on Staten
Island. The contents, delivered by the military, include baby products,
breathing filters and water.
"Nothing thats shown on TV paints the real picture,"
says Mike Ennis, Convoy executive vice president, who rushes to the
disaster scene to assess needs. Four days after the calamity struck,
hot steel still sizzles. Burn marks leave imprints on buildings six
blocks from the WTC.
Weary firefighters, some sleeping only three hours a night, sift through
the debris. The more they dig, the more gruesome the task as they uncover
severed body parts. One rescue worker, who had helped construct the
WTC in 1973, falls weeping into the arms of church workers, overwhelmed.
They lead him to commit his life to Jesus.
Several Assemblies of God chaplains spring into service after the terrorist
attacks to help emergency workers continue to function without succumbing
to stress. Chaplains encourage the relief workers to become involved
in church. "I help them through a process designed to debrief them
from what they saw," says Gary Evans of Danbury, Conn. "We
get emergency personnel to share what happened and express reactions
Convoy of Hope also transports ready-to-cook items outside the Pentagon
four days after the tragedy. The patriotic fervor of the aftermath of
the wreckage is evident. As the semi trailer embossed with a
huge American flag arrives, relief workers stop to salute. Convoy
of Hope volunteers leave Bibles with flag covers on the tables at lunch.
Several top military officials pick them up.
The long haul
Around the nation, Christians immediately stop to pray at churches,
both for organized and spontaneous gatherings. Churches open their doors
to allow grieving people to cry out to God. At Glad Tidings Assembly
in Manhattan, 6,000 people flock to six services at the church on the
day of the terrorist attacks.
On September 14, three days after the attack, Christians across the
country gather in lunchtime services at the urging of President Bush,
who himself speaks at the National Cathedral in Washington, D.C. Many
congregations participate in community-wide events, demonstrating unity
that had been so elusive only the week before.
Employees at the Fellowships headquarters in Missouri fill the
650-seat chapel for a noon prayer service on the Day of Prayer and Remembrance
declared by President Bush. Many weep as Fellowship leaders pray.
Trask believes the tragedy provides a wake-up call for complacent Christians
to recommit themselves. "There will be those who have moved away
from the church due to prosperity and the affluence of our nation,"
Trask says. "But they will realize that life is fragile, and we
dont know when the call will come for us."
As with many disasters, the effects will linger. The WTC cleanup alone
is expected to last through the winter. Meanwhile, Convoy of Hope is
sending an additional 500 tons of relief supplies. "Were
committed to helping our churches reach out to their cities over the
long haul," Ennis says.
"The many people who no longer have an income will be the focus
of our fund-raising efforts," says New York District Superintendent
Saied Adour, who has been sleeping on the floor at Glad Tidings Assembly
when not helping with relief efforts. "Many people have lost their
David Auterson, senior pastor of El Bethel Assembly on Staten Island,
says Convoy of Hopes presence has given credibility to area Assemblies
of God missionaries and opened doors with city officials that had been
"Were in a strong position to minister to families who
are impacted by this," Auterson says. "Were seeing an
openness to the gospel that has not been evident for many years."
In the aftermath of the disaster, resistance to the church has dissipated,
"Rescue workers at the site dont want to talk to psychiatrists
or psychologists," Anterson says. "They want to talk to pastors.
They want someone who can pray with them and help make sense of all
give money to relief efforts, click here.
John W. Kennedy is news editor of the Pentecostal
Evangel. John Cockroft is a staff writer. Peter K. Johnson is a
free-lance writer from Milltown, N.J., and reported from ground zero
in Manhattan. Staff writer Isaac Olivarez and Dan VanVeen, of the Assemblies
of God Office of Public Relations, also contributed to this story.