September 11: A day
that changed American Christians forever
By John W. Kennedy, Kirk
Noonan and John Cockroft
More than 2,800 people died after two hijacked jets crashed into
the World Trade Center in New York City last September 11. Most
of the casualties involved office workers at the twin towers, although
hundreds of airline passengers and emergency personnel also were
killed. Because of the intense conflagration, no trace of the bodies
of more than 1,600 victims was ever found. Another 125 people died
in the Pentagon terrorist strike in Washington, D.C., and 45 people
were killed when United Airlines Flight 93 went down in rural Pennsylvania.
The attacks of a year
ago changed the nation permanently. While the impact for many Americans
is limited to such inconveniences as longer airport check-ins and
lower stock market returns, those directly involved with the tragedy
and its aftermath replay September 11 every day.
This report focuses
on a few people involved in those events. It is impossible to feature
the activities of every minister and ministry in this report, but
New York District Superintendent Saied Adour, Pastor Mark Gregori
of Crossway Christian Center, and various chaplains and counselors
from across the nation played key roles in meeting the needs of
As followers of Jesus
Christ, these people have found that their calling as Christians,
indeed, their purpose in life, has been transformed by God as a
result of the fateful day.
A pastor Carl Keyes, 45, prayed a simple prayer and received a direct
answer. "I asked God how He wanted our church to minister after
the terrorist attacks," says Keyes, pastor of Glad Tidings Tabernacle
in midtown Manhattan, recounting his September 11 plea. "God said,
Just serve the people. " That is exactly what Keyes
and members of the Assemblies of God church have been doing.
became one of the first responders at Ground Zero, providing boots,
towels, masks, saline solution and prayer for rescue
workers. As the days turned into weeks and weeks into months, Keyes
and Glad Tidings became a dependable ally in the effort to get New
York back on its feet. President George W. Bush even called to thank
Keyes for his ministry.
Glad Tidings coordinated
its efforts with the Office of Emergency Management and several
other agencies in New York City. The church sent out prayer teams
to hospitals to pray for victims families. Congregants housed
and coordinated volunteer teams from around the nation who came
to minister by distributing water and supplies and praying with
those in need.
Today, two blocks from
Ground Zero, Glad Tidings has opened Restoration Counseling Center.
There, many people come for professional Christian counseling and
career advice each week. The center also offers childcare.
"We have been coming
alongside people and serving them," Keyes says. "We just try to
be an example [of Christ]."
The events of September
11 forced Keyes and others to reevaluate ministry priorities.
"In an instant we realized
why we were a church and why we were in New York City," Keyes says.
"We had an opportunity to respond to the crisis with the love of
God. I had waited my whole life to be in a ministry like this."
But six months after
the attacks, Keyes felt downcast that the ministry efforts increasingly
consuming him had stemmed from such a tragic occurrence. His guilt
ceased when a mentor offered some advice.
"My friend told me that
the ministry was not birthed because people had died," he says.
"It was because we had responded and through our response God has
According to Keyes
wife, Donna, who is director of the counseling center, the repercussions
of September 11 intensified this summer. She suspects the consequences
"Until recently, most
people did not have to face the fact that their lives were changing
because they were still in shock and grieving," she says. "But now
people are over their initial shock and were hitting the reality
of all of this."
Many of the rescue and
construction workers who come into the counseling center, she says,
are not only grappling with emotions, but also with how to express
those feelings. Some are turning to vices. New York Academy of Medicine
researchers discovered that alcohol and marijuana use among Manhattan
residents increased during the two months after the World Trade
Center attacks. In an academy study released in May, as many as
400,000 New Yorkers indicated they have suffered from post-traumatic
stress disorder or depression since September 11. Smokers and drinkers
reported higher levels of depression, sleeplessness and nightmares.
But Donna Keyes is optimistic
that despite such grim realities the church has a great opportunity
to share Christs message of love and hope.
"Spiritually the church
is poised to touch people now more than ever before," she says.
"People felt that they were going to move past it, but now many
are realizing they cant move past it. They are reaching out
to drugs and alcohol, but through this process many are going to
realize that they cant find the answer, and were praying
they will turn to Jesus."
For Denny Nissley, the terrorist attack on the Pentagon in Washington,
D.C., changed the focus of his Manassas, Va.-based ministry, Christ
With the help of more
than 400 volunteers many from the Potomac District of the
Assemblies of God Christ in Action cooked and served more
than 55,000 meals in 17 days to emergency and military personnel
working on rescue and recovery efforts at the Pentagon parking lot.
Dubbed Camp Unity, the Christ in Action tent served as the hub of
the feeding operation and included an 8,300-square-foot tent, a
48-foot command trailer, a 75,000-watt diesel generator, a 53-foot-long
refrigeration trailer truck, a 6,000-gallon water truck, two commercial
grills, a double-stack convection oven and a 60-gallon soup cooker.
All funds for the outreach came from the Assemblies of God and other
Before September 11,
nearly all Christ in Action efforts involved evangelistic outreach.
"It changed the face of our ministry," says Nissley, 47. "Now were
broadening our disaster readiness earthquakes, tornadoes,
hurricanes, and flooding and now terrorist attacks." Christ in Action
is erecting a 10,000-square-foot disaster training and preparedness
center in Manassas.
"This past year has encouraged
me," says Nissley, who has been doing evangelistic outreaches for
25 years. "It was a wake-up call to the church, which has rallied.
Christians have realized the value of meeting human needs and sharing
the hope of Christ."
As with Keyes, Nissleys
efforts didnt go unnoticed. General Henry Shelton, chairman
of the Joint Chiefs of Staff presented Nissley with a commendation.
After a brief flurry of interest in daily prayer, most Americans
returned to life as usual soon after September 11. Joel Terragnoli
has grappled with that fact ever since.
"This country didnt
know what else to do at first, but turn to God," says Terragnoli,
a chaplain in the Army National Guard and member of Expressway Assembly
of God in Buffalo, N.Y. "But it was a superficial God bless
America, " he says. "Now it seems the world has forgotten."
But Terragnoli, who led
a group of soldiers to guard Ground Zero in New York City 10 days
after the terrorist attacks, cant forget.
"We didnt know
what we were going to face," Terragnoli, 47, says of his experience.
"I remember one man just devastated about losing his son, and a
firefighter crying that some body parts being carried away could
be her partners. All we could do was pray and ask for Gods
strength and comfort."
Prayer proved effective.
"Our presence as chaplains
was a reminder that God was still there," Terragnoli says. "We were
all walking together, hurting together and looking to God for strength
together. That, not just our words, made the difference."
Though horrific images
still flood Terragnolis memory, they propel him to urge people
he meets to be spiritually ready. "We need to be living for God
right now," he says, "as if every day is our last."
A clergy group
The Primitive Christian Church is a 10-minute walk from Ground Zero.
During the chaos following the dual impacts with the World Trade
Center, members of the Assemblies of God congregation rushed to
the church and urged people to seek refuge by making telephone calls
to loved ones, praying in the sanctuary or simply taking a drink
"September 11 forced
us to be one of the few churches that were ministering at the forefront,"
says Senior Pastor Marcos Rivera, explaining the churchs proximity
to the World Trade Center. "Were right in the shadows of where
the World Trade Center used to be."
As a result of September
11, Rivera and pastors from other denominations, with financial
assistance from the national Assemblies of God, formed the Northeast
Clergy Group, an organization designed to help city residents heal
from the attacks. Through the group, pastors provide grief and trauma
counseling as well as mental health services. In addition, Northeast
Clergy Group provides an all-expense-paid, out-of-state getaway
for overburdened ministers and their spouses.
"Weve been able
to help families pay rent in the months following 9/11," Rivera
says, noting that money from donors around the world was immediately
available for use. "The organization was formed to exalt Christ
and serve the church, fellow clergy and the city."
Within 48 hours of the attacks, Convoy of Hope, an international
relief agency based in Springfield, Mo., was at the Pentagon with
nearly 40,000 pounds of food and supplies. COH also arrived in New
York with more than 80,000 pounds of food and supplies ready for
According to David Auterson
of COH, the food and supplies delivered to New York helped greatly
in stocking Homeport, a relief site for rescue workers located on
Staten Island, where Auterson was pastoring El Bethel Assembly of
God at the time. For two weeks after the attacks many firefighters
showered, ate and slept at Homeport. When the firefighters returned
to their stations Homeport served as home for FBI and Secret Service
agents, National Guard personnel, police officers and state troopers
for three and a half months.
"Convoy was the first
truck at Homeport," says Auterson. "A lot of the goods we brought
to Homeport were distributed to other compassion ministries and
Part of COHs vision
is to empower local pastors to meet the needs of their communities,
"At the end of the day
the needs were not all physical, many were spiritual," says Auterson.
"Thats where we come in. Were about presenting the gospel
through our outreaches."
Within the next year
Convoy of Hope will conduct major outreaches in New York and continue
to act as a supply line for various ministries and organizations.
World Trade Centers Association Vice Chairman David H. Lee believes
the providential hand of God prevented him from being killed in
the calamity. Normally he arrived at his 77th-floor office around
8:45 a.m. Stomach cramps caused him to run 15 minutes late and he
emerged from a taxi just as the first hijacked jet crashed into
It took three months
for Lee to recover emotionally from the trauma. "I cannot say that
everything has come back to normal,"
says Lee, whose office is now located six blocks from where the
Nevertheless, Lee, 44,
has devoted himself to expanding the kingdom of God to unreached
people, whether around the world or across the table. He finds himself
often talking about his faith and the second coming of Christ when
associates try to analyze the aftermath of the catastrophe. "It
really has been easy and natural for me to mention spiritual things
with my WTC colleagues," he says.
Recently, Lee has been
involved in intense meetings with city and state officials concerning
how the original WTC site will be used in the future. But just as
importantly to him, he has been instrumental in expanding the WTC
Corps, the charitable arm of WTCA. Under the program, volunteers
go into regional hot spots to educate entrepreneurial-minded small-business
WTC Corps also is preparing
to launch a mercy ship named Adramyttian, based on Acts 27:2, with
seed money provided by Lee. "It will help many underdeveloped countries
to effectively trade with the outside world in the name of the gospel
of trade, " Lee says. The crew and workers, most of them missions-minded
professionals, will be recruited from WTC Corps.
In addition, Lee has
been active in WTC Foundation, a worldwide charitable organization
that partners with nonprofit organizations, including religious
groups, to overcome poverty through education and jobs.
Stanley Praimnath became somewhat of a celebrity after his miraculous
escape from the 81st floor of the World Trade Center South Tower.
Stories about him appeared everywhere from USA Today to the
Pentecostal Evangel and he made appearances on the Montel
Williams Show and the 700 Club.
Three weeks later the
interviews faded, and Praimnath faced the reality of returning to
work as assistant vice president for Fuji Bank (now Mizuho Corporate
Bank). He prayed for courage to ride the elevator to the 17th floor
of his temporary office space in New Jersey. Images flashed in his
mind of his last elevator ride with 18 associates he never saw again.
"My eyes get teary looking
at the hole left by the towers," Praimnath says. "The towers used
to be like a lighthouse for giving people a sense of direction."
The first time back,
Praimnath received a heros welcome from co-workers, none of
whom had yet arrived at work the day the plane hit the building.
"They call me Brother
Stanley now," Praimnath says, adding that the spiritual connotation
is a good one. "People of different faiths approach me now and ask
about my God. And I tell them, Hes not my God. Hes
everyones God. He is the only God. "
Since February, Praimnath
has been sharing his testimony of Gods grace in churches and
at other events on weekends. Praimnath, 45 and a deacon and Sunday
school superintendent at Bethel Assembly of God in Queens, N.Y.,
is booked to speak months in advance. "People ask what my speaking
fee is, and I tell them this is not about the money. I am doing
it for God. Without Him, I wouldnt be here."