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  • July 11, 2014 - Reflections

    By Jean S. Horner
    The other day while walking down a corridor in a public building, I saw what appeared to be someone walking toward me. On coming closer, I found it was my own reflection in a huge mirror. For a moment it frightened me. Somehow a full-length reflection of one’s self is a startling thing. ...

9/11 Reflections

By Christina Quick
Sept. 11, 2011

Ten years after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, an ominous gap still punctuates the New York City skyline. The altered landscape is a poignant reminder of countless lives that were also recast that day. Yet out of the vacant chasm known as ground zero, testimonies of God’s faithfulness have emerged over the past decade — shining a brilliant light of hope across an otherwise dark page in American history.

Dave Pizzolo calls Sept. 11, 2001, the worst — and best — day of his life.

“By far, it was the worst day of my life,” says Pizzolo, who attends Calvary Tabernacle Assembly of God in Schenectady, N.Y. “But because of the spiritual effect that it had on me, it was also the best day.”

On the morning of Sept. 11, Pizzolo showed up early at his Reuters news agency office on the 11th floor of the World Trade Center’s north tower, hoping to beat the morning rush and knock off some extra work. Fifteen minutes later, at 8:46 a.m., the financial analyst heard a loud crash as American Airlines Flight 11, a Boeing 767 carrying 10,000 gallons of jet fuel, slammed into the building more than 80 floors above him.

Assuming the commotion was related to a remodeling project on his own floor, Pizzolo stood to get a better look. At that moment, the building rocked so violently he nearly toppled over. Clinging to his cubicle wall for support, he heard the unnerving sound of an elevator car freefalling down its shaft. Outside the windows, chunks of flaming debris plummeted to the earth.

Eight years of service in the U.S. Army Reserve had taught Pizzolo to keep his cool in tense situations. As pandemonium erupted around him, he resolved to follow emergency protocol by awaiting security instructions. Soon, his office was directed to use a nearby fire escape. But as they arrived at the escape, to his surprise, a panicked crowd was running up the stairs rather than down them. The exit door at the bottom was locked, and security had directed them back upstairs.

At 9:03 a.m., United Airlines Flight 175, another fully fueled Boeing 767, hit the south tower. Pizzolo heard the explosion.

Pizzolo picked up the phone to reassure his family he was safe. He was able to reach his sister, who was watching the disaster unfold from two blocks away.

“As we were talking, I heard a voice over a loudspeaker say everything was fine,” Pizzolo says. “But she said, ‘You have to get out of there! I’m looking at your building. It’s on fire, and people are jumping out of the windows!’”

The urgency in her voice shattered Pizzolo’s composure. He told her he would find a way out, but his hands trembled as he hung up the phone. He wondered whether he would be able to keep his promise.

Instinctively, he turned to Scripture for strength. As a Teen Bible Quiz coach, he had committed entire chapters to memory along with his students. Yet he could not think of a single verse. In desperation, he cried out to God for help. Suddenly, he recalled the words of Hebrews 13:5,6: “I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee. So that we may boldly say, The Lord is my helper, and I will not fear what man shall do unto me” (KJV).

Though Pizzolo had memorized the passage as a 15-year-old Bible quizzer, he had not quoted it in years. He marveled that it was still in the recesses of his memory. The uncertainty lifted, and a sense of tranquility enveloped him.

“I had felt trapped in a no-win situation,” Pizzolo says. “But after I prayed, I felt like I was inside the palm of God’s hand. Outside was chaos, but inside was peace. I realized if it were my day to die, I would get to go to heaven. If I didn’t die, I would get to go home and see my wife. It was a win-win situation.”

Pizzolo later learned others were interceding on his behalf. In the chapel service that morning at Valley Forge Christian College in Phoenixville, Pa., his alma mater, more than 500 students and staff members spent an hour praying for his safety.

When a security guard announced the exit door was open, Pizzolo calmly joined a crowd inching down the debris-strewn stairway. As he went, he continued to quote verse after verse of Scripture.

A decade later, Pizzolo seldom thinks about the horrors of Sept. 11. He says he has not even experienced a bad dream related to that day. Yet he recalls with perfect clarity how profoundly God revealed himself through His Word.

“The Bible became more real to me that day than ever before,” says Pizzolo, who now serves as a district and regional coordinator for Teen Bible Quiz. “My relationship with Jesus became more real. It was as if the years I had served Him shrank down to one second, and my entire life became a single conversation with God.”

Stanley Praimnath can attest to the power of Scripture. He says reading the Bible brought him back from delirium in the hours following his escape from the World Trade Center. Praimnath, a banker who worked on the 81st floor of the south tower, saw the United Airlines plane moments before it impacted his building and brought the walls and ceiling down around him. Cut off from the fire escape, Praimnath pleaded with God to rescue him.

“I said, ‘Lord, I don’t want to die,’” Praimnath remembers. “If You get me out of this jam, I will do whatever You want me to do.”

That’s when Praimnath met Brian Clark, a fellow Christian who called to him from the other side of a collapsed wall and encouraged him to punch through to freedom. Against all odds, Praimnath managed to make a hole large enough for his head and shoulders. Clark helped pull him through the barrier. The two descended the stairs together, crossing the street just as the south tower fell.

Praimnath was treated for mild injuries, including a nail puncture wound in his hand. But over the next several days, he struggled with intense emotional trauma. He slipped in and out of reality, sometimes failing to recognize his closest family members. He was terrified of going to sleep, certain he would never awaken. Then, in a lucid moment, he asked for a Bible. He had heard the phrase 9-1-1 repeated on the news. Somehow that compelled him to turn to Psalm 91:1, where he started reading about God’s protection.

“By the time I finished the psalm, I was able to snap out of that state,” Praimnath says. “I was able to recognize people and faces and know that my God pulled me out of that jam, just as I had prayed.”

Praimnath followed through on his promise to follow God in obedience. As his dramatic survival story spread, he received hundreds of speaking and media interview requests. He sensed God wanted him to use these opportunities for ministry. Over the past decade he has shared his testimony in churches, schools, universities and even U.S. Homeland Security conferences. Regardless of the setting, he is careful to point his listeners to God.

On the 10th anniversary of 9/11, Praimnath plans to retell his story at his home church, Bethel Assembly of God in Queens, N.Y., where he now serves as associate pastor. Clark will join him on the platform. The two men reunited soon after the disaster and have forged a close bond over the years.

“I may never understand how or why God chose to save someone like me,” Praimnath says. “I may never understand why this man, Brian Clark, stopped to help me, of all people. What I do understand is that the Bible is real and that God answers prayers. He may not keep you out of trouble, but He will be everything you need in times of trouble. Whatever you’re facing, He can reach down, in His mercies, and pull you out of the rubble.”

Viviana Castro,
who attends Crossway Christian Center (AG) in the Bronx, N.Y., was 21 when her life was forever altered by the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. An operations analyst for Bank of America, she worked on the ninth floor of the north tower. Like Pizzolo, a locked exit door kept her temporarily trapped inside. As Castro searched for an escape route, she repeated a one-word prayer: “Jesus!”

Castro had grown up hearing about the Rapture. When she finally emerged from the burning building that day and saw the carnage and chaos, she thought it was the end of the world. Thinking God had left her behind to face the Tribulation, she felt a profound sense of confusion and betrayal. Terrified, she ran several miles to her parents’ home.

When Castro learned what had happened, she realized God had not abandoned her. He had protected her. On Sept. 11, 2001, she rededicated her life to Christ. She now looks forward to His return, waiting in anticipation for the moment when she sees her Savior face-to-face.

“That day I learned that truly, truly, truly Jesus never leaves our side,” Castro says. “He proved himself faithful, and He continues to do so, day in and day out — no matter what I face.”

Gary Evans, an emergency services chaplain for AG U.S. Missions, says Christ is the only One who can bring peace in the midst of disaster and terror.

Evans served as a chaplain for American Airlines in the tense days following the terrorist attacks. He counseled pilots and even led one flight attendant to Christ. He prayed with nervous crew members who had been impacted by the aerial view of ground zero.

“One thing I learned is I can’t fix their problems,” Evans says. “The problems are too big for me. I can’t certify an aircraft is safe or guarantee nothing bad will happen. My job is to point them to Jesus and tell them how to prepare for eternity.”

Assemblies of God U.S. Missions chaplain Denny Nissley ministered at ground zero as well as at the Pentagon in Washington, D.C., which was hit by terrorists piloting American Airlines Flight 77. As the nation marks the 10th anniversary of the terror attacks, he says Christians must be prepared to respond in times of crisis.

“This event showed the vulnerability of America, the vulnerability of people, and the extreme need for the body of Christ to be on the front lines of disasters,” Nissley says. “It deepened my resolve to walk with God because I know the closer I am to Him, the more I can help others. Ultimately, it’s not me who changes people. It’s the living God.”

CHRISTINA QUICK is a freelance writer and former Pentecostal Evangel staff writer. She attends Central Assembly of God in Springfield, Mo.

First anniversary Sept. 8 2002 article

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