LeadingSmart

Practical Stuff for Church Leaders

The Day It Happened

 

Twelve days after 9/11, I sat down to capture my thoughts and feelings from the moment that the tragedy first began to unfold. This is likely far too long for you to read, but is therapeutic for me to type--on this day ten years after those terrible moments.

It was a day like any other. I got up, fairly early on this particular Tuesday, to meet with the other pastors. We had stuff to talk about: "What are we going to teach our people in October? What progress has been made on finding a high school pastor?"

Since our schedules were to be hectic later in the day, we met at a restaurant for breakfast. All six of us on the senior staff were present--Rob Wegner, Tony Morgan, Mark Waltz, Roy Bronkema, Mark Beeson and myself. We'd been meeting for about 45 minutes when my phone rang.

You see--my phone is set up to deliver 'breaking news' email the minute it happens. Up until September 11, it had always been not-so-important news. But on this day, it all changed.

At about 7:48am [Indiana was on Central Time back in 2001] --I received the first message that said: "Plane crashes into World Trade Center." Within a few minutes, "World Trade Center on fire." Then not too long after that: "2nd plane crashes into World Trade Center" then "Plane crashes into Pentagon" then "White House evacuated." At first, it was interesting. I read the messages as they came in and we talked about what it could mean. As the minutes progressed--it got more serious. Before long, we couldn't focus and decided we needed to be with our families in front of the TV.

As I left the restaurant, my emotions began flowing. The radio announcer exclaimed as the first tower fell--then there were reports of major cities all over America being evacuated. Tears streamed from my eyes as I thought the unthinkable: America had been attacked. Everything changed.

I got home. Rob Wegner and Mark Beeson came over also. We watched, glued to the TV, not able to believe our eyes. We watched in horror as the second tower fell live on TV. I remember the feeling as we saw the plane--the jet liner full of people--fly into the World Trade Center for the first time. It was unbelievable.

All those people--getting on a plane to do business or see loved ones or go on their honeymoon. And within minutes, their plane is turned into a missile by kamikaze pilots.

All those people--seated at their desks, checking email on their computers...out of the corner of their eye they see the glimmer of the morning sun off an airplane. They glance up in time to see the large commercial aircraft coming straight at their window.

After an hour or so, Mark and Rob left my house. For the remainder of the day I was paralyzed--glued to the TV. I was horrified, traumatized, speechless. I watched the live TV pictures of bloody survivors covered with dust and debris as if in a war zone.

Twice, I wept uncontrollably. In a manner I hadn't experienced since Grandpa died 14 years ago--I wept. "God, what is happening? So many orphans, so many widows, so many lives cut short--what is happening?"

I watched late into the evening until I could watch no longer. All around me, Faith took care of the kids and house. But I was useless, paralyzed, unable to function. I couldn't imagine how the leaders in NYC were able to function. They'd lost friends and family members...and yet they had to lead their city, even the country, through this tragedy.

I went to bed tired, scared, emotionally spent, insecure, praying.

The Days Since

We've watched with horror the pictures of the area, of the victims, of the survivors, of the families who lost their loved ones. We've seen incredible acts of heroism, of a united America, of leadership that is so confident and strong it is unparalleled. We've seen America turning back to God in a small way. Everyone is talking about faith and prayer. Everyone is talking about God.

We have risen to the challenge at church. We held a special service two days following the attack on a Thursday night. As a special request of President Bush--we held a prayer service on Friday at noon. I put together a slide show of pictures and music to help people focus. For the weekend, we focused on the tragedy--over 3,400 attended, up 800 from the previous week.

As Mark Beeson and I sat in my office on Friday, September 14th, we were watching Billy Graham deliver a comforting message at a special service in Washington D.C. As we did that, I turned around and started typing thoughts on my computer about a new four-week series--it included a week called "War: Right or Wrong?", another one on Muslims, and one on God's sovereignty called, "How Could a Loving God Allow a Tragedy Like This?" We pulled Roy  and Karen into my office, brainstormed some ideas for 30 minutes--then decided to cancel the current series and give it a go.

I got on my computer and designed a brochure--ran it to CopyMax to get 4,000 copies, and we handed it out on the weekend.

Our challenge now--how do we help our people? How do we help comfort the hundreds of new people that are coming? How do I protect my family from potential threats? How do I tell my kids that we live in a safe world?

Tim Stevens, September 23, 2001