It’s been nine years since that infamous day—September 11, 2001. Two weeks ago, my kids had off school and we decided to spend the day in New York. For a change from our usual Midtown excursion, we took the Staten Island Ferry which landed us a the bottom of Manhattan. My mom joined us and we started our day with a visit to Ground Zero and St. Paul’s cathedral.
While still a working church, St. Paul’s has become a place of remembrance visited by millions of people each year. The exhibits memorialize the amazing place of hope and healing St. Paul’s became for rescue workers, firemen, policemen, families and a city in mourning. During the eight month relief ministry, nearly every surface of the more than 200-year-old chapel was covered in well wishes, cards, and banners sent from around the country and the world. And over 5,000 volunteers from all over the country staffed St. Paul’s 24/7.
Emotions are still close to the surface and many who walked among the 9/11 displays in the chapel became teary-eyed and a few wept openly. I, too, was transported back to the emotions I experienced while working at St. Paul’s on that one January night. The shock. The disbelief. The devastation. But the overwhelming sense of goodness, love and God’s presence.
One exhibit highlighted the herculean task of coordinating the army of volunteers. Since our church had sent teams of volunteers I was especially interested. The enlarged volunteer planning calendar on display was from January 2002.
Wait, Dan and I were here that month.
I scanned the dates and saw my church, “Woodside Presbyterian” listed three times. I called over my mom and kids to share my findings.
“Look at the 6th. That’s when Dad and I came here to help. And Woodside’s listed two more times this month.”
I was proud for the reminder that I was there and that I’m part of a church that's actively Jesus' hands and feet. In a small way we made a difference. I know my efforts during my 12-hour shift were just a speck in the relief effort, but I saw what I saw, and it changed me.
A quote on the display says it better: “People went in there and worked for 12 hours, and then walked out and said, ‘This may be the most important 12 hours I’ve ever spent in my life.’”
September 11 was a tragedy of unfathomable proportions. We as a nation and as a people became a shining example of the Church in action. God’s people were in need and we, collectively, rose up to respond. If nothing else, 9/11 demonstrated our capacity for selfless love. For sacrificial kindness. And for generous compassion.
I saw with my own eyes our ability to do the incredible.
Yet, isn’t this what Jesus calls us to do EVERY day? Not just in response to catastrophes like 9/11, Hurricane Katrina, the earthquake in Haiti or the latest crisis du jour.
We are still those people who dropped everything and said, “Here am I. Send me.” But where are we? Where am I?
The world needs us. They need our kindness. Our compassion. Our generosity. And our love—in the name of Jesus. We don’t even have to leave our communities to find God’s people crying out—in poverty, homelessness, hunger, AIDS, addiction, illiteracy and sickness. How are we responding to these everyday tragedies that don’t garner headlines or media attention?
In the 16 hours (including travel time) I ent usiastically volunteered at Ground Zero couldn’t I:
- Bring a bag of groceries to a single mom
- Build at Habitat for Humanity
- Volunteer at a food pantry or soup kitchen
- Tutor children at a homeless shelter
- Visit a shut-in
- Write a letter to a prisoner.
- Send a card of encouragement to a friend with cancer.
Heroic responses to catastrophes make great storytelling. They inspire and excite. Yet aren't our small, seemingly unremarkable acts of love every bit as extraordinary to a Savior who calls us to love in His name?
In a parable He teaches His followers: “For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.”
“Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’”
“The King will reply, ‘I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.’”(Matthew 25:35-40)
Isn’t this the very thing we must never forget—and act upon?