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God at Ground Zero

Six years after the attack on its federal offices, her home city, she said, was still dealing with heightened incidents of depression, family breakdown and suicide prompted by an event only a fortieth of the scale of New York's. And she warned that the absence of "real closure" in New York would make it even more traumatic.

"We had a Timothy McVeigh we could pin it on," she explained. "First it was finding who did it and then the sentence, and then his ultimate death. People kept looking for closure." But the New Yorkers she was offering a listening ear to were facing not only the absence of bodies but also the likelihood that those responsible would not be brought to justice.

Yet Edwards had "never seen a place that is more ripe for revival." Christians should be ready to present the gospel as well as offer practical help, she said, because "this is the time for the church to give a message of hope...people feel helpless and hopeless."

By late October about 3,000 volunteers had traveled to New York from across the country to offer help. One couple scrapped plans for a luxury cruise so they could help pass out a memorial brochure produced within days of the tragedy by Campus Crusade for Christ (CCC). More than a million copies were distributed.

Other volunteers helped staff the rest stations at Ground Zero, visited police and fire stations, attended memorial services, and even helped residents close to the World Trade Center clean up and decorate after they were allowed to move back into their homes. Workers with Bill Wilson's Metro Ministries offered food and money to families of illegal immigrants in Chinatown who either lost their jobs or stopped going to work for fear of visits by immigration officials.

Lamb's Manhattan Church of the Nazarene, which opened its doors to Rice Broocks' church, also gave command-post space to CCC and Youth With a Mission (YWAM) teams and turned one of its floors into a dormitory for some of the out-of-town volunteers. Crossway Christian Center, an Assemblies of God congregation in the Bronx, sent teams into local housing projects to share the gospel with anxious children.

Churches in the city forged a new network to coordinate the efforts of visiting teams and also made plans for an adopt-a-church program through which congregations outside of New York could be linked long-term with one in the city to offer personnel, practical support and prayer.

Many New York churches also found another tragic opportunity for ministry--through funeral and memorial services. In one Chinese congregation the mother of a woman killed in the attack gave her life to Christ because of the care she received.

A Christian police officer told Brooklyn Tabernacle pastor Jim Cymbala that many of his colleagues wept for the first time as they "melted in the Lord's hands" at a service at the church for one of its members.

Chaplains at Ground Zero listened to and prayed with the civilian construction workers called in to dismantle The Pit and who had been exposed to horrors they had never experienced before. Police officers and firefighters reluctant to open up among themselves for concern that any weakness might be logged in their personnel files let down their guards and wept with the visiting ministers.

In the early days after the attack, YWAM leader Nick Savoca, who sent prayer station teams out across the city, said people were "virtually falling into our arms in tears."

A few weeks later they were "a little less emotional but still very tender," he added. The rough-and-tough New York mentality was gone.

"This is the hour of impact like we have never seen," he observed. "If we miss this opportunity, the body of Christ should never, ever complain about our city again because God gave us here an opportunity. No one knows how long that door will be open. God is not a dirty word, and He is welcome and wanted. We just need to rise to the occasion."

As Bill Wilson's children's teams prepared to fan out across the city from their Brooklyn base for their Sidewalk Sunday School programs on a mid-October Saturday morning, the Metro Ministries leader urged his workers to let September 11 spur them to greater efforts.

"Remember," he told them, "you can wake up one morning, and it all looks real normal. The next thing, your whole life can change."

Andy Butcher is a former senior writer for Charisma.

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