God is our refuge and strength,
a very present help in trouble.
Therefore we will not fear though the earth gives way,
though the mountains be moved into the heart of the sea.
Her name was Joan, and though I only saw her for less than an hour, I’ll never forget her.
The day was Tuesday, September 18, 2001 – exactly one week after the tragedy on 9/11. My dad and I had gone to New York because God had spoken to his heart and told him that there was work to do there. So on Sunday the 16th, after church, we made the long trip to the Big Apple, stopping briefly in Washington, D.C., to pick up a friend.
On Monday, we made it into the city, and if you’ve ever been there you’ll know what I mean. It was eerie. The noisiest city in the world was practically silent. No horns were blaring. No words were shouted. People were actually being polite. This was not New York as I had known it.
On Tuesday, we ventured as close to Ground Zero as we could get. There, we began to survey the situation and wait for God to “show up.” It didn’t take long.
As I looked around, the evidence of the disaster was still evident. We were a street away from Ground Zero, but soot and dust still covered everything. Shopkeepers were just beginning to clean off their storefronts to reopen. In the midst of this were people who were confused. No one understood why “God would let this happen,” and many of them were walking the same street searching for answers.
One of them, an older woman, came up to me and asked me to pray for her. I called my Dad, an Episcopal priest, over and he listened to the woman’s request and led her in prayer. A man saw us in prayer, and he walked up and also asked for prayer. While we prayed for him, a woman, Joan, waited with her daughter.
We learned that Joan’s husband had been on one of the upper floors of one of the two towers. She knew that he had to have been killed when the towers fell, but she had to see for herself. Dad prayed with her, then we walked with her past the police line and all the way to Zuccotti Park, where we surveyed the damage. (For perspective, look at this photo. Zuccotti Park is just below the tall red building at the lower right edge.)
When she saw the damage, Joan knew her husband was truly gone. She fell into the arms of her friends, and as they sat her in a chair, Dad continued to console her and pray with her.
There are two thoughts I want to leave you with. First, Joan was going to go to Ground Zero, with or without a priest. Had we not been there that day, she would have been there to deal with the loss of her husband without any spiritual support. God knew she needed prayer, and I truly believe He sent us to New York mainly to be there for her.
Second, no matter how big the tragedy, God is bigger than whatever may come. He truly is our refuge and our strength, and even if the earth falls to pieces and the mountains collapse into the oceans, He will still be the God who is big enough to overcome it all. In the days after 9/11, this nation turned to God for strength and guidance – and then promptly turned back to what we were doing before 9/11 once the danger had passed. The time to turn to Him isn’t when the bad things happen – it’s right now.
Today, ask the Lord to keep your heart set on Him in the good and the bad times. Ask Him to strengthen you for the tough times that might come your way. And take just a few minutes to watch this video, which I made after I got back from New York. (You’ll see Joan and her daughter at the end of the video.)
Reflection copyright © 2016 Doug DeBolt.
Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version® (ESV®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.