September 29, 2001
THE BEST OF TIMES, THE WORST OF TIMES
NEW YORK - Richard Stearns, President of World
Vision, began his remarks with Charles Dickens' opening words of ''The
Tale of Two Cities:''
''It was the best of times, it was the worst
of times....It was the season of light, it was the season of darkness.
It was the winter of despair, it was the spring of hope.''
Speaking at a breakfast sponsored by Concerts
of Prayer, an alliance of 1700 churches across metropolitan New York and
by World Vision, the world's largest Christian relief organization
serving 80 million people in need, Stearns said, ''We have truly seen
the worst of humanity. But in its aftermath, we have seen humanity's
He asked ''What was it about this tragedy that
was so devastating?'' In loss of life, as horrific it was that over
6,000 died, it was less than the 10,000 who died in Hurricane Mitch.
''There is something more profound. The difference is spiritual in
nature. This was an act of unimaginable hatred and unspeakable evil.
This evil caused a wound that is spiritual and deep and painful, a wound
that has touched our souls.''
On the other hand, ''We have witnessed amazing
heroism, an unprecedented outpouring of charity that may total $1
billion for this tragedy, a solidarity and patriotism this nation has
not seen since World War II. We have seen people flocking to church,
synagogue and mosque to pray and seek answers. A spiritual wound can
only be healed with a spiritual cure. It was the best of times and worst
McKenzie Pier, President of Concerts of
Prayer, said the tragedy ''has awakened the church to be the church, to
mobilize, to work together and pray together.'' He introduced and led
prayers for two pastors from churches only blocks away from Ground Zero
who were the first to rush to the scene of the tragedy.
Pastor Marcos Rivera of Primitive Christian
Church said his whole ministry has changed. The government asked his
church to coordinate clergy access to the Ground Zero site, to Pier 94
where families were identifying remains, and to provide grief
counseling. He was also dispensing food and supplies to the relief
workers. ''We have been raising money to help fund transitions. There
are no jobs. Companies are gone. We are preparing to help pay rent.''
Forty pastors across denominational lines created a Ground Zero Relief
Fund (c/o Primitive Christian Church, 207-209 East Broadway, New York,
NY 10002) to which World Vision has contributed computers, FAXes, and an
office so that all donations go to victims.
Pastor Rick Del Rio of Abounding Grace Church,
was in midtown when the planes hit the World Trade Center. For a while,
in stunned disbelief, he was glued to the tragedy on TV and then
realized, ''What am I doing here? I should be down there.'' He raced
downtown on his motorcycle, dropped by the church, put on his boots,
jeans and a Roman collar that as a Protestant, he rarely wore. Had he
gotten to the site sooner, he would have been crushed when the towers
He recalls, ''I could not believe my eyes -
the collapse of the buildings, inches of ash and documents of people's
lives across the ground. A police officer rushed up, `Father, there are
body parts. Can you do Last Rites?''' He then helped the officer clean a
van full of ash, ripped out a seat, and took bodies over to a temporary
morgue. ''Emergency vehicles were exploding with flash fires. Hundreds
of vehicles were destroyed. It was a war zone.''
''This was not a time to preach but a time to
be encouraging, to pray, to let the workers know you are there,'' he
said. A TV crew saw him the next morning, when he wondered aloud why
there was only one other pastor in the area, Marcos Rivera. That
unleashed a flood of clergy to Ground Zero. They are being trained in
grief counseling at Abounding Grace. Clergy are now dealing with
grieving spouses and 15,000 children who lost a parent. Del Rio
reflected, ''My faith in God has never been stronger. What has grown
immensely is my faith in people.''
At the national level, clergy are urging a
response targeted at the terrorists. An editorial in the Catholic
magazine ''America'' concludes ''Killing thousands of Afghan civilians
would be a sacrilegious memorial to those killed in the United States.
The terrorists should be brought to justice because of their crimes and
because of the danger they pose.'' However, military force should be
limited to rally even the Islamic world ''in a concerted effort to root
Copyright 2001 Michael J. McManus.