Remembering 9/11

Ten years ago this summer, my family and I moved back to Queens, New York to plant a church in the neighborhood of Astoria. I spent the first couple of months getting to know the neighborhood and networking with people who lived there. In early September, my co-planter Darcy Caires, Jr. and I planned two Saturday evening worship services. Our purpose was to gather some of the people we had met, get them excited about church-planting, and invite them to join a launch team to start a new church.

The first service was scheduled for September 8, a Saturday night. Of course, we all know what happened on Tuesday morning. On September 11, 2001, our world changed.

I was sitting in my car on 31st Street under the elevated tracks of the N train when I heard on the radio that two planes had collided with the Twin Towers. I immediately drove down to a neighborhood park on the East River and looked south toward the World Trade Center. Huge clouds of smoke were rising from the two buildings. For some reason I was reminded of birthday candles—an incongruous thought given the horror that was taking place.

I stopped to speak with a man who was watching the scene from the driver’s seat of his car. In true Queens fashion (i.e. his commentary laced with F-bombs), he expressed the same shock and anger I felt.

I walked from the waterfront up the hill into the park, past a running track. From here, none of the joggers could see the Twin Towers, and they had had not yet heard the news. Should I tell them? They were so carefree. I knew the minute they heard what had happened their lives would never be the same.

The rest of that week was pretty much a blur. In the midst of all this, we had to plan the next Saturday evening’s “Vision Service.” Darcy and I discussed whether we should cancel the meeting. Do you challenge people to plant a church at a time like this? We decided to go ahead.

Darcy preached that night from Psalm 13. He expressed powerfully the grief and fear we were all feeling. He shared his memories of a tragic fire that took many lives in his hometown of São Paulo when he was a boy. He assured us that we could count on God’s faithfulness and sovereignty even in the midst of calamity.

But how could we know this was true? When your world has crumbled, how can you know that God really loves you and that he is still in control? The answer is in the gospel.

The way to be sure of God’s love and power is not by looking at what is going on around us. The way to be sure of his love and power is by remembering that a God who would give his Son for us must certainly love us. A God who could raise that Son from the dead must certainly be in control. Regardless of how our world was changing, we could rest assured that the gospel was still true.

My fear, going into that second “Vision Service,” was that, in the face of such tragedy, any talk of church planting might sound very trivial. I was wrong. Since the time we had gathered the week before, nearly 3,000 people in our city were gone. The need to reach our neighbors for Christ now seemed all the more clear.

Bur ten years can do a lot to make a person forget. A recent article by Frank Rich in New York Magazine observes how little our nation has changed since the 9-11 attacks. Similar things could be said about the Christian Church. It’s easy to slip back into the same old patterns of passionless living.

But what was true then is still true today. The gospel is still the only hope for this planet. Planting new churches is still the most practical way to bring the gospel to the people of this world. We were right not to let a terrorist attack deter us from our plans to plant a church. We would be wrong to let complacency keep us from planting another.