Like most people, I remember exactly where I was when I heard the news. I was sitting in my car at a gas station on Godwin Avenue in Midland Park, NJ, listening to my radio as an attendant filled my tank. No sooner did I hear a reporter say that a plane had crashed into the World Trade Center and I got out of my car to see for myself. On most days in Midland Park you could see the twin towers clearly as you looked down Godwin Avenue toward New York City. That morning was especially clear—almost cruelly so. I can still picture how remarkably blue the sky was, and how the beauty of it was tarnished by thick clouds of smoke and dust that rose up against it.
On the evening of September 11, a service of lament and prayer was held at Midland Park Christian Reformed Church, where I served as pastor at the time. I can still see the faces of frightened and disillusioned people who filled the church that night. They came seeking a sanctuary in the fullest sense of that word, hoping to find refuge and reassurance. They came to pour out their hearts to a holy and merciful God. At day’s end, they came to meet with God, hoping to hear a word from the Lord amidst all the unholy tumult of the day.
I began that service by saying words that have frequently been associated with that tragic day: after the events of today, our lives will never be the same. In a number of ways that assessment has certainly been confirmed, particularly as it relates to changes in travel restrictions and immigration policies. When I moved to New Jersey as a Canadian in 1998, the religious worker’s visa I needed took all of one morning in a customs office to obtain. Getting one now is much more extensive and the process can take many months to complete, as Pete VanderBeek’s post here on the Network describes.
Some of the changes brought about by 9/11 were actually positive in nature. I still recall how in subsequent days and weeks people hungered more for the gospel. For a time, it seemed as though people were not so concerned about the things of their own lives, many of which now seemed rather inconsequential. It was as if all the destruction of 9/11 temporarily purged from people the universal tendency toward self absorption. In a time of mourning, God bestowed beauty instead of ashes (Isaiah 61:3). I saw it as people prayed more fervently, gave money to support relief work more readily and encouraged each other more frequently. None of these good things fully compensated for all the evil of the day. But each of them bore witness to the power of God, our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble (Psalm 46:1). Each of them announced the enduring hope of the gospel that no acts of terror could ever change or destroy.