Ten years ago, I was sleeping on a library couch in one of the oldest churches in New York City, exhausted from covering the aftermath of the World Trade Center disaster for the Baptist Bulletin.
Within hours of the towers’ collapse, the historic First Baptist Church had opened its doors to the community, and strangers were streaming into the landmark building for comfort and solace. People were looking for a place to pray, and for someone to answer their questions. Why did this happen? Where was God? Their questions gave Pastor Bob Gage his Sunday sermon topics, and his people the opportunity to share Christ.
Pastor Bob and Mary Gage, their relatives, and church family members were comforting the heartsick and reassuring people of God’s love, His presence, and His control despite the attack on their city.
I took pictures as pedestrians scanned a table full of Bibles, gospel tracts, water bottles, and fresh fruit that the church set up a few feet outside the front doors. Skeptical New Yorkers walking past could not help but stop and ask why everything was free. Volunteer Bob Thomas of Lake Odessa, Mich., stunned everyone with his response. “Because salvation is free.” Most couldn’t find their voice when they heard that. Some wept openly.
Over the next three days, Pastor Gage and his church family visited with hundreds of people in curbside conversations and twice daily prayer meetings in the church auditorium. Pastor Gage said many visitors were thinking seriously about their own mortality and how to repair broken marriages. Church members frequently connected with individuals who lingered after the prayer services, hoping someone would talk to them. These one-on-one counseling sessions were opportunities to share the gospel and invite people back on Sunday.
Every evening, church members held a candlelight prayer vigil at dusk—the steps lined with luminaries. Strangers who had previously walked past these steps to board the subway at the corner or buy a paper at the 24-hour newsstand were now standing and singing hymns and waving American flags. For years these steps at 79th and Broadway had been a community landmark where friends met before going other places. Now they were the destination for hurting souls. The church was ready to minister to them.
On the 10th anniversary of 9/11, First Baptist has marked the anniversary of the terrorist attack with a concert and a Sunday morning prayer service led by their new pastor, Dr. Matthew Hoskinson. Other GARBC churches have planned events around the country, ministering to people who still have questions.
I remember something Pastor Bob Gage said about the people visiting his church 10 years ago: “They will be looking for someone or something to fill their emptiness. But only Christ can fill it.”
Darrell Goemaat is director of photography for the Baptist Bulletin.
- Read “Lest We Forget,” reflections from John Murdoch, directory of Regular Baptist Chaplaincy Ministries.