This was written by me not too long after a small team of us from Southwest Riverside County in So Cal joined countless other teams from churches and ministries all across the U.S. to help in any way we could during the first Christmas season in New York after the 9/11 tragedies.
Everybody Needs Jesus
Tony is a tough guy.
Of course, if you told him that, he would say, "Foh-git abow-it."
His job shortly after Sept. 11 was to supervise trucks hauling debris and yes, yet to be discovered human parts out of Ground Zero. Ironically and sadly, the trucks unloaded in a landfill area that was already known as Fresh Kills.
I met Tony at breakfast time at the Clergy Crisis Responder room set up at St. Joseph's Cathedral. It was a room that was not too big, about 100 feet from one of the entrances to Ground Zero.
In this peaceful sanctuary, workers could come and have a hot meal and someone to chat with if inclined. New York's police men and women, fire fighters, welders, crane operators, carpenters, coroner's workers and sanitation employees like Tony often came there for their breaks.
When Tony comes into a crowded room, I suspect everyone knows about it. Most of the time, Tony's New Yawk accent is loud.
But after Tony made a production of the fact that we had no pancake syrup—he picked up his cell phone, saying he was going to call Log Cabin's main office and order a couple cases of Log Cabin syrup—he began to quietly tell me stories as I sat across from him at the table.
Tony told of a man who had come to the site as a grieving father. The man wanted to put some sort of closure on losing his son at the World Trade Center.
The father explained to the workers that his son loved baseball. All the father wanted to do was to place two prized baseballs at the foot of the famous cross found inside Ground Zero. The cross, made of iron beams and formed during the collapse, has become a focal point for many. I'm told that on Sundays, a church service is held at the foot of the cross for Ground Zero workers.
Instead of just simply granting the father access to the cross, crane operators hoisted the man up on a crane and let him place the baseballs on top of the cross.
It was a big deal for some. You see, it seems as if almost every tough guy in New York has a passion for baseball. Tony is no exception. And as Tony told me the story he began to cry.
With his eyes still red and moist, he said, "I don't know, but God has the answers and I don't have the answers."
I could see Tony's painful expression turn to hope and I said, "Yes, absolutely, God has all the answers."
I knew right then that Tony needs Jesus...and that everyone in New York needs Jesus.
We never got to talking more about our faith in God, but Tony told me he attends that Sunday service inside Ground Zero. And Tony set back out that day for work with eyes misty. He looked as tough as ever...I pray he knows Jesus.
I also pray for the drunk on the street who started yelling at one of our New York missions team members. Somehow, Osama bin Laden was tied into his babble. I stepped in between the two and gave him a "Steps to Peace With God" tract and he accepted it while continuing in his drunkeness.
I told him to read it and that he would feel better. He needs Jesus.
I pray for the mentally disturbed man on the subway who failed to hang on to anything as the train took off. He was slammed into the train car wall and shouted, "God, God, I didn't want to do that. God, God, I really didn't want to do that." He was so flustered.
As he sat down and got as comfortable as he could, he lifted a huge sandwich out of his bag. I knew that if I said something to him, if I started a conversation, if I just said anything to him, he wouldn't seem that disturbed. "That looks good!" I said. Moments later, he gave me, an out-of-towner, city directions with care and precision. One of our team members standing close by was utterly amazed at how the man snapped out of his confusion and so coherently gave directions.
I pray that the man in the subway car knows Jesus. I know he needs Him.
I also pray for the airport van driver who drove us back to the airport on our last morning. He told us of how he lost a friend who had worked in a restaurant at the World Trade Center.
The Muslim van driver from Bangladesh said his friend normally had Tuesdays off, but his wife was due with twins on Wednesday, Sept. 12. So the friend worked on Tuesday instead. He died high up in the center.
The van driver could not understand why evil lurks in some people. He told all of us how he wanted to see Osama bin Laden hanged in the middle of 42nd Street.
The airport van driver needs Jesus.
And so do the tens of thousands of New Yorkers crammed into downtown and uptown scurrying about their business. Everyday, riding the subways, walking the crowded streets and searching for answers.
And so does our nation...need Jesus. And so does everyone...searching for answers.
While in New York, I tried to remember and pray:
Keep my soul, and deliver me;
Let me not be ashamed, for I put
my trust in You. - Psalm 25:20