NEW YORK CITY (BP)--North American Mission Board President Robert E. Reccord witnessed firsthand Sept. 20-21 the devastation brought upon New York City by the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center towers.
"We've seen the bottom fall out, and God's people stand up," Reccord said after a brief tour of Southern Baptist Disaster Relief and chaplaincy sites. "We saw broken buildings and broken hearts, but not broken spirits."
Reccord was accompanied on the visit by his wife, Cheryl, and a small group of other NAMB leaders.
Southern Baptist Disaster Relief units from multiple state conventions were in New York almost immediately after the Sept. 11 attack, along with Southern Baptist chaplains. Volunteers at three different emergency ministry sites in Brooklyn and Manhattan had prepared more than 100,000 meals by the time the NAMB team visited nine days after the attack. And Southern Baptist chaplains had been given leadership responsibilities at the "ground zero" morgue and Compassion Center for victims' families.
"I'm so grateful for the more than 300 disaster relief units Southern Baptists have made available across the country," said Reccord, "and that over 21,000 trained volunteers stand ready to serve at a moment's notice during tragic times such as this. The physical ministry of our feeding units and other relief ministries give such credibility to the spiritual ministry of our chaplains and local churches."
That credibility was experienced firsthand by Reccord and the leadership team as they visited ground zero, American Red Cross volunteer centers and fire stations across the city.
"Because we were wearing shirts that indicated we were part of Southern Baptist Disaster Relief efforts, people along the streets of New York would stop and hug us and cry with us and just tell us how grateful they were that we were here," Reccord said. "We then had a chance to tell them about the love of Christ that compels us to serve in this way."
One such New Yorker was a fireman named Bill who Reccord met on the street loading supplies in his truck. "I just asked him how it was going and how I could pray for him," Reccord recounted. "He said they had lost 11 firefighters from that station alone, friends of his whom he'd never see again."
Bill added that his wife usually goes to church with the kids, but that he hadn't been attending church regularly, Reccord said.
"I felt led to share with him the Blaise Pascal quote that 'There is a God-shaped vacuum in the heart of every man that cannot be filled by anything except God the creator made known through Jesus Christ His Son.' That's what helped Bill realize that he needed a personal relationship with God through Christ," Reccord said. "Just as he made that decision, his truck was called out. As Bill ran to his duty, he called over his shoulder, 'Bob, keep praying for me.'"
Reccord's experience with Bill is not unique. Southern Baptist volunteers are reporting that same kind of spiritual openness from people throughout the city. And the opportunity to meet needs in the name of Christ and to share the gospel continues to draw new volunteers to New York and the surrounding area. One such volunteer from Mt. Vernon, Ill., is pastor and volunteer chaplain Dan Lovin, who found his path to New York City paved with miracles of God's provision.
After Lovin's employer granted him two weeks of unpaid vacation to volunteer as a chaplain in New York, he visited the county sheriff's office where he serves as chaplain. To his surprise, the sheriff not only encouraged him to go, but offered to pay for his plane ticket. The small church where Lovin serves as bivocational pastor then collected a love offering to cover his salary and expenses for the two weeks.
Upon arriving in New York, Lovin felt overwhelmed at the size and complexity of the airport. A stranger noticed him looking a little lost, and when he found out why Lovin had come to the city, helped him hail a taxi and paid the fare, insisting "you don't owe me a thing."
Lovin's miracle pathway to New York continued within the city itself. Arriving later than expected at the Metropolitan New York Baptist Association in Manhattan, Lovin found the office dark and wondered where to turn. That's when a benevolent New York taxi driver insisted on driving him to the nearby police precinct, where Lovin asked about spending the night in the lobby. The police captain said "no way" and insisted on putting him up at a local hotel. The next morning, a Jewish acquaintance introduced him to a Catholic priest, who is providing both sleeping and office space. Lovin has now been "adopted" by two police precincts, where he has been serving throughout his stay in the city.
"That's just one of the 'miracle stories' we discovered during our brief stay in New York City," Reccord marveled. "Southern Baptists are discovering that God wants to use them in powerful ways in this great city. I encourage many, many more volunteers to come and join God in his work here, and for those who can't come, to pray and give generously to support others. I'm sure that any Christian who comes to New York during these days will find what we did -- many broken hearts and many open spirits. Now is the time to bring those open spirits the gospel that will give them lasting hope."
(BP) photos posted in the BP Photo Library at http://www.bpnews.net. Photo titles: SHARING, OFFERING SUPPORT and LEARNING ABOUT THE DISASTER.