Responses to 9/11

Letter dated September 14, 2001

Letter dated September 29, 2001

A Letter from David Best on the 2nd Anniversary of 9-11-01



September 14, 2001

Dear Friends and family,

Just as I was finishing this email to you, the roar of jet fighter planes fill the air replacing the normal sounds of commercial aircraft in the skies above Manhattan.  President Bush is in New York to survey the damage, thank the relief workers, and comfort those mourning.  The city is on the highest level of alert and security.

Calls and email messages have come to us from all around the US, as well as Europe and Asia.  Thank you for these expressions of concern for Marilyn and me, and offering prayers for all those suffering.  We, and all those dealing with the relief and recovery efforts need them.

I don't want to add another item to your "in box" but since so many were concerned about our condition, I thought I would prepare a brief message and send it to all those who receive my monthly schedule, plus a few others that have called or written.

What follows is not a news report.  I know you have access to the latest information via cable TV and the Internet. It is also not offering a commentary.  Already I have received interpretations of September 11 disasters.  It seems to me there is much talk (certainly a natural enough attempt to get understanding or control over events that are clearly not rationally understandable to our belief systems).  But I am feeling a need to "be still and know God." I offer no theological or biblical explanation.  I do join with those who are calling for pray.

Pray for those missing and dead; pray for those seeking the lost; pray for their families; pray that Americans will not lash out at people just because of their country of origin or skin color.  (I just read that there has been an outpouring of anti-Muslim rhetoric on various Internet sites and chat rooms.)  Pray for Americans to focus on recovery and rebuilding; repentance not revenge.

If you wish to read further, here is a simple narrative of what I experienced September 11, as adapted from my journal and emails of that day.

  I am in New York City.  Marilyn and I are both safe, but numb.  We are fine...physically.  Our psyches and spirits are another story.  But I do not think the impact has fully hit me.

  Our new apartment and Towel & Basin’s Center for Urban Strategy office is in Harlem, on the West 140s, a good seven + miles up the island from the WTC.  Marilyn works even further north at 191 St. She arrived at work on Tuesday just after the first plane struck, and joined other employees watching TV news coverage and witnessed the second plane hit.

  I was on the subway heading to meetings in midtown and had no clue of any problem until train service was stopped due to "an emergency at the World Trade Center."  When traveling by subway in NYC, one occasionally experiences delays for various "police action," but when I got out on the street, I immediately sensed something bigger had happened.

  I paused for a while on the corner of 125 St. and St. Nicholas, contemplating the best way to continue on my trip to midtown.  I couldn't find a yellow or "gypsy cab." My attempts to hail a cab kept getting interrupted by white folk who seemed nervous having found themselves disgorged from the subway onto streets they were unaccustomed to.  They were eager to speak with me and ask directions.

  Between conversations, I watched as dozens of city vehicles headed south, sirens screaming:  marked and unmarked police cars, fire trucks, ambulances, even large armored police vehicles. Then, still trying to locate a cab, I walked south and east, and noticed that streets bordering the local police precinct station had been completely blocked off.

  Finally, I got on a fully loaded bus and continued on to midtown, still unaware of the magnitude of what happened, but began picking up bits and pieces from the conversations of fellow riders.  I continued trying to make calls, but my mobile phone was out of service during this whole time.

  At noon, I reached 54th and Sixth Avenue--90 minutes late for my meeting at Morgan Stanley offices. I began to learn more of the extent of the disaster.  Doormen were checking IDs and requiring any one claiming to have an appointment in the building to call the person on the house phone and have them come to lobby to escort you up. Then I discovered that Morgan Stanley had closed these offices for the day [Its main offices were in World Trade Towers].  A building official in the lobby remarked to me, "You know, 40 stories of the World Trade Tower is gone."  It was, of course, by this time, even worse than he knew.

  I then walked east one avenue to an international airline’s New York offices.  The entire office building in which it had its operations was closed.  So were cultural attractions such as the Museum of Modern Art and retail mainstays of Fifth Avenue such as Brooks Brothers.

  People in midtown seemed calm--a little too calm for New Yorkers. There was general cooperation from people as they waited for transportation (bus after bus was packed, and subways at that time were still closed). The streets were eerily void of yellow cabs.

  Around 12:30 PM, I went into a restaurant nearby, and was able to see my first news broadcast and then got service on my mobile phone long enough to return one call to Vickie Stone, editor of Nazarene Communications Network News.

  After unsuccessfully looking for a cab or bus that would take even one more passenger, I walked a dozen plus blocks north. Finally at Columbus Circle, I found the A train was running again.  At 3 PM, I arrived back at my office/apartment.  The land based phones were out, and I still couldn't get calls to go through on my mobile phone.  I started monitoring the local news broadcasts and continued trying to return phone calls.  After trying all day, Marilyn and I finally were able to talk "live" to each other.

  I think it will be some time before the significance of this day is felt by New Yorkers.  People are still operating in a shock mode.  At this time, I do not know if we had any friends or acquaintances from church directly affected, but I cannot believe some were not touched just considering the sheer numbers of people involved.

  Marilyn and I tried to find some place to eat dinner last night [the 11th].  The City was closed down--almost as if in mourning.  Hand written paper signs taped to windows and doors read something to the effect "We are closed due to the tragedy at the World Trade Center."

  We went to three restaurants in our Harlem neighborhood--all closed. Then we went down to Morningside Heights area around Columbia University, and finally found some open there--students have to eat--but many places even in that neighborhood were closed.

  The West End Gate, a popular restaurant for Columbia students, faculty and locals, was packed.  TVs located in the bar and dining areas were turned up loud, broadcasting news reports.  The crowd seemed to be partially watching, but mostly talking louder, over the audio.  Then, a little after 8:30 PM EDT, the President began his address.  Without any request, conversations stopped; clinking of utensils and glasses wasn't heard; all eyes turned to a TV close by.

  I went to pay with a credit card and the restaurant wanted cash, but finally made an imprint of my card and said they'd enter the data later: it seems the systems for running the credit card charges were down. (Maybe such realities of merchandising--rather than mourning--played some part in the decisions of stores closing.) After dinner we returned home on an almost empty subway and bus then watched news broadcasts until I couldn't take any more.

  This is a deeply disturbing time for New Yorkers--and all Americans.  Most are still in a state of shock--still recoiling from the impact, and running on the adrenaline of recovery efforts.

  The impact on the "hidden victims" (those who barely escaped, others who watched people plunge to their deaths, those working on recovery and relief) is yet to be felt. A phrase ABC’s Diane Sawyer used seems to fit: "a wounded numbness."

  The cry of my niece-in-law Jana says it well, "God, help!"


Thanks for taking time to think of us.  Friends, let us savor every moment of life we are given. 

With our love and gratitude,

David & Marilyn

P.S. I just learned late today from Michael Funk, executive director of the Sunset Neighborhood Beacon Center in San Francisco and chairman of the board for Towel & Basin, that one of his staff lost seven family members in the WTC, and her husband lost a family member at the Pentagon.  Remember them in your prayers.

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September 29, 2001

Dear Friends,

Thank you again for all your calls, emails and expressions of concern for Marilyn and me these past days.  I wanted to give you an update. 

During the 14 days since last writing you, I (Towel & Basin) have been asked to serve various groups who are at work responding to the disaster in New York City. 

Last week, we assisted Nazarene Disaster Response in helping conceive and coordinate the filming of the impact on New York and how Nazarene churches are responding. We also assisted NDR in photo and news items for its web site. 

I taped an on location report from Union Square Park for Nazarene Communications Network News that will be part of a special one hour program featuring NDR's work and grief counselor Harold Ivan Smith discussing response to the disasters.  The program will be broadcast on the Dish Network, Channel 9602, Sunday, September 30, 11:00 AM (EDT) and rebroadcast on Tuesday, October 2, 8:00 PM (EDT) 

Towel & Basin also developed a "Service of Remembrance, Prayer and Hope" for Goodwill Industries of Greater New York & Northern New Jersey. I led these services in three locations around New York City on Wednesday and Thursday. Please pray for those who attended, some of whom lost close relatives and next door neighbors. 

Additionally, I have been asked by John Bowen, Pastor of the Lamb's Church to assist in documenting and communicating the church's response to the disaster. This is the congregation that I pastored from 1987-1994. Marilyn and I are still members of The Lamb's, so it is an honor to be asked to serve the pastor in these challenging days. 

The Lamb's is the host site for Nazarene Disaster Response's New York City operations office. The Lamb's, in its strategic location just off Times Square, is also providing housing for firefighters and other response workers from FEMA, the Salvation Army, Heart to Heart International, and other groups. Pastor Bowen has made the faith commitment to open up the entire building to agencies needing space for staging the various responses to the disaster. 

Many of you have already responded personally by giving blood, attending services and prayer vigils and making donations. The city has been overwhelmed with the generosity of people around the country wishing to respond. You are probably aware that the greatest need at this moment is for funds.  Only volunteers with specific skills and training are being used at this time. See the NDR website (www.nazarenedisasterresponse.org) for further information.  Also, many of the news organizations' web sites have current needs listed or links to sites where the latest needs are posted.  You can also check out www.nyc.gov

Some have asked about specific ways you could assist me and the work Towel & Basin is doing. 

Here are some current needs and suggestions: 

Pray daily:
For all those involved in the disaster response that we might have wisdom in decision-making, physical stamina, and emotional stability as we seek to comfort those grieving, organize response efforts, and plan recovery strategies.

Make a general donation to:
Nazarene Disaster Response (www.nazarenedisasterresponse.org)
For more information, or to respond, contact:

Brian Kido, on site project director 
NDR 
130 W. 44th St.
New York, NY 10036
Toll free to New York City on site office: 888-246-5400, ext. 11

Make a designated donation for:

  1. 20 beds and mattresses (singles) needed for firefighters and relief workers living at The Lamb's
  2. Furniture (dressers, lamps and tables) for relief workers’ rooms
  3. Overhead costs of the volunteer resident director ("House Mom") who will be in the living areas for the firefighters and relief workers.
For more information, or to respond, contact:
The Rev. John Bowen
The Lamb's Church
130 W. 44th St.
New York, NY 10036
Tel: 212-575-0300, ext. 13

Thanks again for your interest and continued prayers. God bless you and may grace be yours to sustain you through the living of these days. 

The peace of our Lord be with you today, 

David Best 

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A Letter from David Best on the 2nd Anniversary of 9-11-01

My dear friends, family and colleagues:

I wanted to write you on this week of the second anniversary of September 11, 2001

Last year, on the first anniversary, I was in New York City as Towel & Basin honored and presented "Servant-Leader" awards to our partners in response to the disaster of "that September day." I visited colleagues with whom I’d served in those chaotic weeks following the attacks on the World Trade Center. I went to Ground Zero to pray and offer comfort.

I remember candidly admitting to people that I was not looking forward to this first anniversary mission project in the city I loved so much that had been hurt so deeply. Well, the mission turned out to be an important time of ministry. . .and grace was given to me for those days.

This year, I was in Towel & Basin’s offices in Nashville, Tennessee. There were some ceremonies marking 9-11 held in Nashville, a front page story in the local newspaper, and a few churches offered times of prayer. But for the most part, the city was "business as usual."

For me, however, the hours of this second anniversary day were filled with a somber sadness. Strangely, if anything, my emotions seemed more raw and close to the surface than last year. Watching some of the news shows, and seeing the ceremony at Ground Zero brought back my memories of what it was like to actually be in New York City that day, and those feverish following weeks.

Harold Ivan Smith writes in the current issue of Towel & Basin News about the importance of remembering and the danger in moving through grief too quickly or artificially. (Some of you reading this email receive Towel & Basin News. I hope you will take a moment to read Dr. Smith’s article that he wrote specifically for Towel & Basin’s friends and partners. He has some practical, helpful suggestions for "remembering" that I believe are distinctly appropriate for people seeking to live their lives formed by biblical faith. You can find his article at www.TowelandBasin.org under the "Newsletters" link, and go to "Summer 2003.")

I am not ashamed to say I am not through grieving yet. I have loved New York City from that first time I saw it, only briefly from a distance, as a 19 year old college student traveling the New Jersey Turnpike from a fraternity conference in Philadelphia to visit a friend in Boston. For the past 16 years it has been my adopted home city that I’ve attempted to love and serve. But now in some way, New York is different for me. Whenever I see the skyline, I have an empty feeling that seems to be about something more than the absence of physical buildings or those strangely open acres in lower Manhattan.

My memories and mourning are made more confusing by the messages I hear from so many. For example, my reaction and response to the events of September 11, don’t seem to be the same as most other fellow Americans. Now, it is only a personal observation (informal--no scientific polling or statistical analysis claimed!) but those of us who were in New York City on September 11, appear to have less passion than other Americans in seeing lethal injuries inflicted as the primary means of bringing justice to the perpetrators, or their allies, of this crime.

My first reaction in dealing with the hurt and loss and devastating destruction of September 11, was not then, nor is it now, a desire to see more mothers and fathers mourn lost children; more children grow up without a parent.

Many leaders in the U.S. remark repeatedly that we should not forget the meaning of September 11. I do not doubt these leaders’ sincerity. In fact, I sense they genuinely feel they have a vision of how the U.S. must now function in the world. I continue to hear President Bush say "things are not the same" since September 11. Whether or not historians will agree is yet to be seen, but I believe he sincerely believes this. And having experienced that day’s worst destruction, I certainly do not disagree with those who remind us that the attacks of September 11, 2001 were catastrophic in both magnitude and message.

But what if there is more than one way to "interpret" and define the "meaning" of this traumatic message?

I hold no naiveté as to the reality of evil in the world, or the diabolical deeds committed by individuals. I believe such evil must be addressed.

But what if there is more than one way to attack and defeat evil doers?

After an exceptionally bloody day of "eye for an eye" retributive violence in Israel, one U.S. leader declared, without irony, that the problems in the Middle East will never be solved by resorting to violence.

If the cycle of violence that is now a way of life for people in Israel and the West Bank must be broken -- and is incapable of resolving the Middle East "problem" -- how will the problem of worldwide terrorism by solved by resorting to lethal force?

And yet, all the progress of a civilized society notwithstanding, governments usually still turn to the same old response to evil that has been used for centuries: deadly force (albeit, more precise, and at least potentially less barbaric post-Geneva Convention).

But has any think tank, consulting group or government agency calculated what could be done to attack terrorism with non lethal direct actions if the same amount of money requested for military operations was available?

What if the incredible skills and knowledge, the dogged discipline and significant self-sacrifice of all the good men and women in our armed forces were directed to non lethal strategies, tactics and plans?

I keep pondering and wondering: Where is the prophetic imagination of the people of biblical faith? What interpretation of the message of September 11, is being offered by, specifically, Christians in the U.S.? I have not heard much from the Church in America that would suggest any alternative to the State’s solution. This silence is sad and somewhat baffling when one considers who is the Author and Head of the Church and what He preached and practiced in response to the extraordinary evil of His time.

Is the Christian community, gathered around and named for Jesus, using its enormous wealth and power (both economic and moral), its human resources, creative energies and organizational capacities to dream, design and deploy effective means of responding to evil without resorting to violence?

These are some questions I continue to hear my heart and head asking. I realize these are not new questions, but the great ones facing the faithful in every generation: How do we be "in the world," but not "of it;" What will be the relationship of the Church and State; Where is the proper place for war in the Christian life? I invite you to join me in a thoughtful, prayerful search for answers in our present generation for such a time as this.

You can visit Towel & Basin’s website (www.TowelandBasin.org) and click on "Responses to 9-11." You’ll find some resources for reflecting on and considering the Church’s response to evil and terror.

Seeking to be a faithful servant, and follower of Jesus,

David

"Seek the welfare and security of this evil city (world) in which God has placed you, and actually ask God to bless it, for in its welfare--not it's destruction--you will find your welfare and security." (Jeremiah 29:7 DB paraphrase)

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