Standing in the darkness overlooking the gaping hole left by the disaster, I overheard a man nearby mumbling, "I was standing right here that day." After a long pause, he continued, "I haven't even been back until now. I still can't believe it happened." Suddenly I realized that he was talking to me. As I listened to his devastating story of friends who died and his personal terror that day, he sobbed uncontrollably, weeping huge tears. As we prayed, God gave comfort to the man who was trying to put his world back together.
Since the 10th anniversary of 9/11 falls on a Sunday, how can you acknowledge it at your church? Here are a few ideas:
-- Honor first responders. Invite local police, firefighters, EMTs, etc., to attend worship on Sept. 11 by delivering a large invitation to the local fire and police station. Reinforce the invitation with email and snail mail. Personally invite the fire and police chief. Place an ad in the local newspaper to express appreciation and invite first responders to the service. During worship, present first responders with a gift. Our church this year will give a coffee mug imprinted with "We're praying for you," with the church website address, and Joshua 1:9: "… be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or discouraged, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go." Express appreciation to them and pray for God's protection and wisdom. Make certain that church members visit with the guests and invite them to return for worship the next Sunday.
-- Shield a badge with prayer. This would be a great Sunday to kick off a prayer plan, perhaps calling it "Shield a badge with prayer." Our church did a version of this for many years, with amazing results. Church members commit to pray for one specific policeman, fireman or other badged public official for one year, sending occasional notes of prayer.
-- 9/11 prayer and testimony. Acknowledge the 9/11 anniversary with a prayer for God's continued comfort for victims' families. If a church member was personally affected or involved in the aftermath, he or she could share a brief testimony of God's sufficiency during those days.
-- Challenge your church. Encourage members to rise up intentionally as God's church and show His love when disaster hits your community or the nation in the future. If that level-five tornado had hit your town instead of Joplin, Mo., how would your church have responded? Challenge some to acquire CPR and first aid training, SBC disaster relief training, or disaster relief chaplain training. Begin a plan for communication and church preparedness for disaster ministry.
When 9/11 occurred, we lived across the country from New York. Our church hosted a community-wide prayer service the next day, and I saw God's peace and comfort.
I have walked the search line as a disaster chaplain during the Space Shuttle disaster recovery, helped grieving parents after a fatal bus crash, and stood beside people who lost loved ones in floods, tornados and gas explosions. Each time, I've watched the miraculous power of God as we prayed and ministered in His name during disaster.
As we remember 9/11, will your church and church members recommit to be God's representatives during crisis?
Diana Davis (www.keeponshining.com) is an author, speaker and wife of the North American Mission Board's vice president for the Midwest region, Steve Davis.
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