On 11 September 2001, a team from Thurrock Christian Fellowship were in New York as the Twin Towers of the World Trade Centre were struck by two planes hijacked by terrorists.
Leading the team were John & Andrea Peters, who now head up the TCF work in Tilbury. Tim Harrold of Transformation Thurrock was working in the TCF office at the time and remembers the difficulty the church had in contacting John & Andrea as events unfolded and over the next few days. Tim asked them for their memories of that history-changing event.
TT: John & Andrea, at the time of 9/11, you were both in New York. What were you doing there?
J&A: We took a team to work with an organisation called “Hope for the Future” who did ‘church on the street’ and gave hot meals and shopping bags to the poor and homeless people of New York’s Lower East Side.
TT: What part of New York were you in and how far from the World Trade Centre were you?
J&A: We stayed in a house on Long Island and worked in a warehouse where the food was cooked or pre-packed, sorted and loaded onto vans twice a week and taken into New York. We set up church on the sidewalk in the Lower East Side which was not far from the Trade Centre. In fact, the night before the towers went down we were in that very area giving out food and socks to people living in cardboard boxes until the early hours of that fateful morning.
TT: How did news of the attack on the World Trade Centre reach you?
J&A: We watched it live on TV as we were eating our breakfast before our trip into the city. It was our day off and the year before we had gone up the Empire State building so this time it was planned to be the twin towers. We had arranged to be there around 9am, but because we arrived home so late had decided to be there a little later at 11am.
TT: What were your immediate reactions and those of Americans you were watching the unfolding events with?
J&A: Disbelief! In fact we thought we were watching a movie instead of the news.
TT: How did the operation you were with respond in the immediate aftermath?
J&A: It was a few days before we were allowed back into the city as everything was locked down and nothing was going in or out. Amazingly we had already prepared the tracks we planned to take in, which said, “Are you ready to die?” God wasn’t taken by surprise. Hope for the future spent the time in prayer as we knew we were there for this time and we needed to make it count.
TT: What happened over the next few days?
J&A: Our organisation was given a juggernaut filled with food to distribute to residents in apartments close to ground zero that couldn’t get out to buy basic supplies. We worked day and night with very little sleep, although we didn’t really notice, it was just important to be where the people were in the city. We provided enough supplies for 3 high rise apartment blocks with enough left over to leave in the foyers for people to collect the next day. Once that was done we moved into the parks and square’s giving out juice and sandwiches to people who had lost loved ones either in the planes or in the towers themselves. We sat and prayed, looked at their pictures, listened to their sorrow and read their poems.
TT: What was it like in New York once the dust had – literally – settled? What conversations did you have?
J&A: Later in the week we did church on the street again and gave out the tracts. We listened to big burly men who were probably carrying guns and knives according to our organiser. They were crying and saying they were not ready to die and confessing outrageous sins there on the street where they previously thought they were kings. Other people were astounded that anyone would want to hurt them because they fed the world! There were prayer stations in the streets with long queues of people outside them all. The city was literally wide open to the gospel.
TT: Were you aware at the time of the historical significance of the events you witnessed? Did you think that the world had changed that day?
J&A: I think we were only aware of the urgency to act as we did – we weren’t even aware of any danger even though death was all around us and the towers continued to burn even after we left to come back to the UK. We were aware that the sky was empty of planes, but full of smoke. We were aware of the patriotism in the church and on the streets. We sang God bless America with our brothers and sisters from the US and meant it.
TT: Looking back, have those opinions changed or become stronger, and if so, how?
J&A: When we arrived home it then began to dawn of us the enormity and significance of what had taken place. We knew that Americans were church goers, but probably that event brought people nearer to God and made them rethink about their faith. Regarding the significance of the “Trade Centre” being brought to nothing in a day, we can see how that was the beginning of how frail the world economy is today.
TT: How would you say your faith in Christ was affected, tested &/or played out throughout the ordeal?
J&A: I believe our faith was strengthened at the time, and we threw ourselves into the job at hand. We experienced the provision, protection and opportunities that God gave.
TT: When did you return to the UK? What was it like getting home?
J&A: We arrived home a week and a few days after the event. We would have liked to have stayed longer. Our families were really worried, thinking we had been living and working in the middle of a war zone and we were kept busy relaying the stories. JFK airport was a strange experience with a bomb scare on our arrival there! Everyone was ‘spooked’
TT: What is your one abiding memory of 9 September 2001?
J&A: For us it is the “God awareness” that we saw and the opportunity to share the gospel of Jesus Christ in the midst of burning devastation.
TT: Thank you, John & Andrea.
Food for Thought…
In the day of great slaughter, when the towers fall, streams of water will flow on every high mountain and every lofty hill. Isaiah 30:25
See also Daniel 2:31-45. Here are verses 41-44:
Just as you saw that the feet and toes were partly of baked clay and partly of iron, so this will be a divided kingdom; yet it will have some of the strength of iron in it, even as you saw iron mixed with clay. As the toes were partly iron and partly clay, so this kingdom will be partly strong and partly brittle. And just as you saw the iron mixed with baked clay, so the people will be a mixture and will not remain united, any more than iron mixes with clay.
In the time of those kings, the God of heaven will set up a kingdom that will never be destroyed, nor will it be left to another people. It will crush all those kingdoms and bring them to an end, but it will itself endure forever.