Associate Campus Pastor Doug Bender reflected and offered hope on the 19th anniversary of the most horrific tragedy in modern United States history - the 9-11 terrorist attacks in New York, Washington, D.C. and Pennsylvania - during his morning chapel message entitled "Were You There?"
The deadliest day ever for US firefighters on September 11, 2001 claimed the lives of nearly 3,000 people, as 19 militants associated with the Islamic terrorist group al Qaeda hijacked four planes from airports on the East coast bound for California to carry out attacks against three US targets.
“It was a moment where time seemed to stand still and the events that unfolded that day were imprinted in many people’s minds,” said Bender, associate campus pastor since 2017 and a 2010 CUW alumnus. His message to over 100 students, many who had not been born yet, faculty and staff in chapel, as well as a live-streamed audience was based on 1 Timothy, 2:5-6 and Romans 6:3-4.
“It was a day of immense pain and shock. A moment that brought our country to its knees, as we witnessed how the evil actions of a few could so swiftly destroy lives and wreak havoc. It was a day when many looked for hope and healing, and a day we needed Christ to be present and working, mediating between a broken world and a throne room in Heaven that can bring justice,” said Bender.
Bender recalled shuffling into his 8th grade classroom on the morning when two of the planes were deliberately flown into the twin towers of the World Trade Center in New York City 18 minutes apart, one struck the Pentagon, while a fourth airplane headed for The White House crashed into a Pennsylvania field after passengers overpowered the hijackers.
Teachers were whispering among themselves and televisions were turned to the news, before students were quickly sent home to be with their families. Admitting he was even too young to process the impact of the event as a pre-teen, Bender shifted the focus of his message to “Were You There When It Happened?” sharing part of the story of a man who was in New York, Rev. Bill Wrede, director of admissions and enrollment at Concordia Seminary in St. Louis. Wrede, who at the time of the attacks was serving at St. Matthew’s Lutheran Church of the Deaf in Elmhurst, Queens, became a voluntary chaplain at Ground Zero that day amidst the chaos that was all around him.
“Firefighters kept coming out (of the trade center) as others went in,” said Wrede. “They would see that I was with someone and they would simply make eye contact or shout, keep praying for us Father. They would stop, remove their helmets, and bow their heads as we would pray briefly. Lots of gratitude and lots of statements to the effect – we’re glad the Church is here today Father. We need you.”
“Pastor Wrede never asked to be a 9-11 chaplain, but he was there, offering hope, comfort and prayer, and pointing others to a God who loves them,” said Bender. “Even at a time that seemed so hopeless he was God’s instrument that day, along with every other firefighter, first responder, police officer and clergy member.”
Bender concluded his message by stating that we remember September 11th and other moments like this in history to honor the ones who were there, serving and sacrificing in their vocations. “We remember because it fills us with faith and hope for today, for all that we’re faced with right here and now, and a hope in knowing that God has not abandoned us.”
Chapel is held each weekday morning at 9:30 am in The Chapel of The Christ Triumphant during the academic year. A 10 am church service is held on Sundays.
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