With God at Ground Zero
Campus Crusade for Christ staff member Willie Alfonso began praying with fire and police personnel at Ground Zero within one hour of the buildings falling.
It’s been eleven years since the 9/11 disaster that changed our country. It took less than two hours to transform 16 acres of prime New York property into a smoking gravesite in 2001. People called it “hell on earth,” suggesting God had turned His head. Yet even amidst the carnage, God was present. Below is an article featured in Worldwide Challenge magazine (Nov/Dec 2001 issue):
Campus Crusade for Christ staff member Willie Alfonso began praying with fire and police personnel at Ground Zero within one hour of the buildings falling. “I don’t know how anybody can make it through this without the hope of Christ,” says Willie, chaplain of the Staten Island emergency medical services.
Willie, who serves full time with Athletes in Action, Campus Crusade’s sports division, had been asked to help with the Staten Island EMS a few months before: “I have stopped numerous firemen and rescue workers and prayed with them. Even most nonbelievers are responding, receptive to prayer.”
Willie says that living 18 years as a drug addict exposed him to some awful things, but nothing like what he saw that week atop 2 billion pounds of fallen steel, glass and concrete.
Several hours after returning home from the site the first night, Willie rushed to the emergency room with the symptoms of a heart attack. The doctors diagnosed anxiety.
“When you see body parts all over the place, and I saw body parts more than bodies, that’s going to stay in your mind for the rest of your life,” he says.
Despite such horror, Willie firmly believes that God never abandoned New York. “I sense God’s presence here like I’ve never sensed it before,” he says. “I’m trying as discreetly as possible to remind people that those trapped in the World Trade Center didn’t know on that morning that they had to go before God. I’m asking [rescue workers] if they are ready.”
Police officer Victor Lopez also reported to Ground Zero that first day. Victor, a part-time student at The King’s College (a Campus Crusade university located in the Empire State Building—see page 32), sought refuge in God’s presence while he dug for survivors.
“Every opportunity I got, like when I would have to go to the bathroom or something, I would just pray,” says the 31-year-old, “and I asked God to strengthen me and continue to give me words of hope to these people who needed it.”
Many times he opened his pocket Bible, desperately aware of his own need for hope: “Reading Psalm 121—that chapter has been so wonderful—it shows God’s awesome power. In times of trouble we tend to worry, we tend to lose focus on who is in control.
But the Bible is very clear that God is in control of all things. He knows the beginning from the end, and His chosen just need to be more dependent on Him.”
Victor’s faith in Jesus carried him, minute by minute: “I kept saying in my mind, How can I keep on coming here and seeing this? But I continued to pray that God would hold me up. And He did. He strengthened me.”
Victor longs for this disaster to bring many people to an understanding of their need for Jesus. However, he says that fellow officers were too angry to respond to the gospel immediately following the attack, a feeling he admitted sharing: “I was angry that mankind would do this to one another, but then I was reminded that the Bible says man’s heart is desperately wicked.”
Since previous discussions with co-workers had earned him a reputation as “the pastor,” several officers came to him with questions.
“What is most important to me,” he explains, “is not so much how I present the gospel but that I live it out, to let these people know that what I say, I mean. God is real.”
That same belief in a real God sent actor Judson Morgan running from his apartment Tuesday morning over to St. Vincent’s Hospital to help, eventually landing him down at Ground Zero. Under the direction of an Army captain, Judson supervised food service for rescue workers out of a burned-out Burger King across from One Liberty Plaza.
Judson spent the next six days and nights helping. On Monday, he spoke at a meeting sponsored by Haven, a ministry to actors and artists that is part of Campus Crusade’s Priority Associates. Judson, who regularly attends Haven meetings, described his experiences and asked for prayer for his new comrades.
Admittedly still in shock and questioning the meaning of everyday life, the tired and tearful actor pointed to a powerful reminder of God’s presence. There, in the chaos, Judson experienced God at Ground Zero when someone from the Red Cross served Communion.
“Right there in the back of Burger King, which is completely blown out and dusty and gross,” Judson says, “he served me Communion.”
Surrounded by death, the young actor remembered the sacrifice of Jesus. Not only was his Savior present at Ground Zero, but Christ understood the weight and burden of death even more than Judson could imagine.
“A week ago today,” Judson recalled to his peers, “I was standing in front of Haven talking about dying, how to die is to gain. That sounds profound now."