Beauty From Ashes

Read how there is beauty in from the ashes of 9/11, and see how Calvary Chapel's responded to it.
Many Calvary Chapel ministries have arrised from the ashes of September 11th

A Christian Response to September 11th

Early on a cold Sunday morning after the devastating attack on the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001, a fireman at Ground Zero watched as the relief agencies assisted the workers.

“One of the young ladies from a Calvary Chapel in San Diego told me she wished she could help,” the fireman said. “The woman came all the way from California to make sure I had lunch. She wants to do something? Tell her she already has.

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“Christians were willing to fly, take vacation time, drive, whatever it took to go and serve food to the workers in New York,” said Erika Klundt, coordinator for the crisis center at Ground Zero. “They just wanted to be there to serve, listen to their stories, give hugs, and pray with them.”

If there was one consensus from the police, firemen, and construction workers, it was that they will be forever grateful for the Christian community’s commitment to their physical, emotional, and most importantly, spiritual well-being.

Masses of people journeyed to New York throughout the year. The vast majority were evangelical Christians, especially when the tragedy began to fade from the media. Mike Finizio, the pastor of Harvest Christian Fellowship in Manhattan, remembered that the response from the Christian community was overwhelming. “It became a full-time ministry for us to coordinate the Calvary Chapels from across the country that came to minister and help. We thought it would slow down when the weather got cold, but they kept coming, several hundred each week.”

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In the days following September 11th, churches throughout the U.S. saw a groundswell in attendance—people who had not been churchgoers sought meaning after the senseless tragedy, and Christians everywhere felt a need to be in fellowship with other believers.

Pastor Joe Focht, CC Philadelphia, said, “Because of New York City’s close proximity to us in Philadelphia, the tragedy gave us an incredible nearby mission field. We trained over 400 people from our fellowship to go to New York. They journeyed there many times over a six-month period to participate in a wide variety of ministries. They helped at the Billy Graham Prayer Center, participated in street witnessing teams, and assisted the American Red Cross, the Salvation Army, feeding and respite centers, as well as the morgue. We gave away 5,000 of our Comfort CD which was created to minister to the broken and hurting.” The event even affected them locally as the church made contact with the Philadelphia fire and police departments as well as the Red Cross to help facilitate programs for chaplains. CC Philadelphia began working with the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association to train believers to become officially sanctioned chaplains. “When another tragedy happens, we wanted to be in a position to be able to minister to hurting people on the front line.”

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Pastor Lloyd Pulley, CC Old Bridge, NJ, voiced his remembrances, “There had been some leveling off from that initial burst in attendance; overall we have seen a higher dedication and involvement in the church since the tragedy.” Lloyd sensed that the Lord brought lasting beauty to that body of believers. “The fellowship understood its place is on the front lines; that we can’t be about business as usual when people are hurting.”

He also sensed a difference in the church’s overall approach to sharing the Gospel. “Many times as believers we feel beaten down in our witness, we are worried about what people think of us, and we feel weak. Now, we understand far better who we are in Christ. We have authority to share the Gospel, and that has clarified the role of our church.”

Pastor Joe Paskewich, CC Eastern Connecticut, remembered, “We arrived in New York two days after the attacks. We found ourselves ministering at the Family Assistance Center that day where people were coming to look for their loved ones and filing missing person’s reports with the New York City detectives.” Joe asked their men’s ministry leader, Al Serino, to join them but bring water and Gospel literature. “It began a ministry in New York we called ‘Willing Hearts, Helping Hands,’” said Joe. By February the ministry had hosted over 1,500 people. “We learned that God can orchestrate and mobilize a huge army of volunteers in a very short amount of time,” continued Joe. “Seeing the Body of Christ in action was nothing short of miraculous. Everywhere you went in New York City, you met people from Calvary Chapels across the country.”

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Finishing the Race

A story of God’s work through Al and Jean Braca

Just one month shy of her 33rd wedding anniversary, Jean suffered first-hand the tragedy of September 11th, 2001. Her husband, Al Braca, a trader for Cantor Fitzgerald, was in his office on the 104th Floor of One World Trade Center when a plane struck the building in the floors below him.

Cut off from known escape routes and understanding the gravity of the situation, Al led his co-workers in prayer and encouraged them to trust in God alone at the hour of their death, as cellular phone messages would later recount.

After the tragedy, the testimony of Al’s life and death inspired countless people. “None of it surprised me,” said Jean, a year later. “That is just who Al was. He always encouraged me to share my faith, and he lived what he preached, even to the end.” Al was a very active elder and deacon at Calvary Chapel Four Winds, NJ.

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From September 11th and until Jean’s death in October of 2014, the Lord gave her remarkable opportunities to share her message, which, she explained, “is about two things–bringing people to Christ, and encouraging those who already know Him to walk by faith, as Al did.” During her first visit to Ground Zero, she had one such opportunity. Jean felt strongly led by the Lord to go to New York and serve those who continued to toil in the recovery and cleanup efforts. Many of the officers she met there knew about Al from an article in Calvary Chapel Magazine, and one officer came up to her, expressing grief. “The Lord opened the door for me to share the Gospel with him, and he received Christ right there,” Jean recounted. She explained that this is precisely why the Lord allowed her family to endure Al’s death–so that others, like this officer, might experience God’s grace and love.

Jean reminisced, “I was driving home once and saw a woman sitting near a statue at a local church. As I drove by, the Lord grabbed hold of my heart and told me to turn around and return to her. As I approached, I saw she was crying, and I asked her to share her story with me. Her daughter was in trouble. There was a history of abuse, and just so much pain. I shared about my loss and God’s abundant grace. I then asked her if she wanted to receive Jesus. She did.” Jean felt her family was chosen for a ministry–to encourage the brethren after the WTC tragedy. After learning that Al perished when the Towers crumbled, Jean said later, she made a conscious choice to cling to God and remain faithful to Him. She knew that Al Braca’s ministry continued long after his death.