Lloyd Pulley’s Memories of 9/11

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Looking Back 20 Years: Lloyd Pulley’s Memories of 9/11

Story by Lloyd Pulley, senior pastor of Calvary Chapel Old Bridge, NJ
Photos by Tom Price unless otherwise noted

In this story, Lloyd Pulley, senior pastor of Calvary Chapel Old Bridge, NJ, shares his memories of responding to the tragic events of September 11, 2001. Lloyd was among many Calvary Chapel pastors and believers who ministered to hurting first responders and citizens after that unforgettable day.

Follow Calvary Chapel Magazine for more stories about 9/11.

 

When Tragedy Struck

On the morning of September 11, 2001, tragedy struck New York City as the reality of terrorism pierced through the fragile and proud belief system that America was safe. At 8:46 a.m., the World Trade Center’s North Tower was hit by a hijacked plane, and 17 minutes later the South Tower was hit by another one.

In the days of Jeremiah the prophet, the nation of Israel was wondering how God could ever discipline them. He had pronounced judgment and doom upon the people, warning them of an invading army, and yet they scoffed and mocked in disbelief. But that’s exactly what happened—God used Babylon, a bitter, hasty, and cruel nation, to chasten His people.

Twenty years have passed since we woke up to this world-changing event. That day is one forever etched in my mind. We were gathered for our church staff meeting and received a call informing us of what was happening. We turned on the TV just as the second plane struck. I can recall saying to all who were there: “Today our ministry has changed. No more business as usual.” We pooled all of our resources and focused all our efforts on ministering to the hurting, both within and outside the church.

 

A Thousand Souls

A former Israeli army captain and tour guide, Amir Tsarfati, came that same day as we were to be on a previously arranged talk show discussing terrorism. En route, it was surreal seeing the smoke floating away from the site of the attack, and I commented, “There go the remains of a thousand souls.” By Thursday, two days later, we had made our way to Ground Zero. It was a gray, smoldering cemetery. Brave first responders digging through the rubble were limited by the intense heat. Quickly we realized that the real ministry was with the displaced lower Manhattan masses of people who were now wandering around Union Square Park. Along with those who had erected memorials commemorating their loss, were those who had actually survived the destruction.

 

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“We ministered to tens of thousands mourning in Union Square, having lost a loved one or knowing someone who had died. We listened to countless accounts of people’s firsthand experiences while bringing encouragement from the Bible. The Gospel was well received when it came from a tender heart willing to listen to the brokenhearted sharing their stories.” — Lloyd Pulley

Reaching the Multitudes One at a Time

It was late at night, but Union Square Park was teeming with people despite the hour. Mourners continued to pour in and out 24 hours a day. Pictures of the missing, along with sympathy cards for those lost in the World Trade Center, lined the walkways. A somber atmosphere prevailed throughout the park. Candles burned everywhere—a silent vigil bearing witness to the gruesome reality that had just befallen this great city.

As I took in the scene, I noticed a man sitting alone on a park bench with his leg in a cast, and I felt drawn to speak to him. So, despite all that was going on around me, I walked over and introduced myself to him. His name was Francis. I asked if he had been in the World Trade Center. He said he had worked there and was in his office on the morning of 9/11. And then he was quiet. I sat down next to him and waited a moment before asking if he would share his experience with me.

Francis worked on the 26th floor of one of the towers. He was going about his normal routine on that morning when a violent explosion rocked the skyscraper. At the time he had no idea what was happening, but he knew that he needed to get out of the building as quickly as possible. He started to make his way down the crowded staircase, but before he could safely escape, the building began to collapse. Steel and debris rained down all around him, and thick smoke hampered his ability to see or breathe. In the end, his leg was broken, but he was still alive. The worst part of Francis’ harrowing experience was not his broken leg, but the brokenness he felt in his heart. His world had come crashing down along with the building that day. Thousands were killed in that brief moment, yet for some reason his life was spared. Like so many others who lived through that awful tragedy, he could not make sense of it all.

As I listened to him recount the events of that fateful day, I could see the deep sorrow of his soul reflected in his eyes as he relived each moment. When he ended his story with a heavy sigh, I told him that I wanted to help him come to terms with some of his questions and to understand the depth of God’s love and provision for him. Afterwards, I thought how different our meeting would have been if I had just walked over to Francis and handed him a Christian tract. If I had approached him with some clever scripted dialogue, instead of taking the time to listen to his story, it would not have had the same effect. Francis would have never known that I truly cared about him, and more importantly, that God knew and cared about what he was going through. After I left the park that night, I realized that just as the Holy Spirit had led Jesus to meet the Samaritan woman at the well in the Book of John, Chapter 4, He had also led me to meet Francis at a bench in Union Square Park.

We ministered to tens of thousands mourning in Union Square, having lost a loved one or knowing someone who had died. We listened to countless accounts of people's firsthand experiences while bringing encouragement from the Bible. The Gospel was well received when it came from a tender heart willing to listen to the brokenhearted sharing their stories. Thousands responded to the Gospel in those ensuing weeks. It was the personal ministry that made all the difference in the lives of those we encountered; out of this experience came my book, Everyday Conversations, Eternal Impact, originally titled Patient Evangelism.

 

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Pastor Lloyd Pulley speaks at the PNC Arts Center in New Jersey in October 2001. Hosted by Calvary Chapel (CC) Old Bridge, NJ., this was one the few memorial services that was not sponsored by the government; around 3,000 people attended and heard the Goods News of Jesus Christ. Photo by Kyle Simon, courtesy CC Old Bridge, NJ

Remembering Those Lost

The next week we coordinated a major memorial at PNC Arts Center in New Jersey. Many of those who had lost loved ones in the attack attended. Lisa Beamer, the wife of the man who organized to bring down the plane in Pennsylvania, was there and a young Chris Braca, who shared of his dad’s evangelizing his co-workers and calling to say goodbye, [while] trapped in the top of the North Tower. A young NYU student, Andy Deane, shared how he was a block away when the second tower fell and was dramatically used to assist in the rescue of many trapped in the smoke and debris. (He eventually became a youth leader, later a Bible College director, and is now a pastor.) Mike MacIntosh, who helped many of us get credentials to work with the Red Cross and visit Ground Zero, gave the Gospel message. Among those thousands, there were many who responded to that call.

 

An Example to Live By

As I was studying John 4 while ministering in New York City after 9/11, I felt like I had stepped into the story. I was one of His disciples traveling into Samaria and marveling at the unusual sight of Jesus speaking to an outcast woman. I was awed by His example. This story continues to inspire me today. It is a rare glimpse into Jesus’ personal style of evangelism, and a wonderful picture of how He walked among the people of His day. We can learn much from observing the Master and His ways.

One lesson we learn from Jesus in this encounter with the woman at the well is not to lose sight of the powerful impact of one-on-one ministry. That is the heart of evangelism because it is the heart of our Savior. In these days of organized outreaches, ministry teams, budgets, and time constraints, there are enormous pressures in the Christian world to “get results.” Sadly, many of our ministries have succumbed to this pressure and have become professional, performance-driven operations. This shift in emphasis has resulted in many individuals being overlooked, or even worse, turned off by what they perceive as pushy, self-serving Christianity.

Sowing into the lives of individuals is the thrust of true effective evangelism and outreach. Don’t lose sight of the importance of sharing your faith with those God has placed right in your path. Don’t make the mistake of thinking that what you are doing to win souls for the Kingdom is somehow insignificant compared to the efforts of others. Evangelists such as Billy and Franklin Graham, Greg Laurie, and Raul Ries, to name a few, would be the first to tell you that it is the personal influence of Christians in the lives of individuals that lays the groundwork for every crusade. Without those who are diligently plowing, sowing, and watering in the fields, harvest times at these types of crusades would never be successful.

 

Twenty Years Later

Years ago, Calvary Chapel Magazine did a feature on the Christian response to 9/11. In this article I was quoted as saying, “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.”

But do many still understand now, years later?

That hedge of protection which God lifted momentarily [during 9/11] would have hopefully caused us to take an honest look at ourselves. There was a national cry for a short moment, but it was largely not unto God. We had an opportune time to reevaluate our lives and get right with Him, looking for His mercy and truth. Instead, our mourning was quickly deflected into seeking revenge.

How far have we drifted from God as a nation since September 11, 2001?

What once looked like a pivotal moment of turning back to God has actually revealed how far we have gone in the opposite direction.

Perhaps God is warning America again, turning up the heat to lead us to repentance. Perhaps His kindness in withholding absolute judgment will lead us to repent. In the past, God allowed locusts to invade, getting His people’s attention so that judgment would be averted. Instead of locusts, we have seen an invasion of the coronavirus, political tension, racial issues, LGBTQ+ identity confusion and indoctrination, and natural disasters. These painful times are forerunners to the final trumpet, calling all everywhere to “repent and believe in the Lord Jesus Christ for the remission of your sins.”

“They sow the wind,” the prophet Hosea expressed, “and reap the whirlwind” (Hosea 8:7a). In the last 20 years we have seen a steep moral decline among the populace, as well as among leaders—both in the Church and in the secular world. Many in the Church have not modeled a life transformed by God, but rather have compromised with the culture, not boldly speaking the truth in love.

What the world most needs is the love of Christ and the example of Christ demonstrated by those who bear His name. Oh, as Paul said, that we would walk worthy of the calling with which you were called (Ephesians 4:1b). That by the power of His Spirit, we would see those we encounter to become radically changed and influenced for eternity—by being all we can be in Christ.

A.W. Tozer once said, “The Church's mightiest influence is felt when she is different from the world in which she lives.”

 

All verses above are quoted from the New King James Version, unless otherwise noted.

© 2020 Calvary Chapel Magazine (CCM). All rights reserved. Articles or photographs may not be reproduced without the written permission of CCM. All Scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the New King James Version. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc.® Used by permission.

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