Leading Souls to Christ as the Towers Burned

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Al-Braca-Headshot

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Leading Souls to Christ as the Towers Burned

Story by Christmas Beeler

Al Braca, a bond trader with Cantor Fitzgerald and an elder at his local Calvary Chapel, was on the 104th floor when the towers were hit. Gleaning information from his family, coworkers, and multiple reports that came in, this article tells the story of his last day on earth, and his first day in heaven. May we all be encouraged by his legacy for the Lord. His beloved wife, Jeanie, joined him in heaven 13 years later. I had the privilege of writing their story in the book, Beauty from Ashes, in partnership with Jeanie and with permission from her family. This excerpt is from the first chapter.

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With his salt-and-pepper hair combed back neatly from his friendly, olive-skinned face, Al Braca paused at his work—perched high atop the New York skyline in the World Trade Center at Cantor Fitzgerald. He could see the heart of Manhattan from his desk; it was a sunny, clear morning with blue skies—September 11, 2001. He had paused from his work as a bond trader to savor a private thought of his wife Jeanie.

His office and his home were two different worlds. He was always aware of the ungodliness around him and prayed constantly for himself and his coworkers. He had been the brunt of many jokes—derisively called “The Rev” because of his pure lifestyle. Once he had turned on his computer to find that someone had loaded it with pornographic images. Embarrassed, he had deleted them as his coworkers hooted with laughter. Another time, for his birthday, they had given him a cake with obscene decorations on it.

As a follower of Jesus Christ, Al was grieved by these things but tried hard to be an example without appearing holier-than-thou. He didn’t preach but made it clear that he would not join his coworkers to go drinking or to strip clubs. He never tried to hide that he was deeply committed to his wife, his family, and his Lord.

He didn’t despise his coworkers; rather, their lifestyles broke his heart. He and Jeanie had spent hours praying for his colleagues. He couldn’t help but pray—hearing about their marriages in trouble, their affairs, the burdens of their souls, their addictions. Many times a coworker had approached him in private to ask for counsel or prayer for a struggling marriage or a seriously ill family member. Al would always listen with compassion and pray; often he would share how Jesus Christ had changed his life. Over and over, he told men that the riches and power and women of this life would never satisfy them. He shared that Jesus Christ died to set them free from sin and give them a truly abundant life following Himself—an eternal life.

Suddenly, that morning on 9/11, a terrible boom vibrated through the building.

People jumped out of their seats and ran to the windows. Flames and smoke billowed up from below. Some of them remembered 1993, when a truck bomb below the North Tower had caused quite a scare—evacuating both of the Twin Towers, killing six people, and injuring thousands more.

Nervous voices tried to stay calm as people asked, “What’s going on?”

“What was that—a bomb?”

Al did not panic, but he began to pray. They waited for news, but no word came. The flames were getting bigger, the smoke thicker. People started to comment that the air was getting warm in the office. A growing fear began rising in Al’s mind that something was terribly wrong. Suddenly, another awful boom sounded—this time farther away—and they all saw with horror that the second tower was on fire. Voices began to rise; people were starting to panic.

Looking around the room, Al felt the Holy Spirit speak to his heart.

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He knew clearly that God was calling him to minister to his coworkers in the midst of this strange battle. He realized that they all might die, and if so, this would be his last chance to share the Gospel with them. Maybe now, with death staring them in the face, they would listen. Maybe now—when money could not help them, when there was nowhere else to go—they would turn to God. With a quiet urgency and supernatural confidence, Al walked to the middle of the room and climbed on top of a desk.

He looked out at his coworkers. Some of them were crying; some of them were pale with fear. Some had been pacing near the windows, waiting for a rescue. Everyone stopped and looked up at Al.

Praying a silent prayer, Al said loudly and clearly, “I’m going to heaven—who’s coming with me?”

Several gathered around him. They were listening now. There were no jeers, no smirks. All eyes were fixed hungrily on him. As Al spoke, one of the men called his home to leave a message that Al was leading them in prayer. Another person sent a similar message to a loved one through email as the Towers burned.

With love and urgency, Al shared that even though every person has sinned, Jesus Christ paid for the sins of all by dying on the cross in their place. If they would accept Christ as their Lord and Savior now, repent of their sins, and entrust their souls fully to Him, He would forgive their sins and grant them entrance to heaven. All they had to do was believe, truly believe, and turn to Christ. “Pray with me,” Al said. Heads around him bowed; some prayed aloud, some silently. He urged them to trust in Jesus.

The room was getting hotter, filling with smoke. People were coughing; everyone was sweating.

Al realized that he was going to see his Savior that day. His heart broke as he thought of his beloved Jeanie and their children—all grown except their youngest, still in high school. He picked up a phone but couldn’t get through: The lines were all jammed. Praying for help, he dialed “0” and got an MCI operator.

His voice husky from breathing in smoke, he said, “You’ve got to help me. My name is Al Braca. I’m in the World Trade Center, and I need you to get a message to my wife and family.” The lady operator sounded alarmed but agreed to take his message; her name was Wilma.

Urgently, Al said, “I feel like my feet are on fire. I’m not going to make it. Will you tell my family that I love them? Tell my wife Jeanie and my children that I love them. Tell them not to worry about me.”

He could hear Wilma crying. “Promise me that you’ll tell my wife Jeanie.” She agreed to tell his family.

Coughing from the smoke, Al gave her Jeanie’s name and home phone number and had her repeat it back to him. They had to get this message. He wanted them to know that he loved them, that they were on his mind in his last moments, and that he knew he was going home to be with the Lord Jesus. She promised again to relay his message. They talked for a few seconds more, and then the line went dead. I’m coming home, Lord, he prayed. Smoke filled the room, then his lungs; he passed out. A few hours later, the Twin Towers collapsed.

 

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Jeanie and Al Braca, July 2001

A month after 9/11, Jeanie Braca was still trying to pick up the pieces of her life without her beloved husband Al. Her Lord and Savior Jesus Christ had been with her each step of the way, mercifully answering prayers—like finding Al’s body fully intact, a miracle in itself, that gave her closure. She had asked the Lord to help her walk through this and give Him glory. He gave her the comfort she needed as she stayed in His Word daily and listened to worship music. That day, the phone rang.

Jeanie recalled, “An MCI [telephone] operator got in touch with me with a message from Al. She said he had told her that the building was very hot, and he knew he was dying. He wanted us to know that he loved us and that he was all right.”

Other reports came in. At Al’s memorial service, Jeanie learned that one of Al’s coworkers had left a message on his parents’ answering machine before the building collapsed, saying that people had gathered in a circle and “Al Braca is praying with us.”

God used these reports to encourage Jeanie that her husband’s death had not been in vain, and that he died full of faith and leading others to Christ. Jeanie and her children grieved the loss of their father, drawing closer to Christ and to each other. God brought many believers to minister to them through phone calls, letters, and visits.

Jeanie stayed faithful as a prayer warrior and encourager until her passing in October of 2014 at age 66. Her family believes that she is in heaven with Al, where they are praising the Lord together.

 

Beauty from Ashes by Christmas Beeler, is available at Calvary Distribution, Amazon, and Barnes and Noble.

 

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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