Ministry in the Midst of Tragedy
The way that publications schedules work, our October and November newsletters were already completed before the events of September 11. Thank you for your prayers for our missionaries in the aftermath of these tragic events. None of our staff in Washington, D.C. or New York was harmed. Like you, we have all been dealing with shock and grief. Mitch Forman and Karol Joseph, who co-lead our New York branch, kept us informed of life and ministry there following the hijack/bombings. We thought you might appreciate the following snatches of their perspective.
Tuesday, September 11: Like everyone else, we were stunned by the news and had difficulty believing what had happened. During the morning, our staff alternately gathered for prayer, and then around the television to try to keep up with what was happening in our nation and particularly in our city. In the afternoon, we gathered again for prayer and God’s direction. After we prayed a few of us felt the need to be on the streets. We have been on the streets for over 25 years, and decided we needed to be on the streets now.
Because of the seriousness of the situation, we felt our lighthearted, usually whimsical gospel tracts would not be appropriate at this time. We decided to write a message titled Fear Not, New York” as we tried to help people find God in the midst of the tragedy. We quoted Psalm 46:1-4, and all went out on the streets. The streets were full of people, yet the mood was very quiet. We walked around our neighborhood and decided to ask if the local hospitals could use our help as well. We have four hospitals located within ten blocks of our center. They were all overcrowded and couldn’t use our help that day. As we walked by the local firehouse, we gathered with some of the local firemen. We prayed for them and went on our way, trying to minister to people in our city. As we walked, we realized that things were not going to be the same for a long time.
Wednesday, September 12: We gathered for prayer in the morning and were seeking the Lord’s direction as to what we could do. The city was empty. I have never seen New York so lonely. There were no people on the streets and none of the usual hustle or bustle. We sent out a team to investigate if we could volunteer and gave our names to the local hospitals and Red Cross. However, no doors seemed to be open for us. It was apparent to us that what the Lord wanted us to do was be on the streets. We re-gathered for prayer at the end of the day, and asked the Lord to bless us, bless those who were being affected by all of this, and bless our firefighters and policemen, who were working frantically to rescue those who might still be alive.
Thursday, September 13: We all hit the streets first thing in the morning. We wanted to greet New Yorkers who were coming back to the city with an encouraging word from the Lord. A third of the city was still shut down, but we managed to go to most populated areas to minister. We had teams at Penn Station, Grand Central Station and Times Square. Our message of “Fear Not, New York” was needed by many who feared further attacks. They received the tract with gratitude. We regathered after the morning for more prayers and time together as a staff.
After lunch, we heard that President Bush was declaring Friday a day of prayer. We wanted to be part of that by offering people a prayer that might help them to call on the Lord during this time, so we created a tract called “A Prayer for Today.” We quoted Job 5:8-11.
In the evening, the city had a prayer vigil and a few of us went down there. It was a night of unity and peace—people wanting peace, but having no idea where it comes from. We handed out some of our literature there and had some very interesting conversations.
Friday, September 14: I wanted to let you know how things are here in New York, and how you can be continuing to pray for us here in the City. Yesterday (Thursday) was the first day people were beginning to return to work, so we were out for both the morning and evening sorties (tract passing expeditions) proclaiming safety in Yeshua (Jesus), with the “Fear Not, New York” pamphlet. Most everyone met with receptive people. I say “most everyone” because I encountered several people who were exceptionally angry. One man came and stood screaming in my ear that I should burn in hell. He had lost two people in the World Trade Center. I can still feel the intensity of his anger as I write to you. As he left, of course God sent a wonderful Christian woman to encourage me…
Since President Bush declared today a National Day of Prayer, we came in at 6:30 A.M. to print 4,000 copies of “A Prayer for Today.” We also changed our window display to include memorial candles and Psalm 23 as well as a banner reading “We mourn with those who mourn.” And of course the window is always clearly marked, “Jews for Jesus.”
People are all still stunned and a bit frightened to ride the subways again— there were something like 90 bomb threats during the day, with evacuations in Grand Central Station, the Empire State Building and many other places—so it felt really good to be handing out this particular message.
Perhaps the way to explain how it is to minister here these days is that it’s like trying to officiate at a funeral of someone you love. You primarily want to help people with their grief and to direct their attention to God for comfort and hope—yet you are also part of the grieving community. I have fluctuated many times between being the minister and caring for others, and dissolving into tears myself at the intensity of the pain and grief all around me.
It’s been raining here today, so we went into the subways for our morning sortie and the “A Prayer for Today” pamphlet was very well received. At noon some went into the subways again, but Josh Sofaer and I went to pray around the armory, where people who have lost loved ones are gathering. Inside are mental health workers and others to care for the grieving; outside on the wall, people have put up photos of those who are missing. We stood in the rain still handing out our literature to those coming to the walls. One Asian woman, Marie, came up to me and asked if I would pray for her missing roommate. After I prayed, a wave of emotion came over me and the two of us just hugged and cried together. It’s been kind of like that for the past two days.
We’re about to go out again at 3:00 this afternoon, and then tonight we’ll gather at the Sofaer’s place for Shabbat dinner and a time to pray and unwind. Needless to say, this has been the most draining week of ministry for most of us on staff here. I feel totally exhausted after just an hour or so on the street. So we’ve spent a lot of time just ministering to each other as a staff, too. We’ve been gathering generally twice a day to pray for a half hour before going out each time. Some have had to stay back or rest during a sortie rather than going out. Some of our younger staff in particular have had a difficult time finding their place of ministry in the midst of this crisis.
God is really using this situation in our own lives. We continue to need wisdom and sensitivity to be able to come up with the right messages to bring to the streets.
We are so grateful for all of your continued prayers for us—we totally feel undergirded!
Still Friday, September 14: This evening we hit the streets again for a late afternoon sortie before Shabbat. We went to the major subway stops and greeted people with our prayer tract before they went home. I wish I could say we talked to lots of people on the streets, but that is not true. Many were stunned, and it just seemed everyone was trying to deal with this thing in their own way.
Sunday, September 16: Many of us had been scheduled to speak in churches. My wife, Kina, and I went to a supporting church about two hours from the city. It was our first time away from the intensity and it was actually good to get away and spend time with some very special friends. I preached from Ezekiel 33—being prepared to preach the message even in the midst of tragedy. Pastor Dave and his wife have ministered to us over the years, and again they opened up their home to us to relax after the service. Later in the afternoon Pastor Dave and I went apple picking and it got me thinking as I was looking over this huge field, ripe with apples, that the harvest of the Lord is just like this. Jews for Jesus has sowed millions of gospel tracts in New York over the last 25 years. Pray that many might be ripe right now.
Wednesday, September 19: The financial sector of the city reopened. Wall Street is only a few blocks from the World Trade Center, so for many people it was their first glimpse of Ground Zero. We decided to go there together, our whole New York staff, hoping to have some closure on our feelings. I felt like I was at a wake as we walked along the five blocks of destruction.
The WTC had always been a great paradox to me, and one that I had grown to love—a beautiful place with thousands of people, but not many open to the gospel. I had made many evangelistic efforts there over the years. In the mornings, huge crowds flooded in from the trains and subways into the center. Imagine 12 escalators carrying thousands and thousands of people every minute to their places of work. It wasn’t the easiest place to hand out tracts or talk to people, but missionary life is sometimes like that. Over the years I prayed for those who had seen and talked to us there.
I also had many one-on-one visits at the Towers. There used to be a huge courtyard in the middle of the Towers where thousands would gather to eat, talk and just sit. That courtyard was one of my favorite places to visit people, and over the years I met with all kinds of Jewish people—from Orthodox to secular to fellow Jewish believers in Jesus. One of my special friends worked in Tower 7. We had many Bible studies together in that courtyard. Peter had just moved to Florida a few months earlier, so he is okay. My prayer is for the others I shared with there, and for the tens of thousands of people who have taken our tracts there over the years—that somehow, they remembered and believed the message in time.
These have been unbelievable weeks of ministry that stretched me more than any other time of my ministry life, but I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else. I believe the Lord has me here for such a time as this.
The staff have sensed a real hunger for the Word and for the Lord at this time. They ordered 2,500 books titled Peace with God by Billy Graham to distribute along with the new tracts they have been writing.