If you were alive on September 11, 2001 I am pretty you remember where you were. I was living and working at an urban ministry in Waco, Texas. We were having a staff meeting when someone came in and said a plane had crashed into one of the towers in New York. Not sure what was happening, the leader of the urban ministry just continued the staff meeting.
When the staff meeting was over and sensing the gravity of the moment, a bunch of us jumped on our computers and we began to take in that something more than a random air tragedy was happening. We then found a TV and watched the horrible events unfold. We sent out word to many people in our community as well as to my wife Marti’s co-workers and friends and at noon that day we spent an hour in prayer.
Like most other folks we knew, the rest of the day we were glued to news coverage of this unprecedented tragedy. We watched in disbelief. Like most other folks, we knew instantly that the world had changed forever.
I knew at the time that war would be inevitable and while I am always going to lean towards peace I also understood the national shock and anger at what had transpired. In fact, though I certainly was not a supporter of President Bush, I actually pushed back against several emails I received from friends of mine who, merely hours after the full carnage of 9/11 was made known, were urging action be taken against any response made by President Bush. I told them I thought their activism was uncalled for at that moment in time. There was immediate grief by the nation as a whole and comfort was needed more than protest.
Months later, I was concerned when the United States invaded Afghanistan, but I also understood the national anger about what had happened and how the Taliban had given shelter to people our government had labeled terrorists. But it was in March when I visited Atlanta with a group of college students that my life was just as changed as it had been on September 11.
The World Relief office in Atlanta had created a “refugee simulation” modeled after the poverty simulation I ran in Waco at that time and I took a group of Baylor students to experience the simulation. It was a powerful week, but one evening truly changed my life and many of the lives of the students.
One evening we visited an Afghan family who made an authentic Afghan dinner for us and then told us their story all the while, in the background, we watched the US forces invade this family’s home country on CNN. As the son translated the words of his father, his dad told us how they had been persecuted by the government because they were Christian and were forced to flee after he sustained injuries from the soldiers’ beatings that left him unable to work. HIs wife worked full time and he felt useless.
It is hard to describe how surreal it was to listen to this man’s painful story while US troops were flooding across his home country. We all felt such empathy for this man whose life and country had been taken from him, but considering it was the government who did this to him I was thinking that perhaps the US invasion was justified.
Then someone asked him if he was glad the US was invading Afghanistan and replacing the Taliban government – the ones we believed had persecuted him for his faith – with the Northern Alliance, part of which was made up of prior government and military leaders. The father told us it was not the Taliban who had persecuted him for being a Christian; it was the prior government. The same people our country was working with to reinstall back into power.
I was stunned. That evening, hearing that gentle man’s story, meeting his beautiful family, and eating the amazing dinner they had made for us, radicalized me against the invasion of Afghanistan and later, against the illegal invasion of Iraq, which had absolutely nothing to do with 9/11.
9/11 presented the people of the United States with heartache and suffering we had not felt in over a generation. There were no easy answers in responding to 9/11 and the tragedy of the first twenty years of this century is that our country only tried easy, one-size-fits-all answers. Frankly, it is hard to identify the larger tragedy – the 9/11 attacks, or the mindless acts of blind vengeance in response.
And we continue to deal with the consequences of both. I am not sure we have ever collectively grieved 9/11 and I know we have not collectively repented of the baseless wars wage