Friday, September 11, 2009
9/11 Anniversary Experiences
(photos & info from pgs 8-12 of the 2003 Yearbook)
The World Trade Center Disaster: The graduation of the 111th class of the Watchtower Bible School of Gilead was held on Saturday, September 8, 2001. Three days later, on September 11, graduates and their families were touring New York City, in the United States. That day began warm and beautiful with clear, blue skies. Then, at 8:46 a.m., a commercial jet crashed into the World Trade Center north tower in lower Manhattan. Minutes later another commercial jet slammed into the south tower. At 9:59 a.m., the south tower collapsed, sending a dense cloud of dust and debris throughout lower Manhattan. After that, the north tower collapsed. Nearly three thousand people died. Each tower, completed in 1973, was 110 stories high. Thick dust from the collapse of both buildings was carried on the wind and reached Brooklyn Bethel, less than two miles [less than three kilometers] away.
Brothers at the United States branch office immediately began to find out which Witnesses had been affected by this terrible tragedy and what assistance might be needed. By Tuesday evening, September 11, the Bethel family members from all three Bethel complexes—Brooklyn, Patterson, and Wallkill—had been accounted for. By Thursday afternoon all of the Gilead graduates had communicated with the Gilead Office, confirming that they and their families were safe. Meanwhile, 37 circuit overseers in the New York area were reached by telephone. They contacted the congregation elders, and the elders checked on each publisher. By Friday morning, September 14, the branch had learned that 14 of our brothers and sisters were either dead or missing. That figure never changed in the days to come.
Survivors related their experiences. Cynthia Tucker, a regular pioneer, worked in the World Financial Center across the street from the World Trade Center. She was on the 37th floor when she saw the first jet crash into the tower. Believing this to be a terrible accident, she went outside and looked up at the building that the plane had hit. Debris was everywhere. Then another plane flew overhead, very low. Sister Tucker said: “The plane was huge. I realized that it was going to crash into the building. I wanted to run, but I just froze—I did not know what to do. The plane seemed to go right through the building. The noise was so loud that it was like being underwater; I felt the sound. The air was heavy and seemed to have sand in it. Breathing was difficult. People were running in every direction. I ran into a building and watched as the first tower came down. People were taking off their shirts to cover their faces because of the dust. People with children and pets came out of the buildings. Everyone was terrified. Even the animals were not acting normally. I cannot describe the fear.” Sister Tucker is grateful for the help of the elders who came and shared with her soothing words of comfort from the Bible.
In the months that followed, the brothers in the New York area took the Bible’s message of comfort and hope to those in the community. Several brothers were allowed to minister at Ground Zero, the site where the Twin Towers collapsed. One of these brothers was Roy Klingsporn, a pioneer. He said: “With appreciation, an air force sergeant who was involved with the relief work said: ‘Everyone brings us food, hot coffee, and dry clothes, but you are the first to read a scripture. We need God at a time like this.’”
(The following info is from the article featured in the 1/8/02 Awake! )
Support and Compassion From Many Parts
Volunteers came from other parts of the United States as well as from other countries. One such volunteer was Tom, aged 29, a fire fighter from Ottawa, Canada. He told Awake!: “I saw the events on TV and wanted to give moral support to my brother fire fighters in New York. I drove down on Friday and went to Ground Zero on Saturday to offer my help. I was put in the so-called bucket brigade, moving out debris bucket by bucket.
“We slowly sifted through the rubble, a shovelful at a time, looking for items that might be clues to the identity of fallen firemen. I found a Halligan tool used to open locked doors, as well as couplings from a hose. It was painstaking toil. With about 50 volunteers, it took two hours to fill one dump truck. “On Monday, September 17, we pulled out the bodies of some fire fighters who had rushed into the building on the previous Tuesday. I will never forget that scene—all the rescue workers stopped working, took off their hard hats and helmets, and stood—out of respect for our fallen colleagues. “As I was standing viewing the scene at Ground Zero, I was struck with how fragile life is today. It made me reflect on my life, my job, my family. Regardless of the risks, my job is very rewarding—being able to help people and even save lives.”
Witnesses Offer Practical Help
The first two days of the disaster, about 70 people sought refuge at the world headquarters of Jehovah’s Witnesses. Some who had lost their hotel rooms and luggage were given a place to stay and replacement clothing. They were fed. Perhaps more important, they were given emotional support by experienced Christian elders. Jehovah’s Witnesses also sent needed emergency equipment and supplies for the search-and-rescue crews working at what came to be called Ground Zero. Transportation was also made available to the fire department to get fire fighters to the rescue area. Ricardo, a 39-year-old Witness and sanitation worker, was involved, along with hundreds of others, in removing tons of debris day after day. He told Awake!: “The sights were very stressful, especially for fire fighters, who were looking for their lost comrades. I saw them pull out one fireman alive. Another fireman had been killed by a falling body. Many firemen were weeping. I broke down and cried. On that day nobody was more courageous than they were.”
A Ministry of Comfort
During the days after the tragedy, about 900,000 of Jehovah’s Witnesses in the United States made a determined effort nationwide to offer comfort to those who were grieving. Love of neighbor moved them to comfort mourning ones. (Matthew 22:39) In their ministry they have also endeavored to point to the only true hope for distressed humanity.—2 Peter 3:13.
Groups of elders from local Manhattan congregations of Jehovah’s Witnesses were allowed into the Ground Zero area to talk to and comfort the rescue workers there. The response was very favorable. These ministers commented: “The men had tears in their eyes as we shared scriptures with them.” Rescue workers were recovering on a boat at a marina. “The men were looking so lost, with their heads bowed, just not able to cope with what they had seen. We sat down with them and shared texts from the Bible. The men thanked us so much for coming, saying that they really needed this comfort.”
People contacted after the tragedy often wanted something to read, and thousands of brochures were given to them freely. Some of these were When Someone You Love Dies, Will There Ever Be a World Without War?, and Does God Really Care About Us? Also, the cover series in two issues of Awake! were given special attention: “The New Look of Terrorism” (May 22, 2001) and “Coping With Post-traumatic Stress” (August 22, 2001). In many cases the Witnesses explained the Bible’s hope of a resurrection. (John 5:28, 29; Acts 24:15) Perhaps millions of people were reached with this comforting message.
*It's pretty fortuitous or providential no doubt, that arrangements to organize and establish the Branch Committee were completed earlier in February of 2001... just months prior to the attacks on 9/11. (the following figures aren't currently up-to-date obviously, but are applicable for the 2001/2002 service year, when the Branch Committee was first established, ...taken from pgs 23-25 of the 2003 Yearbook)
(photo of Branch Committee members, pg 22)
Branch Committee Established in the United States
On Friday, February 9, 2001, the Governing Body made an announcement to the United States Bethel family that effective April 1, 2001, a Branch Committee would begin functioning in the United States. During the 2002 service year, the Branch Committee continued progressively to shoulder their responsibilities. The United States branch oversees the Kingdom-preaching work in the contiguous United States as well as Bermuda and the Turks and Caicos islands. There are over one million publishers in the United States, of which 215,000 are associated with Spanish-speaking congregations. Of the over 11,700 congregations, some 2,600 are Spanish-speaking. This past service year, 210 new congregations were formed. Of these, 123 are Spanish-speaking, 63 are English-speaking, and 24 are in other languages. Within the United States, there are now congregations or groups in 37 languages besides English and Spanish. In many Spanish and other foreign-language congregations, attendances for the Public Meeting often exceed 200 percent. Some congregations report more Bible studies than publishers. English-speaking brothers and sisters are learning other languages to help in this fast-growing field.
The United States branch is unique in that the Bethel facilities are situated at three locations—Brooklyn, Patterson, and Wallkill. To grow fruit for the Bethel family, there are farms near South Lansing, New York, and Immokalee, Florida. In all, the United States Bethel family numbers 5,465.
There are currently 109 branches worldwide. The arrangement to have Branch Committees care for the spiritual needs of brothers living in various lands has been functioning since 1976. These committees follow the Scriptural direction and lead given by the Governing Body. Branch Committees have the responsibility to oversee the preaching of the good news in the territory assigned to the branch. The committee gives the necessary supervision to Christian congregations, missionaries, and pioneers. It also organizes the congregations into circuits and districts and makes recommendations to the Governing Body for the appointment of circuit and district overseers, Bethel family members, and students for Gilead School. Besides having general oversight of the service in the field, the Branch Committee cares for organizing the work at Bethel. There is no doubt that Jehovah’s rich blessing has been on this arrangement.