9/11: The Salvation Army & Me"Our new life in Christ took us down an entirely new path, and we praise God for His mercy and love every day."
September 11, 2001:
“Get up! Get up!” Brian yelled as he shook my arm. “Someone’s bombed the World Trade Center!” My husband and I rushed to our terrace and stared in shock and horror at the black smoke rising from the North Tower. Out of nowhere the second plane came roaring overhead—500 feet above us—and struck the South Tower. The impact hurled us backwards into our living room and knocked us unconscious. “Do you want your shoes?” I groggily heard Brian call out. His voice sounded as if he were in a tunnel.
“No, let’s get out of here!” I answered. Brian grabbed our whimpering dog and threw him over his shoulder, and we evacuated the building. Barefoot and still wearing pajamas, we sought safety in nearby Battery Park. But the nightmare continued. The towers soon fell, covering us with dust and debris, and heavy smoke surrounded us in a deadly cloud. We ran around in a toxic snow globe, trying in vain to find a way out.
Exhausted, Brian and I took cover by an old fort. Thinking we might not survive, I held Brian’s hands and began to pray, hoping God would spare our lives. As I prayed, I felt empty and alone, even though my husband was beside me. “Lord, I’m sorry I’ve spent so much of my life without You.” I had pushed God away ever since I left my childhood home over a decade earlier. Why would He answer me now?
We were eventually rescued by a white NY Waterway boat in a large-scale boat evacuation off Manhattan. After we were dropped off in New Jersey, we wandered the strange neighborhood streets filthy, traumatized and in shock. We had fled with only the clothes on our backs and nowhere left to go.
After a night at a hotel in New Jersey, we took shelter in my friend Sarah’s apartment where we spent hours watching news updates in silence. We knew we were the lucky ones—the ones who survived. But we couldn’t go home. With the search for survivors and a criminal investigation underway, Lower Manhattan was off limits to all residents. Along with thousands of other New Yorkers, we were suddenly homeless.
We also lost our jobs. I was a New York City tour guide, and tourism was at a standstill. As each day passed, I began to despair over our mounting bills. We needed clothes, toiletries and food. One day while wandering around Sarah’s neighborhood, I saw a flier advertising free food and clothing at a nearby Salvation Army, so I decided to investigate. I strolled across 46th Street through Hell’s Kitchen and entered the Salvation Army warehouse.
As I entered the cavernous store, donations of clothing, food, shoes and beauty products were stacked into mountains. Volunteers buzzed around the piles, trying to sort and stack thousands of donations from generous New Yorkers. I stopped and stared, overwhelmed by all the supplies.
“Can I help you?” a volunteer approached me with a smile.
“Oh, hi, I need some pants for my husband and me,” I responded awkwardly.
“Follow me. We can look for them together.”
As we waded through a massive pile of pants, I noticed others gathering clothes and trying to find matching shoes. Suddenly it struck me—for the first time I was on the receiving end of an organization I often donated to. My face began to feel hot, and I looked around hoping no one I knew was there.
Am I taking supplies away from someone who needs it more than I do? I fretted. After finding a few items for Brian and me, I swallowed my pride and asked the young woman if I could also take some food. “Of course,” she responded, leading me to a narrow side room with long shelves stacked with canned food, cleaning supplies, toiletries and baby gear. “You’re welcome to get what you need,” she said and left me in the room. I filled my backpack and several small plastic grocery bags.
As I lugged everything back to Sarah’s apartment, I felt a surge of exhilaration that we could finally change our clothes and have a proper meal. The generosity of my fellow New Yorkers lifted my heart, and I was deeply grateful to The Salvation Army. But I wondered if I was a deserving recipient of their charity. I wasn’t convinced our situation qualified. We had always had a job and a roof over our heads, until now.
But our situation didn’t get better, it got worse. We spent weeks looking for work and waiting to get back to our apartment. Soon we needed shoes, pet supplies, even feminine products. It was a huge relief to know I could find them at The Salvation Army.
Being on the other end of aid unexpectedly humbled me. I had donated to charities before, but now I knew what it felt like to be hungry and homeless. The Salvation Army was a place that welcomed me without judgment or shame, which gave me peace of mind. As time went on, I returned to The Salvation Army for the necessities we needed to get by, and I felt less apprehensive as the recipient of all these gifts. It took a weight off my shoulders during an already stressful time. They helped us get back on our feet again.
We returned to our apartment on September 23rd. It was filled with dust and debris, but I didn’t care. I could sleep in my own bed and wear my own clothes. But the events of that day still haunted me.
I couldn’t shake the memory of my prayers in Battery Park. I had asked for God to save us when I needed Him the most. But I felt guilty running to Him when I had abandoned Him so long ago. It seemed an unreasonable, hypocritical request. Did I actually believe in Jesus after all?
I needed a fresh start, and so did Brian. We cleaned the apartment, we returned to work. We began to re-evaluate our relationship with our careers, with each other and with God. We began attending church. As we became more involved—attending group Bible studies, volunteering with outreach programs and becoming active in church activities—we committed ourselves to Christ.
Even though I’d only spent two weeks displaced after 9/11, I was surprised at how dehumanizing and disorientating it was. I began spending time with other Christian organizations that help the homeless and support refugees. I became the Director of Missions at my church and assembled teams to help in the aftermath of natural disasters overseas. I began a Thanksgiving dinner food drive in the Bronx. My husband and I founded a nonprofit organization to address injustice.
As the 20th anniversary of the September 11th attacks approaches, I’ll never forget the horror of that day and the devastation to our city. But I’ll also remember the organizations such as The Salvation Army that rose to the occasion to offer immediate, important assistance. It left a lasting impression on me and made me feel compassion for others going through similar experiences because I’ve walked in their shoes. And now I can give back.
I am eternally grateful toward my Savior who restored me during my lowest point and brought us into a relationship with Him. Our new life in Christ took us down an entirely new path, and we praise God for His mercy and love every day.
Christina Stanton was the Director of Missions at Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York City for a decade. Her husband, Brian, is Redeemer’s 20 year chief financial officer and reports working closely with The Salvation Army. Christina is an author and professional speaker who has appeared on major news outlets, and is a licensed NYC tour guide specializing in 9/11 history. To learn more, visit christinaraystanton.com.