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9/11 by the Numbers

We all know the story…

On the morning of September 11, 2001, Al Qaeda terrorists hijacked commercial passenger planes, turning those planes into weapons of war against the United States. That story… our story… often is reduced to a study in numbers.

4 planes involved in the attack
2 planes flown into the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center
1 plane flown into the Pentagon in Washington, D.C.
1 plane crashed into a Pennsylvania field after passengers and crew attacked their hijackers

19 hijackers
2,753 people died in the NYCity attack on the Twin Towers
184 people died in the Pentagon attack
40 people died when flight 93 crashed into a Pennsylvania farm field
343 NY Firefighters and Paramedics died 23 NY Police officers died 37 Port Authority Police officers died
1,609 lost a spouse on 9/11
3,051 children lost a parent on 9/11
126 babies were born to 9/11 widows
341 rescue workers have died from post-911 illnesses
2,343 U.S. troops died in Operation Enduring Freedom

So many numbers…

Over the years those numbers have blurred… as most of us have moved on to new battles and challenges. Yet, every year those closest to the story call us to remember… and as they tell the story, the names are read: Thomas McGinnis.. Katherine Bantis… Daniel Caballero, “Poppy” Joseph Angelini … And suddenly those numbers become people again, with stories and loved ones who miss them.

My friend was a pastor of a church in the New York suburbs when 9/11 happened. His church had 19 of the 9/11 funerals. 20 of the 9/11 widows were members of his church. His Sunday School had 25 of the children left without a parent. So many numbers… Yet today, 22 years later, Steve can still tell you the names of those precious lives lost to this world. He could tell you the names of Pat and Shannon, members of his church, known to many as a ‘power couple.’ They would tell people that they worked “side-by-side”, commuting into New York city together, sharing coffee on the ground floor of the World Trade Center before going to their respective ‘tower’ to work. At the end of the day, they would meet to take the train home together. When they adopted Katarina from Russia, their schedule changed, one going in early to be able to pick up their daughter from school, the other going in late to be sure she got on the bus safely in the morning. But that day, they both had early morning meetings, so a neighbor took Katarina to school. Pat and Shannon looked forward to picking her up together at the end of the day. But then tragedy struck… That day the church became family for a little girl who suddenly knew more loss than most of us could bear. For Liberty Corner Presbyterian Church, 9/11 will never be reduced to mere numbers, because every life lost that day is precious, each story infinitely valuable.

On Friday, a 6.8 magnitude earthquake struck Morocco just south of the famed tourist destination Marrakesh. Moroccan construction, done with simple materials of rock and dirt, was no match for the violence of the quake. Whole villages were flattened… to date 2862 lives have been lost and many are still missing. UNICEF estimates that over 100,000 children are affected by the quake, left without food and shelter, many left without families. The numbers coming out of Morocco are staggering, and each news report finds those numbers increasing. It would be easy to be swept up in a report of numbers… yet, every number has a name and a story and loved ones who are grieving: a young father who has lost his wife and four children, a mother who is still frantically looking for her daughter, a grandmother who fears that her whole family was lost when their house collapsed. Each name is precious… each life infinitely valuable.

Many wonder: where is God when the brokenness of this world creates the next set of ‘numbers?’ That question has turned many away from the faith at just the time when they need faith the most. We ask ‘why,’ but the Bible does not give us answers to that question. Instead, we are given a simple assurance: God knows us by name. Isaiah 43 declares: “I know you by name, you are mine.” Isaiah 49 continues: “I have engraved you on the palm of my hand.” Jesus’ assurance, recorded in Matthew 10, is captured in the gospel lyrics: “His eye is on the sparrow, and I know He’s watching me.” The brokenness of this world tries to reduce life to a list of numbers, but that reduction is countered by our Creator who grants each life infinite value. Every name is known. Every story celebrated. And every life held securely in His hands. In the moment, it may seem that the brokenness of this world has won, but the resurrection declares a greater victory. In Him we are known. In Him we know life! In Him we can see beyond the numbers to celebrate each life as precious. Join me in prayer for the precious lives of the people in Morocco.

With you, fully known and loved by Him,
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