I was in an airplane, sitting at a gate at the Charlotte airport, waiting for clearance to taxi out onto the runway. At the time I was Senior Pastor of Tyro UMC. (Tyro is a small town in Davidson County, NC.) My youth pastor Wesley Sink and I were on our way to Oklahoma to get trained in a new youth ministry program.
When Wesley and I got to the airport, everyone was crowding around television sets. The first plane had crashed into the World Trade Center. At first the broadcast journalists stated that it may have been an accident -- a serious problem with air traffic control. But then the second plane hit. Now everyone grasped what was happening: Our nation was under attack by terrorists.
I talked to Lorie on the phone, and she wondered if it was a good idea to fly that day. I said that I couldn't imagine the terrorists would want to attack Oklahoma--or North Carolina, for that matter.
So, with everyone in the airport still glued to TV screens, Wesley and I boarded our plane. We were buckled in and all set to go when the pilot came on the intercom and said, "The FAA has grounded all flights temporarily. We're going to deplane and let you wait in the gate area, and we should be underway before too long."
As we were getting off the plane, a passenger behind us was speaking with someone on his cell phone. He turned off his phone and said loudly, "We're not going anywhere. They just bombed the Pentagon!"
Now this was getting personal. Lorie's brother works in Washington, DC. In fact, he was in the Capitol building at the time of the attacks. If the terrorists had had their way -- if Todd Beamer and others had not forced Flight 93 to crash in rural Pennsylvania - my brother-in-law might not be with us today.
Wesley and I got in my car and headed back to Tyro, about an hour's drive away. I turned the radio on, and we drove in complete silence. We were listening when the twin towers fell. We couldn't believe it.
When we got home, our Worship Director had already organized a community prayer service for that evening at our church. I was thankful for her initiative, and started making preparations for my part of the service. Then I took a nap. It was all too much to handle, and I was mentally and emotionally drained.
That night was the prayer service at our church. It was amazing to see that small town come together across denominational lines to pray for our country.
Eleven years later, the world continues to feel the impact of that day -- especially when we travel. Getting through security in airports is a major undertaking. I'm glad for that. Last summer when I got on a plane in South Africa to come back to the US, they frisked me and all the other passengers. I wasn't offended. I was thankful. Better those 30 seconds of discomfort than thousands dying in a terrorist attack.
You may have done this already -- but if you haven't -- take a few moments today to remember those who lost their lives on 9/11 -- and to pray for peace in this broken, hurting world.