MCC workers in New York grieve, pray following tragic events

Mennonite Central Committee
Friday, 14 September 2001

NEW YORK -- One day after the attacks that shook this city and Washington, D.C., John Rempel walked to work down the middle of empty streets in an eerily quiet upper Manhattan.

As a Palestrina Mass played in the background, the Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) liaison at the United Nations could see from his office window smoke still billowing from the World Trade Center, where rescuers continued to dig out victims.

Rempel and other Mennonites in New York are grieving, praying and seeking God's will for an appropriate response to the tragedy. The previous evening, he and other members of Manhattan Mennonite Fellowship gathered for a prayer service.

"It was like people were under an anesthetic," Rempel said. "The conversation was slow, and people didn't finish sentences. At the end, most people just sat there."

One member of the church was at work in a building adjacent to the Trade Center towers. He and others escaped and walked north over corpses and debris, Rempel said.

Rempel, a trained pastor, has offered to give blood and provide trauma counseling. So many people were donating blood, however, that he and others were turned away because the collection site had run out of storage equipment.

In the midst of the personal pain, Rempel is concerned that the tragedies will spiral into more violence and that inflammatory language will hurt Arabs and others presumed to be involved.

Sandra Perez, an MCC Church Community Worker in Brooklyn, was voting at her local precinct when a worker told her that an airplane had hit the World Trade Center. With the train system closed, she took a bus into Manhattan to find her grandson, whose school is near the towers. Fortunately, he was not injured in the attacks.

"He said he saw people jumping out of the [World Trade Center] building," Perez said. "He just ran."

Downtown Brooklyn, meanwhile, was filled with people pouring into the borough from Manhattan.

"There were people with bandages or missing their shirts, people walking around in a daze or sitting along the street, just stunned," she said."

Perez sought comfort at United Revival Mennonite Church, which was open throughout the day for prayer and counseling. The Brooklyn congregations contacted Manhattan Mennonite Fellowship to see if they could offer assistance.

The situation is still chaotic, however, and so much of the disaster site has been closed off to those without official roles.

"You feel helpless," Rempel said. "It's a major tragedy and the effects are within eyesight."

As events unfold in the next few days, the churches will have a clearer understanding of what their role may be in seeking healing and hope.

For more information, or to contact Mennonite Central Committee, see their website at: www.mcc.org

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