On that morning, 19 al-Qaeda terrorists hijacked four commercial passenger jet airliners. The hijackers intentionally crashed two of the planes into the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center in New York City, killing everyone on board and thousands of those working in the buildings. Both towers collapsed within two hours, destroying nearby buildings and damaging others. A third airliner was crashed into the Pentagon. Hijackers had redirected the fourth plane toward Washington, D.C., targeting either the Capitol Building or the White House, but crashed it in a field near Shanksville in rural Pennsylvania after passengers attempted to retake control of the airliner. There were no survivors from any of the flights.
Nearly 3,000 victims and the 19 hijackers died in the attacks. Among the 2,753 victims who died in the attacks on the World Trade Center were 343 firefighters and 60 police officers from New York City and the Port Authority, and 8 private emergency medical technicians and paramedics. Another 184 people were killed in the attack on the Pentagon. The overwhelming majority of casualties were civilians, including nationals of over 70 countries.
It was on Tuesday, September 11, 2001, and I was traveling throughout Jordan with a team of 28 Christian leaders and journalists from America. We were in Gerasa (Jerash), the most complete and best-preserved Greco-Roman city in the Middle East, that we first heard the news that all hell had broken loose in New York City.
Giles Hudson, one of our team, received a mobile phone call from the USA Radio Network, in Dallas, Texas, that a plane had slammed into one of the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center Building.
In a state of shock, we were then taken by bus to the nearby city of Gadara (modern Um Qais), with its spectacular panoramic views overlooking the Sea of Galilee, the site of Jesus’ miracle of the Gadarene swine, where He sent demented spirits out of two men into a herd of swine who ran down the hill and drowned in the Sea of Galilee (Matthew 8:28-34).
While in Gadara, we received more information about the second plane crashing into another of the towers. It was if the demons of hate had been unleashed on America and all we could do was to pray for the victims and their relatives.
It was surreal to be in Jordan at the time of the worst terrorist attack in American history. Very soon, we were overwhelmed with the way the kind way the Jordanian people treated us. They stopped us at every place we visited to offer their condolences.
We then moved onto the Dead Sea and checked into a hotel. Soon, we could hear the sounds of a violent gun battle taking place in Jericho, just a short way across the water – and it went on for most of the night.
Some of the team stayed up to pray for peace, not only in the Middle East, but also in America.
I had only been in my hotel room for just a few minutes, when the phone rang and I picked up the receiver. It was my wife Norma calling from Southern California to find out if I was alright. Once I had assured her that I was fine, she then shared with me about a strange phone call she had just received from an American pastor living in New Zealand.
She said that he had told her, “I wanted you to know that your husband will probably be arrested by the FBI once he arrives back in the US.”
Totally bewildered, she asked him why and he said, “It is because of a story he has written about a Bible college in Bethlehem and I have reported him to the FBI because I didn’t like the contents.”
The offending story was about the Bethlehem Bible College run by Dr. Bishara Awad, which had contained some mild criticism of Israel, which apparently the pastor had taken issue with.
Norma was so distressed with the call that she had phoned our ANS webmaster, Ken Hunt, who assured her that the Bethlehem story was fine and that she shouldn’t worry.
I then got A. Larry Ross, Billy Graham’s long-standing press officer, who was leading the team, to call Norma and reassure that all was fine and that we were being well taken care of by the Jordan Tourism Board, who had organized the trip.
Then the phone rang again in my room, and it was the very pastor who had called Norma who also told me that he had reported me to the FBI and I would “probably be arrested” once I got back to New York.
“Do you have any brains?” I asked him pointedly. “How could you ever have become a pastor with the kind discernment you have? You have caused terrible distress to my wife and now you have the cheek to call me in this way about a non-story. Maybe you should read it again and then apologize for all the trouble you have caused.”
With that, I slammed the phone down.
We spent a tense week in Jordan as all flights from the Arab World had been suspended. But then came the welcome news that Royal Jordanian Airlines had been given permission to fly into JFK Airport in New York.
Before we left for Amman Airport, we attended a candlelight service with nearly 500 Jordanian Christians and Muslims. As we got into the bus to take us to the service, a bellboy at our hotel asked if he could address us on the buses’ PA system. He told us that he had lost some of his family in the fighting in the West Bank and said that he knew what it was to lose members of his family that he loved.
“I would like to tell you that I am very sorry for what has happened in America and I want you to know that all of the Jordanian people share in your sorrow,” he said, choking back the tears.
We then joined with others in lighting candles for peace at a special candlelight remembrance service at the Citadel in Amman on Sunday, September 16, 2001, to show solidarity with the victims and their families of the New York and Washington terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.
Muslims clerics united with Christian priests and ministers from the various Christian communities in Jordan, as well the Lord Mayor of Amman in condemning the violence in the United States and praying for the families of the victims. It was hard for us to hold back the tears at this momentous time in world history.
Ruth Cox Mizell, the then Congressional Liaison for Capitol Hill Prayer Partners and White House Liaison for American Christian Trust, was one of our team and she attended the candlelight service. Ruth, who is the widow of baseball great “Vinegar Bend” Mizell, said, “I really appreciated their caring for us. They really cared about what happened in New York and at the Pentagon. Everyone was so mournful when they told us how sorry they were about what happened. I have really come to love the Jordanian people.”
After the service, our team headed for Amman Airport, to fly back to New York on Royal Jordanian Airlines on what turned out to be the first flight after 9/11 from an Arab country. Security was tight and we understood that several armed marshals were on the flight.
When we arrived at JFK Airport, a bevy of armed FBI agents and other security met us, but there was no arrest! In fact, we were all welcomed with agents carrying automatic weapons, but with huge smiles on their faces.
Like many that day, I couldn’t catch the flight I was booked on and so had to find another airline to get back to Southern California. As we took off, I could see the pall of smoke rising from what was the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center.
Like all of you, I will never forget what has happened to our world during that time. However, it was heartening to know that so many from around the world were standing with the American people in love and solidarity and like our friends in Jordan, were lighting symbolic candles for peace.
After such a wonderful insight into the biblical sites of Jordan and meeting the friendly Jordanian people, all I can say is, go and see Jordan for yourself. It will be a trip of a lifetime for all Biblical scholars and those who wish to see the Bible come alive in these troubled modern times.
By the way, if you are ever in Bethlehem, don’t just go to the Church of the Nativity, but also visit this wonderful college for yourself and see the great work they are doing. Their website is: http://www.bethlehembiblecollege.edu.