“Hearing how Ira had run into a burning building without any concern for himself, to rescue his precious scrolls, inspired me. Against all family opposition, I trained as a fireman, enrolling in the programme without my parents’ consent.
“I loved it. Now, instead of starting fires I was putting them out. I’ve run into burning buildings to rescue people. Not often, but it has happened. However, I think the most shocking experience I ever had was the moment that blended with Dean’s story and turned me to God.
“I had taken a couple of weeks leave to visit Mpo, who had left home and was now living in New York, working for a firm of auditors. It was a good opportunity to explore the city whilst he was staying there. He took a day’s leave the day after I arrived and we visited some of the iconic sites in the city.
“I’ll never forget the view from the top of the South Tower of the World Trade Centre. It was over four hundred metres above street level. It was such a clear day, we could see for a distance of eighty kilometres. We spent a couple of hours there, with Mpo pointing out various landmarks, using our guide books and maps and the telescopes up there to identify as much as we could.
“The next morning, Mpo left early to go to work. I slept in. I woke with a start when he burst into my room, sobbing.
“‘Gordon, you have to see this. It’s terrible. Terrible.’ He ran back down the passage to the living room where I could hear the TV blaring.
“I staggered through. Mpo was in tears, his eyes not leaving the TV. As I focused on the screen I saw flames and smoke. People were running and screaming.
“’What is it? What’s happening?’
“’The World Trade Centre. Someone’s flown a plane into the North Tower.’
“’By accident?’ I was horrified. Mpo just shook his head, too overcome to speak.
“I slumped down on the sofa next to him and we watched, speechless, as the second plane hit. Both towers were burning. People were running … Well, you saw it yourselves on TV. Life around the world ground to a halt, as people watched. When those towers collapsed …”
He paused for a moment, swallowing the emotion which threatened to overcome him.
“I knew I had to go. To help. For a while, Mpo held me back, but when I saw the pictures of exhausted firemen, defeated, crying, helpless, I knew I had to go.
“They would not let me join them on that day.”
He brushed his cheek with the back of his hand and took a deep breath.
“But the next day I went back; and the next; and the next. For the rest of my time in the city, I worked with those brave men and women searching for survivors – and then for those who didn’t survive.
“In spite of Dean’s stories, I had little or no faith. Until the day after 9/11. The sights I saw of people’s selfless efforts to help, the survivors’ stories I heard and the ‘coincidences’ which occurred, all served to turn me to God. With a group of New York fire-fighters that first afternoon, I knelt and gave my life to Jesus in the ashes and the dust. No day has ever been like that again.
“After that, God’s presence was tangible for me. He guided me to places I would not have managed to reach alone. He gave me courage which was beyond any I had felt before. I’m not boasting about that. He did it for many of us. He led us to places where we could save lives, or bring closure to those who had lost loved ones.
“God uses me today to bring hope. I’m often invited to speak in churches and at schools about my experiences during those two weeks. I always bring Jesus into my talks. He was such an integral part of my work and has remained so ever since. Sometimes he stops me from entering a building which collapses seconds after I stop running. Sometimes he guides me to children too hurt to cry for help, or to the elderly, bewildered by the events and the fire surrounding them.
“He has been a faithful partner. And I have found him in the deepest, darkest, most desperate places. If I can give hope to one person as a result of my message, then I will know I’m fulfilling God’s plan for my life.”
Gordon lowered his head and closed his eyes.
“Thank you, Jesus, for always being there for us. Thank you.”
After the subdued ‘Amen’ from most of the people sitting around the room, there was a moment’s silence.
Simon cleared his throat.
“Wow, Gordon. That’s quite a testimony you’ve shared with us. Thank you.” His words were gentle. He felt deeply moved by the story he’d just heard.
“I think we need a short break before we have the final story. We have time, and it doesn’t seem right to go straight into the next one.”
The conversation was subdued as people got up to move around. The memories of the events of 9/11 were still harrowing, even after so many years. They had touched many lives.
Dean hobbled across the room to the water dispenser.
Rob was already there, and he passed a glass of water to Dean.
“Here you go.” He paused. “I am amazed how I can hear a story like that from someone I’ve known for twenty five years, yet I never knew what they have just told us. Gordon is an ordinary man, who has been used by our extraordinary God.”
“It’s a remarkable story,” Dean agreed. But he didn’t want to get into a conversation. He wanted to think about what he’d just heard. To marvel that a pupil of his had been so involved in what, to date, must be the most devastating disaster of the 21st century; but also to think about God’s role in the event. Dean had always been angry the event happened in the first place. But Gordon seemed to think God was there, in it, helping people.
It was all too much for him to grasp. He sat down, drank his water and waited in a cocoon of silence until the others returned to their seats.
Simon smiled at everyone.
“My story doesn’t have the drama Gordon’s story had. Yet, in a way it does.
“The Class of 1990 was a study of the Old Testament. In these days many people think it is irrelevant for 21st century living. Yet we have heard a series of stories which have affected and touched many lives. Not only the lives of those of us here in this room but much further afield. Some of you work overseas, others teach children, or help in orphanages or homes for those who are not able to care for themselves. One or two have shown exceptional courage beyond the call of duty.
“The Old Testament irrelevant? I don’t think so.
“But some ask where Jesus is in the Old Testament. It is Jesus we believe in. Jesus we follow. In answer to such people I would like to point out that John’s Gospel speaks of Jesus as the Word – ‘In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God.’
“The first words in the Bible are ‘In the beginning, God …’ The New Testament speaks of one God, the Father, and one Lord, Jesus Christ, through both of whom all things were created. It states Jesus is the firstborn of all creation. Both Old and New Testaments affirm we are made in the image of God himself. Personally, if we believe the New Testament, I don’t think it’s feasible to say the Old Testament is irrelevant.
“But imagine my delight, when I did some further research into the story which had spoken to me, to discover the whole Old Testament points to Jesus Christ. Here is the story as Dean told it.”