When the National Pentagon 9/11 Memorial was closed to the public this summer due to COVID-19 restrictions, Skip Greene drove as close as he could to the door.
Greene, a longtime member of the First Baptist Church of Boone, wanted to see where he served 20 years ago, coordinating teams of volunteers who provided meals to first responders immediately after the 9/11 attacks.
He introduced himself to an officer who approached him.
“Were you with the North Carolina food kitchen?” The officer asked. âI ate there. “
He never made it to the memorial, but Greene treasured a memory with someone who benefited from Baptists on mission‘s (BOM) relief efforts two decades earlier.
Greene, owner of a construction company in Boone, was the state disaster relief volunteer coordinator in 2001. He recently spoke to Bible recorder of what he remembers from that time.
He was driving to work when he heard the news on the radio. Greene stopped, thinking he misheard the reporter. A friend who was nearby joined him and they continued to listen for about two hours, in shock.
Greene quickly contacted Gaylon foam, then director of disaster relief for BOM (formerly called NC Baptist Men), which was awaiting direction from the North American Mission Board. Greene began alerting trained volunteers to the possibility of a rescue response.
In the meantime, he went to church for a prayer meeting, where he met a retired hospital chaplain. He had no training in disaster relief, but told Greene, âIf there’s anything you think I can do, I’d love to go with you. “
The chaplain would later be part of what Greene described as an “untold story in the Pentagon.”
âHe was a real inspiration,â Greene said, âand mingled with the Pentagon chaplains and allowed us to enter the Pentagon to get food. â¦ He opened doors, being a chaplain and working with military chaplains, it probably wouldn’t have opened.
On the evening of September 11, Greene received a call about the Red Cross requesting a supply unit in the southern Pentagon parking lot. A group of volunteers from western North Carolina traveled to Greensboro to meet with another group from Charlotte who had the power unit and support truck. They then made their way to Durham, where Moss was waiting. They prayed, drove north, and arrived in Washington DC at 8 a.m. on September 12.
The team served their first meals around 2 p.m. The teams stayed for four to five days and rotated for about three weeks.
BOM operated a 24-hour kitchen, alongside other organizations offering meals, haircuts, massages, counseling, and other services. Hundreds of North Carolina Baptists served a total of about 60,000 meals to rescuers, FBI agents and military personnel over five weeks.
Because Greene’s responsibilities focused on logistics, he had more flexibility to spend time with people outside of the rush to queue for meals. He remembered the emotions of the first responders, many of whom ate a meal and sat in silence.
He remembers a firefighter who walked over to the power unit and, without entering the line, sat down, leaning on a tire from the truck. Greene put down a meal and sat down next to him.
âWe could both see the Pentagon, look it straight in the eye, smoke was coming out of it,â Greene recalls. âThere wasn’t a word shared, but we were both in tears.â¦ He sat there probably 30 minutes, put on his jacket, then you saw him join his pals by the fireside. .
âThere was a lot of non-verbal ministry in the Pentagon. “
Tom’s bundle, now BOM’s disaster relief coordinator, later served as director of Camp Caraway for Boys. He joined the Pentagon’s efforts two weeks later as the kitchen site coordinator.
For security reasons, volunteers could only chat with those they served. They couldn’t ask specific questions, but Beam felt that many were looking for spiritual direction.
âPeople were trying to figure out how they could make sense of our place after the disaster,â he said.
BOM had placed small Bibles on the tables, and Beam remembered a man sitting alone who looked around, opened the zipper on his jacket, and slipped a Bible into his pocket.
“It’s almost like he doesn’t want anyone to see him do that – I don’t know – but it told me he was looking for something, maybe when he wasn’t on duty. , for comfort. “
A mission given by God
For Beam, there was anger and confusion in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks – in himself and, he observed, in others. It set the response apart from other disaster relief efforts he’s been involved in, but it clarified one aspect of what God is calling his people to do, he said.
âThe Lord calls us to serve him wherever we are, and whether it be man-made or natural disasters, we must always go beyond ourselves and help those in need.
Greene also reflected on how God has helped teams complete the task He has given. Because they left so early, Greene didn’t have a chance to catch the early reports and comments.
âWe were kind of protected from thatâ¦ I didn’t sit in front of this TV and watch everything that was going on,â Greene said. âGod had given us a mission, had given us the challenge to go and serve. It was only after we got back that this emotion hit meâ¦ God protected us and allowed us to focus on what he was calling us to do during those days rather than watching the videos.
Richard BrunsonBOM’s current executive director often remembers the 9/11 response to a disaster relief challenge. It was, like others, an invitation to trust God.
âIn every disaster, which door does God want us to go through? And then we have to be prepared to go through it, even when there are unknowns and even when there are risks, âBrunson said.
Brunson recalled the uncertainty and fears of another attack and praised those who made it to the Pentagon and Ground Zero.
âThese volunteers like Skip [Greene] and his team were ready to go that day, to go, to pack up, to leave the familyâ¦ if you are ready to go through open doors, God can be glorified.
About four weeks after September 11, BOM set up a site in New York City to serve volunteers who cleaned apartments around Ground Zero. They provided showers, meals and logistical support. Recognizing a need for laundry services, BOM built the first laundry unit to be sent to the site to serve volunteers.
Over 600 Baptists NC served in New York throughout a long-term response which lasted about six months.
On the first anniversary of September 11, Brunson accepted on behalf of BOM one of four crosses made of limestone debris from the Pentagon crash site. The US Army chaplain leader presented it “to the Baptists of North Carolina in thanks for your ministry to the Pentagon after the terrorist attack of September 11, 2001,” as inscribed under the cross.
Three more crosses went to Washington National Cathedral, the Flight 93 Memorial in Stoystown, Pa., And St. Paul’s Chapel in New York City. The fourth is located at the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina office in Cary.