Brian Johansson, Washington City Mission’s chief operating officer, paid tribute to the 20th anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the World Trade Center during Monday’s weekly chapel service.
Johansson honored veterans in City Mission’s residential program who have served the United States and told of his personal experiences in New York City during the attacks.
Johansson was director of the Bowery Mission, the third oldest Christian rescue mission in the United States, which was located just 10 blocks from the site of the World Trade Center in 2001. He said he was commuting to work that day, but the subways stopped running, all the bridges into the city shut down and the traffic backed up for miles.
Determined to help during the crisis, Johansson said he found a place to park his car and walked over the 59th Street Bridge from Queens into Manhattan while many New Yorkers were scrambling to get out.
Johansson said it took him nearly four hours to walk to work through all the chaos in the aftermath of the attack.
When he finally made it to work there were 50 people, covered in dirt, praying and crying inside the Mission’s historic chapel, Johansson said.
Along with staff at the Bowery Mission, Johansson said he ministered to and prayed with the victims, survivors and the loved ones of those who were lost.
Johansson, a native New Yorker, said he grew up the son of a pastor in a blue-collar neighborhood.
“We played stickball games where the manhole cover was first base,” he said. “The Twin Towers were part of my childhood. I saw them every day.”
In addition to his duties as the director of The Bowery Mission, Johansson also volunteered as a New York state chaplain, a role he performed for 15 years. As a chaplain, he helped at both Ground Zero and the Park Avenue Armory.
“Where there once was a straight and square building, there was now nothing but chaos and rubble,” Johansson said. “When you were standing at Ground Zero, you couldn’t tell east from west or north from south or up from down.”
Johansson said he drew upon his faith in the aftermath of the terrorist attacks and encouraged others to do the same.
“We’ve all had little 9/11’s in our own lives,” he said. “We’ve all had tragedies, challenges, difficulties – whether it’s losing a loved one or struggling with addiction. We’ve all had something. Our response in those situations must be to draw nearer to God. It’s an opportunity for us to come to know Him more deeply. Don’t miss that opportunity.
“You may be in the midst of it right now,” he added. “You can’t tell left from right or up from down. The glass is broken all around. The beams are melting. Your world is turned upside-down. But if you just cry out to God. He will hear your prayer.”
For more information, visit www.citymission.org.