Throughout your life there are memorable days that stand out because they are life milestones or have historical significance. Weddings and births of children are days like this. Perhaps you remember the day President Kennedy was assassinated. Are you old enough to remember Pearl Harbor? The day America was attacked by terrorists in 2001 is one of those historically significant days that also marked a personal life change.
September 11, 2001, found me with my wife, Helen, in Rio Verde, Mexico. We were in the Casa Maranatha, a large house belonging to World Witness (the foreign mission board of the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church). It was early in the morning and we were having devotions with John Mariner, the executive director of World Witness, our pastor, David Walkup, and friends Larry and Sherry Sietsma.
We had all arrived in Mexico several days earlier for the purpose of visiting missionaries and the denominations seminary in Tampico. While at the seminary, Helen and I were invited by the Mexican administrators to come to the seminary to teach English. We had accepted the invitation and were excited about starting this next adventure in our life of retirement.
While we were having our devotions, Bill Warner, a World Witness missionary in Rio Verde, burst in to tell us that his wife who was in North Carolina had called and told him a plane had flown into the World Trade Center. We all rushed across the street to the Warner’s house to see what was happening with this plane and the World Trade Center. Just as we got the TV tuned to a Tampa station we saw the second plane hit the tower and shortly after watched in horror as the towers collapsed.
Our plan for the day was to be driven by Greg Conover, a missionary in San Luis Potosi, to San Luis Potosi where we would spend the night; the next day we were to fly home. When we saw the TV coverage and heard the news that all border crossings were closed and all planes grounded, we knew these plans were out the window. As Greg drove us to San Luis Potosi we were all praying and wondering about our families and friends back in the States.
It was a strange and uncomfortable feeling being out of the country and not being able to return to be with our families. It was especially difficult for Pastor David whose wife was at home with their three young daughters. We did a lot of praying and decided to make “lemonade out of lemons” as the saying goes and become tourists until the border was open and we could go home.
During this time, John Mariner was constantly on his cell phone with the World Witness office as he kept checking on the safety of missionaries around the world. The rest of us called our families to let them know we were okay and then we waited and prayed. Greg became our tour guide and showed us around the old colonial city. One point of particular interest was visiting an old mining town, San Pedro, where Greg even introduced us to a friend who lived in a house that was actually a cave.
When the border was finally opened the planes were still grounded, so Greg volunteered to drive us to McAllen, Texas, where we could rent cars and drive home. It was a long drive, but worth it for the relief we all felt when we actually were back in the USA.
This happened almost ten years ago. As I write this article, Helen and I have just returned from a long weekend in San Luis Potosi where we walked down memory lane and visited San Pedro. Like much of Mexico, it hasn’t changed much since 2001. We, however, have changed. After that day in the Casa Maranatha, we became volunteer missionaries with World Witness and have been blessed greatly by the opportunities for service that the Lord has given us. After four semesters teaching English at the seminary, we were led to an exciting mission work with poor people in Ciudad Valles. I’ll tell you more about that in future articles.