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In November, Beverly, a 6-week volunteer from Birmingham, Ala., picked up the phone in the late evening and heard a shaky voice on the other end of the line ask if this was the place where the apartment cleaners came from. She explained that we were the Southern Baptist office here in the city and asked how we could help. *Howard explained that he and his companion of 27 years, *Beatrice, had been living in Gateway Apartments near the Twin Towers, and Southern Baptists had cleaned their apartment. Two days after they moved back in, an electrical fire destroyed many of their belongings, and they had relocated to the Bronx. They were hurting and needed some assistance. Over the next months, several people would come into their lives through the MNYBA, and Jesus would do some mighty works.
The couple had basically lived in the lower part of Manhattan all their adult lives. They are an older couple who lived life fully. Howard, a worker for the city, and Beatrice, an art illustrator, had made their home in Gateway about eight years ago and enjoyed going for walks in the Plaza of the World Trade Center in the late afternoon. Beatrice would meet a friend there on days when she needed a break from work; they would sit on a bench and feed the birds as hundreds of people went in and out of the Trade Towers. Some days she would do her art work outside, enjoying the crisp river air that swept through the tall buildings around her. This was her community. She was fond of memories of that neighborhood, that is, until September 11. Beatrice was home recovering from surgery in their building one block from the Trade Center, and when the first plane hit, Howard and she heard a boom and thought their own building had been hit. They ran around trying to find out what had happened, and by that time, the second plane hit, and smoke was everywhere. All of their utilities went out, so they had no idea what to do. They were traumatized in an instant. When the towers collapsed, smoke billowed in throughout all their building and neighborhood, and when they looked outside their windows, all they could see was black and nothing else. They feared the worst. Howard thought a nuclear bomb had hit Manhattan that day. They found a radio that worked and were paralyzed with fear.
Howard was afraid to make Beatrice walk down the steps, so they just stayed put -- for four days. A national guardsman finally found them and eventually escorted them out after much arguing about Beatrice's condition. They stepped out into a world much different from what they had known. Through many twists and turns, they got to a brother's home in Pennsylvania for a few weeks, but when they came back, they had more trouble. Their apartment was covered with soot.
The management had hired some workers to clean up, but they had come in and made a bigger mess. Howard and Beatrice were so upset they didn't know what to do until Howard heard through neighbors that some church volunteers had come and were cleaning apartments, so they took a chance. These men and women did a "miraculous job" according to Beatrice, and the couple was pleased to be home again, but two days later an electrical fire woke them up to a blazing couch. The hired workers had placed the couch on a faulty cord. They got out, and, though the damage was minimal, they did not want to return. After staying in a hotel for a few days, they found a new apartment, moved in, and that is when they called the local Baptist association office.
The couple was alone in a new neighborhood, knew no one and had no furniture to sit on. Beverly went to visit, did an assessment and saw that furniture was not the major need. These people needed a lot of love and someone to walk through this trauma with them. Howard had been sober a long time but started drinking again after September 11. Beatrice was traumatized but was trying to hold it together for Howard's sake and with her ongoing health problems was recovering from the surgery she had just the week before September 11. She was in "crisis mode" she says.
Because it was Thanksgiving, Beverly and husband, Jim, decided to deliver Thanksgiving dinner to this lonely and confused couple. The foursome sat on the floor eating and enjoying fellowship together. Over the next months, Lighthouse Baptist Church pastor Victor Ketchens used Disaster Funds to buy them two love seats and other furnishings. This opened a door for further ministry and trust for MNYBA, and the couple has been visited and ministered to on a weekly basis. This spring, a college mission team helped them unpack and clean more than 400 fire-damaged books, one-by-one. Beatrice stood in the room crying because she was so overwhelmed by the kindness. She had to take a walk that day.
On the second day, the girls on the team shared their testimonies with her, and she said she wanted what they had and knew she needed something bigger than herself. She wanted to be reborn. On March 21, 2002, Beatrice prayed asking Jesus to come into her life, be her Lord and Savior and help her as she is struggling with the aftereffects of September 11.
I wish I could tell you that everything is all right now, but it isn't. It will be a long road for both of them, but they are on that road to recovery. Howard is attending AA meetings almost every day, is contemplating Christ and seeking but is not yet there. Beatrice is now feeling loss and struggles as feelings awaken in her that she buried last fall. She still has nightmares and depression. Both are in therapy for Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome. Little by little, though, they are finding healing and getting back to some semblance of routine. Little by little has become a theme in their household, as that is what it is taking to help them cope. They are grateful to Southern Baptists for their help and friendship. Because Baptists showed God's love in a tangible way, Beatrice understands a personal relationship with Jesus, and Howard will probably soon follow.
*not their real names