It has been almost 20 years since 9/11. In light of what is happening Afghanistan with their recent terrorist bombings, the events of 9/11 could not be more relevant. Author Dr. Jim Jenkins was a chaplain at ground zero when the twin towers fell almost 20 years ago. Jenkins has written about his experience and the stories he has had experience in his brand new book FROM RUBBLE TO REDEMPTION: A Ground Zero Chaplain Remembers, which is available now.
Jenkins was a Navy Reserve Chaplain for 21 years, and a pastor for 40 years. He holds a Doctorate in Ministry from Fuller Theological Seminary, and taught Bible College and Seminary courses at The King's Seminary for more than 10 years. As part of the Chaplain's Emergency Response Team, Jim and the other team members received the Distinguished Service Award for their service at Ground Zero.
Q: Jim, thanks for doing this interview with us. Congratulations on your new book "From Rubble to Redemption," briefly tell us what is the book about?
This is a book about my time at Ground Zero. I was part of a team of Navy Chaplains. Our area of responsibility was the Pile (what the locals called Ground Zero), The Morgue-a small tent operation resembling a MASH hospital where coroners forensic workers and morticians examined the bodies and/or body parts of the victims, and the giant pier building in Manhattan where the family members of those lost were gathered.
Q: What prompted you to write a book about it?
On the 10th anniversary of the attacks. I tuned into a radio show while driving through California The topic of discussion was the so-called Ground Zero Mosque. Developers wanted to build a Muslim Community Center/Mosque right next to the site of Ground Zero. As I listened, I was so upset that I pulled off to the shoulder of the interstate highway and called into the show. The host let me respond to callers who were saying careless, thoughtless things about the fact that this was no big deal and that we were all suffering from Islamophobia and that we were Xenophobic. The main issue was our misunderstanding about Islam and that the attacks were our fault. One guy called in right after me actually said "Those people in New York just had a bad Karma,"
I purposed then and there that I would write and eyewitness account of what really happened, and that I would do my best to let people know how awful it was and how deeply wounded New Yorkers were. I wanted to address both the facts and the lessons I learned as I ministered to the other first responders, the grieving family members and the people I met every day at the Pile.
Q: During that time, I believe you ministered to first responders...morgue workers and family members who lost loved ones, can you share some of those powerful stories?
The Salvation Army Guy...(I am sorry I can't remember his name) This man was at the morgue every day running a canteen truck-providing water, coffee and snacks to the exhausted forensic workers. He was amazing. Like so many who responded, he had been to numerous disasters before, The Oklahoma City bombing, various floods and earthquakes. He had such a calming demeanor. I always left my visits with him with renewed hope in God and respect for those like him who came to be with and minister to other first responders.
Then there was 'Sal.' As he dug his big bucket into the rubble every day from the cab of his huge excavator we spoke almost every day and he was always kind and upbeat. One day it occurred to me to ask him, "Sal, I don't mean to pry but I never asked you (I pointed out at the pile) Do you have anyone...?" He climbed down from the cab, turned his hard hat around, and pointed to two photos taped to his hard hat. His brother and his brother's son were both firefighters who were buried in the Pile... Almost every First Responder I met had some personal connection like that. Still they came, labored long in dangerous situations-many sleeping next to their trucks eschewing the comforts of home to find their fallen comrades.
Then there were the morticians, forensic workers and coroners from other jurisdictions who came to identify the bodies. One such hero helped save my mental health one day. I was at the morgue talking with one of the Medical Examiner's staff near one of the tents where they were doing autopsies and trying to identify people. I saw them examining a frozen parcel retrieved from a refrigerator truck...in short... I can't unsee what I saw. Then one funeral director on the DMORT team (He was from the midwest somewhere) came over to me and intentionally got between me and what I was staring at, and put his arm on my shoulder and said "C'mon Chaplain...let's go get a cup of coffee" As he looked up at me as we walked to the salvation Army Canteen.
Then he said something that brought everything into focus. "You know Chaplain... there are a lot worse things than dying."
Having heard his story and knowing what he had seen in a lifetime of dealing with death and disaster, he helped me see things from the Lord's perspective.
Q: You also met some celebrities like Elton John and Rudy Guilliani and others, can you share about some of those encounters?
When our team was at the giant pier building that housed all the agencies that were helping family members who lost oved ones, the City of New York made a way for family members to take a passenger ferry from the Pier to a staging area prepared for them near Wall Street. There they saw the actual Pile up close and personal.
On the first trip Mayor Giuliani accompanied the family members 50 at a time. When they walked up to it, some screamed, some fainted, others vomited. One woman tore out clumps of her hair till her scalp bled. This one man looked like he was about to have a heart attack. He began to yell at the Mayor, blaming him for what happened. His knees buckled, I grabbed one arm, Giuliani grabbed the other and patted the man's chest saying, "I'm so sorry you lost your son." On the ride back, the Mayor came over to me, grabbed both my hands and stared at my face for a moment. "Thank you for coming here to be with us," he said.
On another trip (there were numerous ferry trips each day) I was with a man whose son had perished. He and I prayed and had a powerful moment where the Lord touched him...a few days later we learned that there was to be a special Mass held at St Patrick's cathedral for all the tradesmen who worked at the World Trade Center who perished. The Church was packed with thousands of people As the Cardinal began the mass. I was seated on the end of the center aisle way, way in the back. The people at the front were so far away they looked tiny.
As they served communion (no small feat for such a large group) there was a disturbance at the front, Someone was pushing past the ushers and headed toward the back of the cathedral... as he got closer I realized it was the man I had prayed with...He walked up to me cupped his hands on my face and said through tears, "I knew you would come."
Another time at the family Center, I was helping someone whose husband was with Cantor Fitzgerald. That company lost over 500 people on 9/11. There was a commotion to my left and I saw Elton John walking through just trying to connect with people. I just blurted out "Hey!" He turned and I said "Thank you for coming down here to be with these people. He came over stared at me for a second and cupped his hands on my face just like the man from the ferry.
I really believe as I wrote about this in the book, that there was something the Lord was doing that actually manifested on my face.I really believe that when we minister to people in Jesus' name our faces can reflect His glory and comfort people..
Q: You talk a lot about Holy Spirit led encounters. Talk about a few of those.
Perhaps the most dramatic encounter for me also took place at the family Center. One day I began to feel a little wobbly and emotionally vulnerable. I had it cried or showed emotion up to that point. I believe the Lord helped me to appear steady and calm to help others. This one day I 'hit the wall'. I honestly didn't thing I could endure seeing one more person crying or showing me a picture of their loved one or seeing the giant nursery where all those little ones were being cared for while their parent was meeting with this helping them.
I got as far away as I could, sat down on the concrete floor...put my head on my knees and just tried to breathe and gather myself. Did you ever get the feeling someone was looking at you? I had that feeling. I looked up and there was this beautiful German Shepherd; his head cocked to one side. He walked over to me, put his head in my lap and let me pet him. The dam broke and I had a good cry. It was such a cathartic experience that I actually felt relieved. I looked up to his owner and asked her.
"What's the dog's name?" I thought she said "Bruno."
I tickled Bruno's ears a little bit, got up, thanked the lady without even thinking to ask her name and got back to work. Two or three years later, I was back at my church in Oregon. I went to visit a little girl from our congregation who was in the pediatric unit of the hospital in Eugene. This was also the time when I began to experience some pretty significant PTSD symptoms.
When I left the little girl's room, out in the hallway, was a German Shepherd. I smiled and thought of Bruno and even muttered his name. The dog came right up to me. I looked at the woman who owned the dog and in utter disbelief asked, "Ground Zero?" "Yes" she said "We were at Ground Zero! It was him! I was so overwhelmed that once again I failed to get the name and contact of the woman who owned Bruno.
For years I looked for articles or mention of Bruno and didn't find anything. Seventeen years later, I was planning to make a trip to Florida to be with my sister Joan who was dying. I had to get some tings for my trip so I decided to take a drive in the country to a town a half hour away. I got my things and passed a Starbucks near the store.
As I walked in I saw a lady sitting outside under an umbrella having her coffee. With her was a smaller German Shepherd. I knew it couldn't be Bruno. Dogs don't live that long.
I went up to her and asked if I could say 'Hi' to her dog. Shen smiled and let me pet her dog. I started to tell her the story about Bruno. She let me go on for after a few minutes then said. "Oh no, you've got it wrong. That dog wasn't Bruno. His name was Uno." "You knew that dog???" She pointed to her dog and said I had my dog bred with Uno this is his daughter.
Finally, I found out the name and contact information for Pat Gartman, Uno's owner. Turns out she lived on the same town as the church I pastored for 20 years! We reunited and just last week did a radio interview and told the story of Uno.
Q: Twenty years have passed since 9/11. What can people still learn from what had happened?
Later People I believe, learn that even at the lowest points of our lives The Lord can meet us right in the midst of the rubble, the broken things, the broken people and our broken world. I am an eyewitness of the work of the Holy Spirit in the midst of the most horrific attack on the U.S. I watched Him comfort people. I watched Him fortify and strengthen the first responders. And I have watched him take care of me, and use me to minister to others in the midst of tragic events.
Q: How can people get a hold of your book, and how can they connect with you?
It is on Amazon and Kindle. They can get a hold of me at www.jude3fellowship.com or my email [email protected]