Category Archives: Terrorism

Out of the Ashes

The Cross at Ground Zero in June 2002

The Cross at Ground Zero in June 2002

On September 11, 2001 Sujo John sat at his desk on the 81st floor of the World Trade Center’s North Tower. He could hardly believe what the past several months had brought. Having wed Mary in January of 2000, he was still a newlywed and she was four months pregnant with their first child.  Just six months before, the two had left their native Calcutta, India with only $50, a couple of suitcases and dreams of a better, more prosperous life in the United States. In that short time in America, the two had landed good jobs.  Mary worked nearby—on the 71st floor of the WTC’s South Tower.

As he sat typing an email to a friend from church, Sujo confided that he believed God wanted more for him. Having read the Prayer of Jabez, by Bruce Wilkinson, Sujo wrote, “I’ve been chasing stuff in America. I want to be used of God.”  He finished his email and hit “send”.  It was 8:05 on a beautiful Tuesday morning, and it was time to start working. About 40 minutes later, Sujo was sending a fax and heard a huge explosion that we now know was American Airlines Flight 11 striking the North Tower between the 94th and 98th floors.

Down on his floor, Sujo watched as the world seemed to crumble around him- a huge hole allowed him to see ten floors up.  The building shook violently, walls started to fall apart and jet fuel from the planes caused fires to break out everywhere, making every minute more treacherous for those in the building. Sujo made his way to the stairs along with his co-workers and thousands of other workers in the building.  He remembers the people’s faces saying the “fear of death was written on the face of everyone.”

A short time later, he heard another loud crash when United Flight 175 slammed into the South Tower around the 81st floor, just ten floors up from where Mary worked.  Wondering whether he would get out alive, he was now more worried about what was happening with her.  Sujo tried to use his cell phone and those of people escaping down the stairs with him, but he couldn’t get through to her.  By the time he made it to the ground level of the tower, an area called The Plaza, the horrors of that day really hit Sujo.  Normally, The Plaza was a bustling, lively place, but what Sujo saw was beyond human comprehension.  He said, “This place of life, this place of just exuberance where life would be celebrated has now been turned into a place of death, a place of destruction, as I see hundreds of bodies of people that jumped out of those buildings, people who were in those planes.”

As time ticked away and he made his way through the chaos, away from the North Tower towards the South Tower, he felt the ground beneath his feet begin to rumble. Sujo described feeling as if he were being “sucked into a vacuum” as he heard the roar as the upper floors of the South Tower began to crumble.  He stopped momentarily and huddled with a group of 15 or 20 people and suddenly became very concerned of what would become of them if they all died without hearing about Jesus.

Until this point in his life, Sujo described himself as a “closet Christian”, keeping his faith to himself and never sharing what he believed about Jesus Christ.  Now facing death, Sujo found a boldness he never had and began praying out loud, crying out the name of Jesus.  He then realized those people he was with were also joining him in unison as he prayed.  He went on from there, stumbling through the dust and debris, covered in soot and wondering what became of Mary.

After the dust settled somewhat, Sujo decided to try to crawl back to the group of people he had prayed with a short time earlier, only to find they had not made it, and had been crushed by the hurricane-force wind and debris cloud caused by the South Tower’s collapse.  Downhearted and questioning God as to why He would allow him to survive and not them, Sujo said he felt God’s presence and believed those people were at peace now.  After the North Tower followed its twin and imploded, Sujo was shocked and couldn’t believe he was still alive.  He found himself out in the street, certain his beloved Mary was gone.

After wandering into a shop, he met a young woman who helped pull bits of glass out of his hair and offered to call someone for him.  Just as he handed his phone to her, it began to ring for the first time in many hours.  It was about noon by this time, and the clerk handed the phone back to Sujo.  The caller ID said it was from Mary’s number, but he was certain it was going to be the worst news…that someone was calling from her phone to let him know she didn’t survive.

He was wrong.  When he answered, he heard Mary’s voice.  She told him she had wanted to get to work early that day, but ended up running late.  When they reunited that night, they made a vow to each other and to God that they would make every day of their lives count.  Sujo prayed for God to “rewrite the history of my life”.  He knew that he and Mary had not come to America just to make money, pursue success or have financial security.  He believed that what was important to God was people…all people.

Fifteen years later, Sujo and Mary live near Dallas with their three children and have started an organization called You Can Free Us.  This organization works to abolish the modern-day slavery of human trafficking by rescuing women and children forced into prostitution in the U.S. and around the world. As 21st century abolitionists, Sujo and Mary have made good on their promise to God and have taken their message of survival and hope to people of all ages all over the world.

Sujo, Mary and their children

Sujo, Mary and their children

Lost Ground Zero Flag Returns to NYC

Firefighters raise a flag at the World Trade Center in New York on Tuesday, Sept. 11, 2001, as work at the site continues after hijackers crashed two airliners into the center. (AP Photo/The Record, Thomas E. Franklin)

Famous flag finally home at the National 9/11 Memorial & Museum in New York   (AP Photo/The Record, Thomas E. Franklin)

In the 15 years since the terrorist attacks in New York City, northern Virginia and Shanksville, PA, many stories—real and unreal—have been told.  Over the years, we’ve been intrigued and inspired by stories of heroic actions, strange “coincidences” that kept people from going to work that day, conspiracy theories and miraculous tales of survival.

Perhaps one of the most amazing stories is the one behind the iconic photo of three firefighters raising the American flag among the ruins of the Twin Towers on September 11, 2001. What most people don’t know about that flag was that it disappeared just hours after it was put in place, only to be found more than a decade later and nearly three thousand miles from where that famed photo was taken.

On September 11, 2001, the three firefighters from Brooklyn—George Johnson, Dan McWilliams and Billy Eisengrein—could never have known what their spontaneous display of patriotism would mean to the nation.  What was their private tribute to honor all of those whose final resting place was a multi-story pile of steel and cement would become an indelible scene that is now etched onto the collective memory of Americans of a tragic day long ago.  So moving was the photo, it was immediately compared to another momentous flag-raising in American history—the one at Iwo Jima during World War II. The photograph earned a Pulitzer Prize and inspired many artists and was captured on a US postage stamp.

The firefighters didn’t know that as they paid their respects and showed their love of country, photographer Thomas E. Franklin was standing nearby and took the photo late that afternoon for the New Jersey newspaper that he worked for at the time.  It appeared in papers all over the world the next day.

Oddly enough, the flag didn’t belong to any of the fire departments working at Ground Zero.  McWilliams had taken it off of a yacht that was docked nearby on the Hudson River—a vessel called Star of America that was owned by a woman named Shirley Dreifus.  He had sawed off the yardarm holding the flag and the three found a pole to display it about 20 feet off the ground.  It disappeared late that night, and no one knew who took it.  It was assumed that the city took possession of it, and a flag owned by the city and believed to be the flag from the photo was signed by Mayor Rudolph Giuliani and Governor George Pataki.

That flag made its rounds all over the world.  It was flown at New York City Hall, Yankee Stadium and aboard the USS Theodore Roosevelt.  After its many adventures, the original owner of the Ground Zero flag—Ms. Dreifus—decided to officially turn it over to the city.  That’s when she noticed that the flag she thought came from her yacht was actually a different size than the one she had. She even started a website in an effort to recover her lost flag. CNN also aired a documentary in 2013 about the mystery of the lost Ground Zero flag.  It was during this filming where video evidence was found that confirmed the flag’s disappearance took place the night of 9/11/01 around 11 p.m.

Flash forward to the fall of 2014 when author, history buff and host of the History Channel’s “Brad Meltzer’s Lost History” enters the picture. He did a story about the missing flag on the show’s first episode, offering a $10,000 reward to the person who had it to turn it in. A few days later, a man who said he was a Marine named Brian turned it in to a fire station in Everett, Washington–more than 2800 miles from Ground Zero.  That news just came out this week because Brian’s flag had to undergo rigorous testing to verify that it had in fact been the one from Ground Zero. After almost two years of experts conducting their research, it passed every test.

According to a report in the Everett Herald, Brian did not give the firefighters his last name when he turned the flag in and didn’t want the reward money.  He reportedly had gotten the flag from an unnamed worker with the National Atmospheric and Oceanic Administration, who had gotten it from one of the 9/11 widows.

Police in Everett have released a composite sketch of the big-hearted Marine named Brian and hope he comes forward to tell the rest of the story of the Ground Zero Flag. The flag was found as mysteriously as it disappeared 15 years ago and now takes its rightful place  at the National September 11 Memorial & Museum in New York just in time for Sunday’s anniversary remembrance.

The History Channel will be airing another special on Sunday night (“America’s 9/11 Flag: Rise From the Ashes”)  hosted by Meltzer and will give all the details on the Ground Zero flag’s strange journey that took it across the country and how the experts were able to verify its authenticity as the flag raised by those three resolute firefighters 15 years ago.

The United Colors of Light

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Today is Flag Day.  Instead of seeing the colors of Old Glory waving proudly, on this Flag Day, most flags are flying at half-staff due to the events at an Orlando nightclub Saturday night when a lone terrorist used a gun to kill 49 innocent people and injured more than 50 others before being shot by police. It was the worst terrorist attack on our soil since September 11, 2001.

Fort Hood. Boston. Chattanooga. San Bernardino.  Orlando. Will it ever be time to take Islamic extremists at their word when they say “crazy” things like “Death to America!”?  Or when they promise us after every attack in Europe that they’re coming here to do the same?  When they tell us they are and will continue to infiltrate themselves into the populations of oppressed refugees that legitimately fear for their lives in their homelands?  Why do those who think they know better than us always brush these hate-filled words under the carpet, then whine about needing more gun laws to prevent such tragedies?  As if more laws (instead of enforcing the ones we already have) were the answer.  It wouldn’t have kept the Orlando terrorist from doing what he did.

Some people are even trying to blame Christians for the attack due to The Pulse nightclub being a gay bar. A nut from the ACLU claimed that all of the bills in various states coming out in recent months to protect Christian businesses from lawsuits when they don’t want to participate in same-sex “weddings” are to blame for ratcheting up the hatred against homosexuals.

It’s not about guns…or wedding cakes…it’s not even about being gay (though in this particular incident, that’s the likely motivation for picking this target).  It’s about those who hate our way of life so much, they want it to disappear.

The Elephant in the Room is this:  evil exists and it seeks to destroy.  Just because you refuse to acknowledge it as such doesn’t make it go away. All Westerners– whether here in the US, in Canada, Europe or wherever—have a real enemy in political Islam and those who practice it.  It doesn’t matter if you are a Christian, Jew or a Muslim who isn’t the right kind of Muslim.  It doesn’t matter if you’re gay, straight or what color skin you have.  It is about radical Islam, though you’ll never hear the president use that phrase.  We may not be at war with them, but they sure as heck are at war with us. .  All you have to do is take them at their word.

Here’s an example. In April of this year, WFTV 9 in Orlando broke a story about an Islamic imam who was coming to speak at the local mosque. A little investigation into this imam found that he had some pretty radical beliefs and was caught on tape back in 2013 expressing those views.  That imam, Sheikh Farrokh Sekaleshfar, is on tape saying how he would deal with homosexuals:  “Death is the sentence. We know there’s nothing to be embarrassed about this, death is the sentence…We have to have that compassion for people, with homosexuals, it’s the same, out of compassion, let’s get rid of them now.”

Now why didn’t that get any national news coverage back in April?  Given the events of Saturday night/Sunday morning, it seems particularly chilling and is not unlike what Adolf Hitler said of them back in his day.

The guy who shot up The Pulse nightclub saw the world through a prism of hate.  Twisted, disturbed, inhumane.  The only thing that can conquer this kind of darkness is light. The homosexual movement uses the rainbow colors as their flag of solidarity.  When the colors of the rainbow pass through a prism, what comes out the other side is pure, white light—focused and sharp as a laser.

Maybe it’s time for all of us to be that light–to focus more on what we have in common and stand for one another’s right to live, to be free, to speak our minds without fear of being made into some sort of hate-monger.  Unless, of course, like the previously-mentioned imam–you are a hate-monger who talks about killing people.

We don’t have to agree on everything, but can we not at least agree that all lives really do matter, and that the time is coming—and may already be here—when we need to stand together against darkness?

The people who died in Orlando were somebody’s daughters and sons. Whether they were gay or not doesn’t make a difference, just as such things as political party, sexual orientation or skin color didn’t matter in the days after the Twin Towers fell.

“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”- Martin Luther King, Jr.

How to Save a Life

Last summer, I posted about the Restoring Unity event held in Birmingham, Alabama in August. At that time, it was announced by conservative commentator Glenn Beck that the humanitarian division of his company Mercury One would begin raising funds to evacuate thousands of Christian and Yazidi families who had been displaced from their homes in the Middle East by ISIS terrorists. The ambitious fundraising goal to raise $10 million by Christmas is called The Nazarene Fund, after the mark (see below) that ISIS paints on the homes and property of Christians living in their path to mark them for death.

Modern day Star of David: The Arabic letter "N" marks Christians for death by ISIS.

Modern day Star of David: The Arabic letter “N” marks Christians for death by ISIS.

Though Beck at the time realized this was a huge goal, that goal was met in about 3 months, and now stands at more than $12 million. Just a week ago, the radio and internet TV mogul traveled with a team to evacuate the first group of 149 families to Slovakia. These Christians originally lived in areas of Iraq and Syria that lost everything they had when ISIS swept through in mid-2014. Most had been professionals with families, homes and businesses. Beck said that when he arrived, he found them living in refugee camps in deplorable conditions—but even so, he told his radio audience earlier this week how full of joy these refugees were and grateful to still be alive.
The Blaze reported donations to The Nazarene Fund came from Beck’s millions of listeners and viewers of his internet programs, with average donations being around $100. The refugees were heavily screened by Peregrine Consultants, in a process that “exceeded present international standards.” Yes, they are being asked questions about their religious beliefs in order to screen out any potential jihadists that seek to infiltrate the refugee population in order to get into western nations.  Beck said they are working with parish priests and pastors on the ground to verify identities and level of commitment to Christianity (i.e. how they came to Christ, how long ago, have they been baptized into the faith).

These families will be resettled in and around Nitra in central Europe, which is often referred to as the Cradle of Christianity. That seems fitting for them, since the areas they were driven from by ISIS had some of the longest-running Christian churches in the world—churches that were begun by the Apostles themselves.

Johnnie Moore, an author and advocate for these oppressed people, assisted in the evacuation. Moore spoke in Birmingham last summer and at that time shared stories of the atrocities being committed by ISIS against these people. He told The Blaze this rescue mission is just the first of many being planned in the months to come because Christians in the Middle East are “facing an ongoing genocide”.

As these families look forward to a new future in a new country, they won’t be left alone to make the adjustment. Mercury One has agreed to assist the Slovakian government to fund a three-year integration program to include education and training to learn the new language and other services needed as they assimilate into Slovakian society. Needless to say, this chance to begin again without having to live in fear is something the refugees were thankful for. One said, ““It’s something that makes me tremble and makes me very, very thankful, so thank you so very much for doing that.”

Children rescued by The Nazarene Fund, courtesy of Mercury One

Children rescued by The Nazarene Fund, courtesy of Mercury One

Beck has mentioned a number of times over the past few months that he had the names of 12,000 families here in the United States that were committed to taking in families from these areas of the Middle East if and when our government decides to allow them in. As of this writing, the Obama Administration refuses to acknowledge that there is, in fact, genocide of Christians happening right now.

The next time you hear some liberal pundit drone on about how bigoted and insensitive conservatives are, keep in mind the work being done through The Nazarene Fund…and it’s being done by people just like you and me, with lots of help from Above.

Who Are We?

Today is the last day of Hanukkah, and since this is a place where both “Merry Christmas” and “Happy Hanukkah” can still be spoken side by side, I thought it was a good time to share an interesting bit of trivia that I found in a book I read a while ago. On each of the 8 nights of Hanukkah, a candle is lit and prayers are recited. One prayer is a blessing, which begins with the phrase, “Barukh atah Adonai”, which means, “Blessed are you, Lord our God”. Then it went on to explain the word “barukh” means “blessed”, and the Hebrew word it comes from is “barakh” (“to kneel to bless or to kneel to make rich”).

If these ancient words look vaguely familiar, it’s where the African language got its word for “blessed”…”Barack”. This may make you want to scoff and I wouldn’t blame you a bit. Oh, the irony that we should have a president who has a name that means, not only “blessed” but one who kneels down to bless or to make rich. This implies an intentional action to bless.

I would say our president doesn’t live up to his name. The average household has less expendable income than before he was elected. More people are on food stamps. Race relations are worse than they’ve been in many decades, and his idea of “leading from behind” has led to a leadership vacuum here and especially in the Middle East.

Since nature hates a void, it left the door open for the true believers of political Islam such as ISIS to take hold of large swaths of that part of the world, and it remains to be seen how our own lack of real leadership will unfold here in the U.S. Whenever a tragedy strikes, such as the terrorist attack in California, Obama takes that opportunity to lecture us on “who we are”, usually by using the phrase, “That’s not who we are”. Pay attention, and you’ll notice: he says that A LOT.

The truth is, he really has no idea who we are. A married couple, who are now believed to have been part of a terrorist cell, shoot up an office Christmas party and somehow it’s the fault of the guns, or the lack of gun laws…or it’s the internet’s fault. The media and political gymnastics that have occurred in the days since the shooting have been amazing and disgusting to watch. Blaming anything other than the two people and those supporting their attack makes them into victims themselves rather than vicious jihadi Islamists fighting infidels for allah.

So we are told we have to have more gun laws or government restrictions on the internet because “it’s not who we are” to allow mass shootings to keep happening. We’re told we have to open our borders wide to let in more people, even though terrorists have admitted that they have planned to infiltrate the refugee program in order to get here to do us harm. But we can’t ask them too many questions, especially about their religion because that too, is “not who we are”.

Who we are, if the president or any other ideologue cared to ask, is a people who are the first ones to help whenever there is a man-made or natural disaster anywhere in the world. Americans give more than any nation, and have done more than any nation in the history of the world to reach out to poor and oppressed people all over the world. We’re not racist, bigoted people who need lecturing from a person who doesn’t live up to his own name to serve and bless other people. It might be wise for all of us, as we prepare to go into an election year, to remember who we are, where we’ve been, and where we want to go. American exceptionalism isn’t just a platitude used by conservative talk show hosts or an idea denied by liberals—it’s a fact supported by history.

Later this week, I’ll share an example of what every day Americans are doing to go beyond words to action when it comes to saving lives in the Middle East—-and they’re doing it without a lot of fanfare. (check back Thursday afternoon…)

Only in America

Remember that teenager in Texas who started the school year last month by bringing his homemade “clock” to school and freaked out his teachers? Apparently, he’s been enjoying his 15 minutes of fame, which looks like it’s turned into a full hour. Leaving his books (and homemade clock/bomb) behind Ahmed Mohamed—aka “The Clock Kid”—has been traveling the world. Last night, he even appeared at the White House as the president’s special guest at the White House Astronomy Night.

Ahmed got his chance to meet NASA scientists and astronauts—minus his “clock”. After he was handcuffed, detained and released the same day for bringing in a briefcase-looking thing with wires coming out of it to his school in mid-September, Obama tweeted his support and invitation to the White House: “Cool clock, Ahmed. Want to bring it to the White House? We should inspire more kids like you to like science. It’s what makes America great.”

No doubt Obama was thinking that the Irving, Texas school officials and police “acted stupidly” in how they dealt with the Muslim teen. The WH spokesperson Josh Earnest even stated at the time that Ahmed’s teachers “failed him” by stereotyping him as they did. Prior to the White House shin-dig, Ahmed even told the press how hard it was for him to live in the United States and that probably if he had been a white kid, and not a Muslim, nothing would have happened to him.   The ignorance of youth…so easily molded into the role of the victim.

Ahmed must have forgotten what happened to a little white boy, 7-year-old Josh Welch, who was suspended for 2 days from his Maryland school in 2013 because he supposedly ate a pop tart into the shape of a gun. Unfortunately, The Pop Tart Kid never received this kind of VIP support.

Maybe it was a little over the top to put The Clock Kid in handcuffs and haul him down to the police station for the day, but weren’t his public school teachers just adhering to Obama’s own adage to “say something when you see something” when it comes to terror threats? At 14, Ahmed should probably have been aware of the way things are in public schools, and that bringing a briefcase with wires sticking out of it into class might be a bad idea.

These two public school incidents remind me of that saying, “Everyone is equal…some are just more equal than others.” One kid eats a pop tart into a gun shape (he said he was trying to make it look like a mountain in a picture he drew) and gets suspended for a couple days…and has the suspension upheld by a judge the next year because the judge said the boy had a history of bad behavior in school. Another kid, twice his age, says he’s making a clock, that looks nothing like a clock by anyone’s definition of a clock…but it does kind of look like the makings of a bomb. He brings it to school and gets an invitation to bring it to the White House (which he didn’t do).

But it didn’t stop there for Ahmed the Clock Kid. He has since left his high school and is being home-schooled, and has visited Mecca, Google and Queen Rania of Jordan. The young inventor, son of Muslim activist Mohamed Elhassan Mohamad (who ran for the president of Sudan twice) even got to meet the Butcher of Darfur, Omar Hassan al-Bashi, who is the current president of Sudan. Al-Bashi is accused of ordering the genocide of hundreds of thousands of people in Darfur over the past ten years and is wanted for war crimes.

Ahmed has also been honored by the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) as their “American Muslim of the Year”. By the way, CAIR remains an un-indicted co-conspirator in the Holy Land Foundation case of several years ago where participants were charged with funding the terrorist group Hamas. Ahmed, since you live in Texas, maybe you should do a search for an old country song by Garth Brooks…it’s called “Friends in Low Places”.

So Ahmed goes from an obscure high school nerd to the Man About Town, or rather—The World. Wonder if he still thinks it’s so hard to live in America?

Logic for Dummies

The Spirit of 93

If you were old enough 14 years ago to remember the events of this day, you probably know exactly where you were and what you were doing. It was a Tuesday, and since then, we’ve seen many Tuesdays come and go. The photos of all those who lost their lives on this day in 2001 slowly faded with time and fell from their places on cement walls and bulletin boards. The phrase “Never Forget” is often seen and heard on this day, only to go away again until next September 11th.

All of those who perished on 9/11/01, their families, friends, and colleagues have a story to tell… and some of those stories have been told many times. Some stories may never be. When it comes to the passengers and crew that boarded Flight 93 on that fateful morning, the names that usually come to mind are Todd Beamer, Mark Bingham and Tom Burnett. They were the men who decided to lead the other passengers in an attempt to re-take their airplane from the terrorists. As a result of the last heroic efforts of many of the passengers, Flight 93 is the only plane that never made it to its intended target, which is now believed to have been the U.S. Capitol building.

Among the other passengers and crew was a former police detective (Cee Cee Lyles, flight attendant); a greeting-card aficionado who always remembered loved ones and co-workers on special occasions…two of whom received cards from her that were postmarked 9-11-01 (Lorraine Bay, flight attendant); an aspiring child psychologist who worked with troubled teens (Deora Bodley); an ironworker who helped to build the World Trade Center and who had served as a paratrooper in the U.S. Army (William Cashman); an account executive at Good Housekeeping who was in the middle of writing her own book to inspire women (Lauren Grandcolas). As a side note, Lauren, who was 38, was expecting her first child with her husband Jack at the time of her death. Every year when they read the names of the victims at the memorial service in Shanksville, PA and a bell tolls for each passenger …her unborn child is also recognized among them. Lauren’s two sisters completed her book, titled “You Can Do It: The Merit Badge Handbook for Grown-Up Girls.”

Time and space doesn’t permit a complete list, but here are a few more: a veteran of Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm who later flew humanitarian missions to Somalia (First Officer Leroy Homer); a college-aged Japanese national who was headed home after having visited such American icons as the Statue of Liberty and Niagara Falls who traveled alone so he could immerse himself in the English language (Toshiya Kuge); the Purser on Flight 93 (Deborah Jacobs Welsh) who had more than 25 years of experience in the airline industry. Deborah was known for her compassion that she showed to the homeless who lived near her Manhattan neighborhood when she would bring them leftover airline meals and warm winter clothing.

These are just some of the 40 people who, when they saw evil face-to-face, didn’t sit around asking why the terrorists hated them. They didn’t form committees to try to analyze the evil before them. Time wasn’t on their side and they knew it…and they acted.

The passengers and crew of United 93 could be considered some of the first civilian heroes of the modern-day War on Terror (a term our current president no longer uses). The world has gotten even more dangerous in the 14years since. The same ideology of the hijackers of 9-11-01 is the same ideology that threatens large swathes of the Middle East right now. It now goes by another name than it did in 2001, but it’s still pure evil and it has to be called out for what it is.

Those people could have ignored what was happening before them that day, but it wouldn’t have done them any good…and if they had chosen to sit passively in their seats and accept what was happening, it wouldn’t have turned out any differently for them. On the other hand, but for their fearlessness in the face of terror, that day could have turned out much differently for a lot of other people.

A memorial plaque for the passengers & crew of United Flight 93

A memorial plaque for the passengers & crew of United Flight 93

    

The Faith of Kayla Mueller

In 1963, Martin Luther King, Jr. sat in a jail in Birmingham, Alabama and penned his now-famous “Letter from Birmingham Jail”. In it, he explained to a group of fellow pastors why he had to be in that city, which at that time, was the most segregated city in the United States. He wrote, “I cannot sit idly by in Atlanta and not be concerned about what happens in Birmingham. Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.”

Perhaps it was that same Spirit that desires to see freedom for the oppressed that prompted Kayla Mueller, a 20-something relief worker from Arizona, to go to one of the most dangerous parts of the world to help people living under the dark shadow of the Islamic State (ISIS). Kayla had done relief work in India in the past. When her boyfriend Omar Alkhani went to Syria to do some internet service work for Doctors Without Borders, she asked to go with him.

They were both captured in August, 2013 after leaving a hospital in Aleppo, Syria. Alkhani was beaten and released after two months, but Kayla’s ordeal was to continue on. According to reports that have since been confirmed by American intelligence, Kayla was raped repeatedly and forced into a “marriage” to top ISIS leader and financier Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.

During her captivity, Kayla wrote a letter to her family that made its way to them and has since been released. To read it, knowing what we now know, is truly heart breaking. She tells her family she was “in a safe location, completely unharmed.” However, it’s apparent she was just trying to spare them any further worry about her situation. She’s even apologetic, to the point of feeling like forgiveness from them is beyond her reach: “If you could say I have “suffered” at all throughout this whole experience it is only in knowing how much suffering I have put you all through; I will never ask you to forgive me as I do not deserve forgiveness.”

She writes about her cellmates who were released…2 Yazidi teens who were also kept as sex slaves. They wanted her to come with them, but she insisted she stay behind because she thought her obviously-American appearance would put them in jeopardy and that they would all be re-captured. So she stayed behind. Though she was hardly old enough to be a mother to the teen-aged girls, Kayla’s family said she became a “mother figure” to them as they all tried to survive together. They were held in the home of another ISIS leader, Abu Sayyaf and his wife Umm Sayyaf. The teens with whom Kayla was imprisoned confirmed Kayla’s forced marriage to al-Baghdadi. He would often come to visit the Sayyafs, and when he did, Kayla was taken to his room. When she returned, she would often be in tears and told the other girls what he did to her.

Her mother, Marsha said, “Kayla did not marry this man. He took her to his room and he abused her and she came back crying.”

Kayla’s death was confirmed back in February of this year, but even now, no one knows how she died. ISIS claims she was killed in a Jordanian airstrike, but U.S. officials have not said that those were the circumstances that caused her death. As for the Sayyafs, Abu Sayyaf was killed in a May 16th raid by the elite U.S. Delta Force that intended to capture him, but was forced to kill him because he drew a weapon on them. This lead to a “treasure trove” of new information about ISIS, some of which came from Sayyaf’s wife Umm, who is said to have pretty much spilled her guts about ISIS leaders’ routines and locations. She also corroborated much of what the Yazidi teens had told to U.S. officials about Kayla and the torture she endured to the end of her life at the hands of al-Baghdadi.

What happened to Kayla Mueller is just one example on a long, long list of examples of the inhumanity of the group called ISIS. They behead men, burn people alive, crucify children, throw homosexuals off of buildings and force women and young girls into sex slavery. Kayla saw injustice and oppression on the other side of the world, and like MLK before her, decided she couldn’t sit and do nothing about it. She did what most of us wouldn’t be willing to do: to be a light in the darkest place on earth. She may have lost her life, but she gained so much more, as she clung to her faith in God.   In her words, “I have been shown in darkness, light + have learned that even in prison, one can be free. I am grateful. I have come to see that there is good in every situation, sometimes we just have to look for it.”

If Kayla’s story has inspired you, please share it.

Kayla Muellar, American humanitarian; died while held in captivity by ISIS.

Kayla Mueller, American humanitarian; died while held in captivity by ISIS.

A Legacy in Pictures

usa_sm_halfm2            Before there was Facebook or Twitter or Instagram…long before everyone had a phone that was also a camera, Bill Biggart knew what it was like to look at life through a lens. He was doing it before it became the thing to do. Bill’s work took him all over the world in his career as a photojournalist, but that day 13 years ago found him home in New York.

When the first plane hit the North Tower of the World Trade Center, a taxi driver passing by him on the street alerted him to the news. He quickly ran home to get two film cameras and one digital camera and walked towards the Twin Towers, snapping pictures as he went. His passion for the people affected by the historical events he covered is evident in his work. He seemed to capture an odd beauty of regular people in irregular circumstances, as in his photos of the people of Northern Ireland struggling for independence in the 1980’s. He was there when the Berlin Wall fell in 1989, and once again his lens focuses on the people, their faces full of excitement and expectation.

But it was his work from that September day in 2001that most of us would know. If you’ve seen any pictures from 9/11/01, you’ve seen a Bill Biggart picture. Once again, many of them are of people:  the stunned and weary firefighters and shell-shocked office workers who escaped from the towers. A friend and fellow photographer said of him: “One thing Bill taught me was that sometimes the picture is behind you, in the faces of people watching.”

And so it was this passion for the real story as told on the faces of those on the scene, that led him to get as close as he could to where things were happening. Shortly after the South Tower fell (the first to go down), Bill’s wife Wendy called him on his cell phone. He told her not to worry and that he would meet her at his studio 20 minutes later. He reassured her saying, “I’m safe. I’m with the firemen.”

By now you’ve probably guessed that Bill never made it to his studio to meet his wife. He continued taking pictures of the aftermath of the South Tower’s collapse…right up until 10:28 am when the North Tower fell. In fact, his last shot, pictured below, was time-stamped at 10:28:24. Only seconds after he took it, Bill Biggart perished. His camera and press passes where found in the debris four days later.  He was the only professional photographer to be killed covering the September 11th terrorist attacks.

The last photo taken by Bill Biggart of the ruins of the WTC's South Tower, just seconds before the North Tower fell.

The last photo taken by Bill Biggart of the ruins of the WTC’s South Tower, just seconds before the North Tower fell.

His wife Wendy said, “With a press pass around his neck and a camera bag over his shoulder, in the middle of a cross fire – Bill was in heaven.” In his 54 years of life, Bill saw the world and translated what he saw through the lens of a camera. He left the world more than just some really poignant pictures of historical events, however. His life and work leave the rest of us with the idea that people can do what they were born to do. His is an example of a life lived with passion and intention, doing what he loved to do…and he did it until his last breath.

USA Terrorist Attack-WTC

Fallen Hero’s Parents Write Open Letter to Obama (Guest Commentary)

***NOTE:  The following letter to President Obama was written by Billy and Karen Vaughn, parents of Aaron Carson Vaughn of SEAL Team VI who was killed in action in Afghanistan on 8/6/11.  It was originally published on WorldTribune.com 2 weeks ago and is re-printed here with the Vaughns’ permission.  Learn more about their story at www.forourson.us.

After finally choosing to view the barbaric, on-camera beheading by ISIS of freelance war correspondent James Foley, I have been left with a level of rage known only to those of us who have sacrificed unspeakable offerings on the altar of world peace.

My offering was my only son — Aaron Carson Vaughn. Aaron was a member of SEAL Team VI. He was killed in action when a CH47D Chinook, carrying thirty Americans and eight Afghans was shot down in the Tangi River Valley of Afghanistan on Aug. 6, 2011.

Many times over the past three years, I have been asked what drove my son to choose his particular career. What made him want to be a Navy SEAL? My answer is simple.

Aaron Vaughn was a man who possessed the courage to acknowledge evil. And evil, once truly acknowledged, demands response. Perhaps this is why so few are willing to look it in the eye. It is much simpler — much safer — to look the other way.

That is, unless you are the leader of the Free World.

As Commander-in-Chief, your actions — or lack thereof — Mr. President, cost lives. As you bumble about in your golf cart, slapping on a happy face and fist-pounding your buddies, your cowardly lack of leadership has left a gaping hole — not only in America’s security — but the security of the entire globe. Your message has come across loud and clear, sir: You are not up to this job. You know it. We know it. The world knows it.

Please vacate the people’s house and allow a man or woman of courage and substance to seize the reigns of this out-of-control thug-fest and regain the balance we, America, have provided throughout our great history.

Thanks to your “leadership” from whatever multi-million dollar vacation you happen to be on at any given moment, the world is in chaos. What’s been gained, you’ve lost. What’s been lost, you’ve decimated. You’ve demolished our ability to hold the trust of allies. You’ve made a mockery of the title “President.” And you’ve betrayed the nation for which my son and over 1.3 million others have sacrificed their very lives.

But this should come as no surprise, since your wife uttered a vile statement on Feb. 18, 2008, during the primary campaign — one that speaks volumes of your true convictions. “For the first time in my adult life, I am really proud of my country,” she said.

I am sure my deceased son thanks you for that, Mrs. Obama. Oh, and you’re welcome.

Never in my lifetime have I witnessed such despair and such growing fear that the world’s last best hope, America, has finally been dismantled. Perhaps the better word is transformed — fundamentally transformed. Come to think of it, it’s become difficult — if not impossible — to believe things haven’t gone exactly as you planned, Mr. President.

Amazingly, in five short years, your administration has lurched from one disaster to another. You spearheaded the ambitious rush to end the wars in both Iraq and Afghanistan — with no plan on how to do so effectively. Also, the release of “the Taliban five” in exchange for one American — without consulting Congress — is on your shoulders.

You have been at the helm during unprecedented national security leaks — including, but not limited to the outing of SEAL Team VI on the Bin laden raid, the outing of the Pakistani doctor who provided the intelligence for that raid, the outing of Afghanistan’s CIA station chief, and the outing of your personal “kill list” to make you look tough. In addition, 75 percent of American deaths in Afghanistan and 83 percent of Americans-wounded-in-action have occurred on your watch, according to icasualties.org.

And now, we have this recent, heinous event: the beheading of an American citizen by a barbaric organization you foolishly referred to as “the JV team” in your statements to the New Yorker magazine in January.

You, sir, are the JV team. It’s time for you to step down and allow a true leader to restore our honor and protect our sons and daughters.

America has always been exceptional. And she will be again. You, Mr. President, are a bump in our road.

Chief Petty Officer Aaron Carson Vaughn of SEAL Team VI

Chief Petty Officer Aaron Carson Vaughn of SEAL Team VI