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.
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.