September 11, 2001 — A Day That Changed My Life Forever
I wrote those words on a chalkboard in Chengdu, China, in the summer of 2004, while teaching Chinese middle schoolers to write a timeline of important moments in their lives. I didn’t know if there would be any questions, but when I turned around, every hand was raised. They all wanted to know: “Why did it change your life forever?!”
I began by telling them I was raised in a Christian home. Much like other kids around the world, I learned how to live, what to say, and what to do from my parents. As a kid, I loved God and believed in Jesus. I read my Bible. I sang songs about God and tried to live a good life. But for everyone raised in a religious home, there comes a junction where you have to decide if your faith actually belongs to you, or is just something you learned to believe within the protection and care of your home.
This critical time happened on 9/11 for me.
It Is Their Divine Right to Hear of His Love
My family moved to New York City in the summer of 2001. I went to boarding school two hours east of the city for my senior year of high school, but back at home, my parents could see the Twin Towers from our Queens apartment.
On September 11th I walked into chapel at school, unaware of what had just happened. Behind me, a friend was crying. When I asked if she was okay, someone told me a plane had crashed into one of the towers.
Would You Pray With Us Today?
Many things happened that day that shaped and challenged me, including waiting to hear (in some cases the entire day) if my friends’ family members who worked in the Pentagon or Twin Towers were okay. However, my life was changed when I realized that, if what I believe is true—that the Creator God welcomes into eternity those who believe in Jesus—then many people who died in this attack were consequently not with God. For the first time, I faced the weight of eternity.
One cannot carry this weight alone. It can overwhelm you; it did me. The rest of my senior year I became more devoted to my faith. I wanted others to know about God, and spent hours talking to classmates about faith. I eventually became depressed, because I was carrying this weight on my own. I was not trusting God to work in the lives of others and to use me in whatever way would bring him glory.
I began to learn that God is the one who chases after people, like a shepherd calling lost sheep. Throughout college, I went to every Bible study or prayer meeting. I longed to tell others about saving faith in Jesus. In the summer of 2004, this eagerness brought me to China. I wrote our group’s theme for the summer on construction paper and taped it above the door of our teacher’s lounge so that every day, we would remember: “It Is Their Divine Right To Hear of His Love.”
As Christians, it is easy to take for granted that at some point we were introduced to Jesus. We often feel inadequate to step out and tell others about Christ, or are fearful of being rejected or mocked. Although we seek to love and serve our neighbors, what if, despite all our action, our friends and family have not actually been introduced to God?
Each Day as an Opportunity to be Salt and Light
Jesus invites us to come to him as we are. The Bible says God desires that all men and women come to know him. If this is his desire, and I am made in his image, should I not learn to be an ambassador to others? If God is the one who changes hearts, why should I live in fear? Each day, I must decide whether or not I will seek to be salt and light to those around me through my actions and words. Will I see and fully love the humanity and image of God in others?
My middle school students that summer did not have great English, but we connected on many different levels. In the simplest of terms, I could explain faith in Jesus as I answered how 9/11 changed my life.
I did not fully realize, until I went to China, that people listen to what you say and watch what you do. As Christians, we forget this. We don’t think of each day as an opportunity to be salt and light; we don’t realize that our words matter. Our actions may be small, yet they are meaningful moments in which others feel seen, loved, and cared for. Many walk away from Christianity and others keep the church at a distance because they are not attracted by the lives, testimonies, and words of Christians.
As we embrace the tension and weight of eternity, we see others as fellow people made in the image of God. We can then look for aspects of God’s image reflected in them, and can joyfully talk about God’s mission to restore his broken creation and fallen people. He wants us to experience ultimate peace, joy, and rest in him—both in this life and in eternity.
It has been twenty years since 9/11. I know that many are revisiting past trauma and deep sadness. May God have mercy. God is mysterious and allows terrible things to happen, but in the midst of the fire, destruction, pain, sadness, and darkness, he is there, and wants to draw people to himself. God often uses the brokenness of the world, our personal failures, and the pain that others inflict upon us to create beauty out of ashes. I look back and take solace in the fact that God used that terrible day to shape my life.
Before going to China, we were given a smooth, flat rock. We were told that, if you dropped the rock into a completely still body of water, the ripples would spread across the water from the point of impact. Our life is that rock; the ripple is the impact our words and actions have on those around us.
I still have that rock. It sits today on my desk at work, even after having worked with China for the past 15 years. That small rock is a reminder that my words and actions matter, and that it is not up to me to change the hearts and minds of others. Only God can do that. I get the privilege of seeking to be salt and light, and of loving, serving, and caring for those around me.
This year, twenty years after the day that changed my life, I urge Christians to thoughtfully consider:
1) Do we rest in God’s love through Jesus, finding peace in the midst of our daily strain to find purpose in all the wrong places?
2) Do we trust God to be the shepherd who cares more about our neighbors, friends, and family then we do? Will we invite this good shepherd to walk with us as we seek to love and serve others with our actions and words?
3) Will we embrace the weight of eternity and learn how to talk about faith in Jesus with others, since it is their divine right to know of his love?
Jeff Kyle is China Partnership’s Vice President of Operations and Advancement. He lives in New York with his wife and family.
FOR PRAYER AND REFLECTION
Pray today for God to give you an opportunity today to show his love and goodness to someone around you.