Out of the Ashes of 9/11

A survivor of the terrorist attack on the Pentagon three years ago says his story is proof that God can bring triumph out of a tragedy.

Saturday marks the third anniversary of the terrorist attacks in New York City, Pennsylvania, and Washington, DC. Retired Lieutenant Colonel Brian Birdwell was in his Pentagon office the morning of September 11, 2001, when he received word of two commercial jetliners ramming the World Trade Center towers. Birdwell was watching television news coverage of the attacks with two co-workers when he took a break.

“About 9:30 or 9:35, I stepped out to go to the men's restroom [and] told Cheryl and Sandy I'd be back in a moment &#0151 and those would be the last words I'd speak to those two ladies,” Birdwell remembers. “And as I was coming out of the restroom and returning to the office, Flight 77 crashed into the building.”

Birdwell was thrown to the ground and engulfed in flames. Of the burns that covered 60 percent of his body, nearly half were third-degree burns. He spent the next three months in the hospital, undergoing more than 30 surgeries, before returning home to his wife Mel and their teenage son Matt.

The former Army officer says his unwavering faith &#0151 along with friends from his local church &#0151 saw him through dark days of recovery and physical therapy.

“There were hundreds of people that were providing assistance while I was hospitalized,” he recalls. “We had one family, the Vances, who took care of Matt for seven weeks during the most critical times of hospitalization.”

The Body of Christ, he says, came alongside him and his family, doing numerous things &#0151 “and they didn't know us from anybody else,” Birdwell says. “But they knew that it was their call, based upon their faith, to care for those that were injured and in great suffering &#0151 and that's exactly what they did.”

In the aftermath of the tragedy, God has given the Birdwells a new ministry called Face the Fire Ministries. The former Pentagon staffer explains the focus of the ministry.

“The Lord's put on our heart a ministry to assist burn survivors and our wounded service men and women, and we've had the opportunity to do a lot of hospital visitation,” he says. “We provide encouragement and, in some cases, financial assistance to family members who are going through a significant physical and emotional challenge.”

Birdwell was awarded the Purple Heart for injuries he received in the terrorist attack. His story is chronicled in his new book, Refined by Fire.

Faltering Faith

In the days and weeks following the terrorist attacks, many in America turned to God. One pro-family leader who was in the nation's capital on that fateful day says while that spiritual reaction was real and lasting for some, the same can't be said about the nation as a whole.

The terrorist attacks three years ago have had a positive spiritual impact on individuals' faith in the US. That's the observation of Gary Bauer, executive director of the Campaign for Working Families, and a witness to the plane that slammed into the Pentagon.

“On the one hand, [I believe] individual Americans and their families…have taken faith more seriously in the last several years because of the events on 9/11,” Bauer observes. “But I think as a nation we still have a long way to go to turn our hearts back to God and to seek His hand of protection, which is ultimately the only safeguard we have in the dangerous world that we're living in.”

In the months following the attacks, churches across the nation were full to overflowing. However, Christian leaders say as time wore on, the faith of many wore out.

Increased Body Count

Since 9/11, America has taken the war to the terrorists, severely wounding the firepower of militant groups that have targeted the US. Jim Phillips, a terrorism expert with the Heritage Foundation, says that has caused terrorist groups to take a different tack.

Phillips says terrorist cells are becoming more desperate as America and its allies launch counter-offensives to seek out and destroy those cells wherever they are operating. Terrorist activity, he says, seems to be on the rise.

“I think in terms of numbers, it has gone up at least a little,” he says. “But what's even more concerning is the fact that the types of terrorist attacks, especially the number of casualties, seems to really be going up.”

Phillips explains what he sees as the reason for terrorists' apparent increased focus on targeting of human lives. “In the past, many terrorists had pretty narrow political goals,” he says, “but as radical Islamic militants grow in strength, their goals tend to be much more ambitious. And to fulfill these goals, they tend to want to kill more and more people.”

Some experts liken the terrorists of today to a wounded animal that seeks to destroy all it can before it succumbs. Phillips says that is why the world might be seeing fewer attacks these days, but more casualties as a result.

(This article courtesy of Agape Press.)

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