While many remember the terrible tragedy the struck America eleven years ago today as airplanes sliced through the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, for some, this day will forever be etched in their mind as they narrowly escaped with their lives on that dreadful morning.
Evangelist Sujo John says that he had just moved to the United States from Calcutta, India with his wife Mary a mere six months before the 9/11 attack, and both had found employment at the World Trade Center. He worked on the 81st floor of tower one and his wife worked on the 71st floor of tower two.
“I left home early that morning for work,” he remembers. “I made my way to my office and as I sat on my chair, I started reflecting on God’s goodness on our lives. He had blessed us with good jobs and now we were expecting our first child.”
“However, I began to feel a deep sense of emptiness in my life. I knew there was a call of God upon my life, but I was not doing anything about it,” John continued. “I started asking myself questions [in recent weeks, such as], God, what is my purpose for having moved to America? Is it all about the success and fame that I can find in this country, or is there something more?”
So, that morning, he sent an email to a friend from church to explain his struggle, lamenting, “I’ve just been chasing stuff in America. I want to be used of God.”
“I let go of that email at 8:05 a.m. from my office,” John said. “Little did I know how the next few moments would change us forever.”
It was just 45 minutes later while sending a fax to one of the business offices in Philadelphia that he felt the impact of Flight 11 smashing into the side of the building.
“[D]ebris from the plane flew into our office and everything started going up in flames,” he explained. “We could see a huge crater below and above us. [There was] twisted steel all around us with smoke and fire spreading fast.”
John said that he and others with him then attempted to fight their way through the smoke and flames to make it to the stairwell. However, even more than being concerned about his own life, he was worried about his wife and wondered if the plane had struck her tower as well. Frustrated that his cell phone was not picking up a signal at so crucial a moment, he made his way down the stairs to exit the building as police officers and firefighters ran past him — unknowingly to their death.
When John reached the lower levels of the tower, he said that he was shocked at what he saw.
“It was a picture of death and complete destruction,” he recalled. “Fuselage from the plane that had crashed, burning materials, shattered glass and bodies [were] all over the courtyard.”
As he made his way toward the South tower to find his wife, he said that the ground beneath him began to shake as he heard the building rumble. The tower then collapsed around him as pieces of steel and mortar flew threw the air.
John stated that as he sat huddled on the ground with over a dozen others close to him, he began to worry for their eternity.
“[T]his thought comes to my mind, ‘These people that are with you, where are they going without Jesus?'” he recounted.
“Until that moment in my life, I was a closet Christian. I would never be very vocal or verbal about my faith,” John said. “But facing death, I felt this boldness to speak up for Jesus, and I started calling out ‘Jesus!’ and I asked those 15-20 people to call upon the name of the Lord.”
He said that he was amazed at what happened next.
“Not one tried to argue with me or debate with me,” John stated. “At that point, everyone around me started crying ‘Jesus!'”
“By then, the whole building had collapsed and we were in the debris. Not a single boulder or any material fell on me,” he continued. “I got to my feet and was surrounded by silence. I could see dead bodies all around me. … [The others who prayed with me] did not make it out alive. Their bodies were smashed and crushed.”
John said that as he ran away from the area along with scores of other terrified World Trade Center employees and city residents, he kept thinking about his wife and fearing the worst. His cell phone still would not work.
However, over three hours after the plane had struck the first tower, his phone began to ring. John looked down and saw that it was his wife’s number, but thought that another person was using her phone to tell him that she was dead.
“So I picked up the phone with a lot of fear, thinking that it would be the worst news of my life,” he recalled.
“But, when I said hello, it was my wife on the other side,” John stated in relief. “She wanted to go to work earlier that day, but that morning she was late. … [H]er train had reached the World Trade Center subway stop five minutes after the first crash and so she had not made it into the buildings. She had been hysterical on the streets, thinking I was dead and seeing people jumping out of the buildings. Nevertheless, both of us were miraculously alive.”
That night, Sujo John made a commitment to turn from his pursuit of the American dream and to start pursuing God’s dream — the saving of souls.
“I said, ‘God, I am done chasing things that have been on my heart. I’ve been chasing success, fame and financial security, but from now on, I want to chase what’s on Your heart,'” he said. “I am convinced that all that’s in your heart is people — people from all over the world, many of who have never heard Your name even once.”
Since that day, Sujo John has been traveling around the world as an evangelist, returning to his native homeland to proclaim the Gospel to the Indian people. He has spoken in churches, public schools and community events nationwide, and is the author of the book, Do You Know Where You Are Going?
John now also challenges believers around the world to realize that their own community is Ground Zero, and that there is no time to waste in sharing the Gospel with the lost and dying around them.
“Ground Zero for me is not just New York City where the tragedy happened,” he advised. “Ground Zero for me is now my community [and] my city.”
“My prayer on this anniversary is that America’s churches would again be ablaze with the fire of the Holy Spirit, that we would once again preach the simple Gospel of Jesus Christ to America,” he said. “Let us pledge … that we would make the Gospel seen in this nation that is in deep need of a move of God.”