JM: It was out of that terrible tragedy that I was actually invited to the White House along with 25 other religious leaders to draft an ecumenical statement on praying for the nation. Then, I was one of seven selected to meet with the president in the Oval Office. That led to one of the most fascinating conversations and historical moments I could ever have envisioned or experienced. It also helped to cement a nice personal relationship with President George W. Bush.
JR: Any time mission executives have to take authoritative action, contrary to the wishes and desires of the missionaries, a morale problem evolves as well as a mixture of criticism and praise from their stateside families and churches. The crisis put emerging strategies that grew out of “New Directions” in 1997 on hold in terms of redeploying personnel to engage unreached people groups, provide creative access strategies in countries restricted to missionaries, and maintaining the momentum of new missionaries being appointed. (2001 had the highest number of missionary appointments in the history of the IMB, with more than a thousand being commissioned!)
September 11 impacted international relations, the safety and security of missionaries around the world, and exacerbated the danger and reality of what it meant to give of one’s life for the sake of the gospel and obedience to the call. The next year, three veteran missionaries were assassinated at our Jibla Baptist Hospital in Yemen; Bill Hyde, a church planter in the Philippines, died in a terrorist bombing at the Davao City airport; and four pioneer missionaries seizing the opportunity to minister to the suffering in Iraq were gunned down by insurgents.
JW: How should Southern Baptists view 9/11 from this vantage point, 20 years later?
RL: Of first importance, we must defend our core values of freedom of religion and freedom of conscience, particularly in times of great stress like that was. There’s the temptation to sacrifice those liberties on the altar of security, and that’s always a devil’s bargain. We need to practice and defend those “soul freedoms” for everyone at every opportunity.
September 11 told us — and our theology tells us this too — that we live in a world that is wracked by demonic and evil activity. The devil is a roaring lion “looking for someone to devour” as we read in 1 Peter. Paul tells us to redeem the time, “because the days are evil” (Eph. 5:16). The word here for “evil” is the word for an active, aggressive evil. We need to understand that the devil and evil people are up to things that we need to be vigilant against, and we are involved in spiritual warfare. Sometimes in the United States that is easy to forget because we have been spared many of the trevails that have been common to the rest of the world.
Once again, 9/11 reminded all Americans of the transitory nature of life. Churches were full right after 9/11. Then, things went back to “normal.” A lot of Americans have been lulled into a sense of “semi-immortality.” Events like this intrude upon Americans’ false sense of security. Life is a fragile thing, and none of us are guaranteed any set number of years. We need to keep our minds on eternal things and help fellow Americans keep their minds on eternal things, as well.
JM: Like any tragedy, I believe that we should always look to a sovereign God who is in control of everything that happens in the universe and wants to use everything for his glory, for the good of his people, and to turn people toward his Son, Jesus Christ. I still believe that events like this should remind us of the fragility of life and the urgency of sharing the gospel to a world that desperately needs Christ.
JR: Amazingly, these events and 9/11 resulted in a burgeoning pool of missionary candidates volunteering to take the gospel to the Muslim world. Over the next two years, the IMB global strategy coalesced around a vision of Muslim evangelism, seeing the gospel as the only power to counter the rise in terrorism. This was met by criticism and resistance of some of our Southern Baptist constituency who insisted we were wasting resources, missionaries should not be allowed to go to dangerous places, and Muslims deserved to go to hell.
In the last decade of the 20th century when the former Soviet Union disintegrated, Russia and Eastern Europe opened to the gospel. Unprecedented church growth swept China in spite of persecution and restrictions. The Muslim world was the one remaining formidable barrier to global evangelization. After 9/11, personnel in Muslim countries reported people expressing disillusionment in the Muslim faith that would endorse terrorism; they asked questions reflecting a search for hope and security they could not find in their traditional religion. September 11 caused the barriers to begin to crumble. Now, 20 years later we should remember what’s at stake and redouble our efforts to call out more missionaries and pray Muslims into the kingdom; after all God loves them, Jesus died for them, and his power is able to save them!
Jill Waggoner serves the ERLC in the areas of public relations and marketing. A 2005 graduate of Union University, she and her family reside in Lebanon, Tenn., where her husband Brandt serves as lead pastor of Fairview Church. She and Brandt have three boys.
This article originally appeared at ERLC.com.