A Decade Later
I was in San Diego on 9/11/01. My husband Jim and I were on staff with Center for Student Missions at the time, and we were there for our annual staff retreat. I recall snapshots from that week: non-stop news reports (until I couldn’t take it anymore and had to turn it off), relief when I finally connected with my mom and dad on the phone (even though Oklahoma was far from anything happening on the east coast), staff driving rental cars cross-country to get home because all our flights were cancelled.
We’ve shared on our website clips from a landmark video shot on 9/11 with dcTalk, Jars of Clay and others. Click here to see their reactions just hours after the planes hit the World Trade Center.
That day marks a stark dividing line in my life. I remember “before 9/11” … when you could meet arriving passengers at their gate, there were no such thing as a “no fly” lists and terrorism was something that happened in far away places like Israel or Ireland or Lockerbie, Scotland.
Growing up in a post-9/11 world
This year’s seniors were in second grade on 9/11/01 (remember President Bush was reading to 2nd graders at Emma E Booker Elementary School when he received word of the attack.) Today’s high school freshman were in preschool on 9/11/01. I have a three-year-old daughter, and I think about her when I read articles like this one about how educators are finding ways to teach 9/11 as history to students who were too young to remember (or not yet born).
So what does it mean for student ministry?
We asked our Resource Book Editor Ken McCoy to share his thoughts on 9/11’s impact on youth ministry. We’d like to hear what you have to say as well: How has 9/11 impacted student ministry? Has it changed how you do ministry? If you’ve been in student ministry for 10+ years, do you see a difference in today’s students that you think is a result of that event?
9/11 and Youth Ministry
Guest post by Ken McCoy
Ten years. That’s an eternity in youth ministry. Ten years ago, half of today’s high schoolers were kindergartners or first graders. Many, if not most, of the youth pastors working in churches when the 9/11 attacks occurred have moved on and are no longer in youth ministry. A huge number of today’s youth ministers were in high school back on 9/11/01.
While we were watching the Twin Towers burning and falling, we had a very clear sense that the world had changed forever. We were sure that things would never be the same again. Neighbors came out of their cocoons and automatically closing garages and reconnected with each other. The feeling of unity was everywhere. The surge of patriotism was undeniable. Flags were posted on almost every house in the neighborhood.
There was an eerie silence. No planes were flying. The silence made the situation seem even more ominous.
Everything changed. Politicians quit playing politics and united together. People stopped shopping for big-ticket items. Even radio stations stopped being shocking and crude and played more sensitive songs.
Churches held prayer meetings for the nation and for the victims, and people attended in droves. Prayer became a significant part of ministry in the days following the attack.
And then came the anger. We had been attacked, and we were not going to merely absorb the blow. We wanted retribution, vengeance, and justice. We started two wars.
The government vowed to never again be caught so off guard. “Homeland Security” was created to deter any further attacks. Draconian airport search procedures were just one result of that new bureaucracy.
Youth ministries responded too. Youth pastors taught lessons on “just” wars, on “real” security, on our “real” citizenship, and more. Groups prayed for the victims of the attacks and their families. An outpouring desire to make a change resulted in an emphasis on service projects. Many groups initiated support systems for men and women in uniform being sent to fight on foreign soil.
In the ten years since the attacks, daily life in America – and in youth ministry – has mostly reverted to what it was before the attacks. (Well, there are still the oppressive searches that we endure when we travel by commercial airlines.) The surge of patriotism has settled down. The wars we fight are winding down. The unity we experienced has devolved into partisan division. The nation seems to be even more deeply divided today than it was before the 9/11 attacks.
The effect of 9/11 on youth ministry is a bit obscure. Trying to find the lasting “impact” that 9/11 has on student ministry isn’t easy, because life is pretty much the same today as it was on 9/10. There are some areas of change that can maybe to attributed to the 9/11 attacks:
- Taking students on international missions trips is harder today than it was ten years ago. And yet, more groups are doing international missions trips than ever.
- Islam is now a player in the American youth ministry world. There are moderate and extreme views of Islam within youth ministry – from the right wing “an evil emissary of Satan” thought, to the left wing “we must honor all faiths” stance. Teenagers land somewhere in the middle – most consider Islam to be just another religion, like Christianity.
- The military seems to be a viable career choice for high school students. These kids have grown up watching two wars being fought by an increasingly sophisticated and technological military. Kids don’t see soldiers the same way that many teenagers viewed them ten years go: as those who couldn’t make the grade in college and business.
Ten years later, the most lasting impact of 9/11 on student ministry seems to be a broadening of our worldview. We live and minister with an awareness that we are a part of the entire world, not just this nation. We know that what happens in other parts of the world does affect us. We are determined to show an unbelieving world what God is like.
We are the same, but different.