Note: In anticipation of Sunday’s marking the 15th anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks, The Index asked several pastors for their recollections and thoughts. Individual stories will be appearing throughout today sharing those memories.
HINESVILLE — “Turn the computer on. We’re under attack.”
Alvin Gill told his 24-year-old grandson, Gabe, the news. At the time Gabe Gill was a bivocational pastor with a pregnant wife and managing a cabinet business. A lot of things were going on in his world.
Those words from his grandfather – a retired Georgia Baptist pastor himself – signaled a paradigm shift for Gabe.
“I remember my spirit sinking within me and praying, ‘Even so, come Lord Jesus,’” he says now. “I realized our insulation as Americans had been lifted. It was almost like we were like the rest of the world now. We were going to see the same turmoil. We were in a new era.”
At the same time on the other side of the country, Gum Branch’s future associate pastor also dealt with the news.
Like many churches in Hinesville, Gum Branch Baptist feels a connection to the military due to nearby Fort Stewart’s presence. That camaraderie grew two years ago with John Barbee’s arrival as associate pastor.
On Sept. 11, 2001 Barbee was an active U.S. Army chaplain at Fort Huachuca in Arizona, 75 miles southeast of Tucson. He woke up to go to a F.A.I.T.H. Sunday School evangelism workshop. Then his daughter in Pennsylvania called. Barbee had just gone on leave, but that was about to change.
“She told me to turn the TV on,” he remembers. “I’d really been looking forward to the evangelism training, but had to come off leave.
Barbee reported to headquarters, not knowing how personal the attacks on the east coast were about to become. American Airlines 77 had crashed into the Pentagon. More pointedly, it had hit an area containing many people associated with Barbee’s group.
“[The attack] affected us directly,” he said. “Many of our people had been in that section of the Pentagon the previous year and knew those who had died.
“My base went into instant lockdown. There was turmoil across the country because people didn’t know the extent of the attacks. We didn’t know what else could happen. Every military base responded by being on the highest alert. One of my subordinate chaplains was on the east coast. It took him a week to get back to base in Arizona. Even renting a car was difficult.”
“It caused me to pray more,” said Gill of 9/11. “I decided this wasn’t a passing thing. If God was God on Sept. 10, he was God on Sept. 11.”
There was an uptick on people getting serious about their relationship with Christ. But, like other pastors he noticed it didn’t stay. Barbee, whose focus of ministry is military families, echoes that observation.
“It was a pretty intense time for people. After they released the casualty list for the Pentagon, I had a couple of meetings with those who had lost friends. I remember preaching in chapel the next Sunday morning on how important it was to be clear on God’s sovereignty. No matter what, He doesn’t forsake us.”
Fifteen years ago seems like a long time to him.
“It’s obvious the Lord isn’t honored as He was in previous decades. There seems to be an ignorance of biblical truth, or at least a disregard for it.
“It’s important for people to be talking about the Lord and the truth of His kingdom. Otherwise, no one’s going to hear about it.”