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Hope for Tomorrow

The date was September 12, 2001. I was returning back to my office in Deerfield, after spending time in prayer with a family from my church in Naperville. They had not heard from five members of their family who lived in New York. Their family members were in the World Trade Center. They feared they were dead.

The drive took me by O’Hare International Airport. The sky was blue. It was a beautiful day. Yet, the sight was very strange. There were no planes in the sky.

Usually, on my daily drives past O’Hare, I would think about the hundreds of people from all over the world who arrived there. Many came from Japan, China, Korea, India, Iraq, Iran, Israel, and Palestine, drawn by jobs in the high tech industry of nearby DuPage County. Among them were Hindus, Muslims, Sikhs and Buddhists, who worked at places like Motorola, Lucent Technologies, and Argonne Laboratories. O’Hare also brought many refugees into Chicago -- people from Sudan, Congo, Bosnia, Rwanda, etc. These were people who made up the rich diversity and aura of the city I called home -- Chicago. People of these countries were members of my church.

But the sky was empty. A day earlier, terrorists had slammed planes into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. Another plane lay in ruins in a Pennsylvania field. I was angry that day. Tears flowed down my cheeks as I thought of the thousands who died.

Then something strange happened. I heard a voice telling me to reach out to the imam of the Muslim community near our church. At this time, there was a great deal of anger against Muslims. Many Muslims were afraid to leave their homes. I knew that the Holy Spirit was speaking to me.

When I reached my office, I picked up the phone and called the imam in Naperville. After introducing myself, I said, “Imam-sahib, I would like to organize a Christian-Muslim prayer service on Friday, September 14, 2001. Would the Islamic community of Naperville be willing to participate in this prayer service? At this horrible time we would like to reach out to you.”

Imam Taufiq, a pleasant Egyptian man, was understandably skeptical. Eventually he said, “Let me bring your idea before the leadership of the masjid, and I will get back to you.”

The prayer service was to be held at Naperville Bible Church, where our church was meeting for services. I wondered if anyone from the Muslim community would show up. Ten minutes before the service, no Muslim visitor had arrived. When we started at 7 pm that night, my fears were realized. No one had come.

We began with a powerful time of singing, led a by a multicultural worship team, which had Indian, Pakistani, Jamaican and Jewish members. I sat in the front row. There was still no sign of the Islamic community.

Then, at about 7:25, John Bell, pastor of Naperville Bible Church, walked up to me. “They have come,” he said. We walked back to the church entrance and were amazed. There was a huge group of men, women and children. There were men and women in their traditional Islamic attire-Iraqis, Egyptians, Indians, and Pakistanis. I ushered them into the sanctuary, while the worship team sang about the healing power of Jesus. They sat one side of the sanctuary, with the men and women separated.

At the close of the service, Christian men from different parts of the world walked over to Muslim men. Christian women walked over to Muslim women. They said, “We will take you to the grocery stores. We will take your children to schools. We will take them to the playground and protect them. We want to be Jesus to you today.” They exchanged phone numbers and addresses. There were many tears shed.

These people were neighbors, but they had never met each other.

There were several newspaper reporters who had come to witness this strange event. Several police cars had also surrounded the church building to protect us. A Chicago Tribune reporter walked up to me and said, “I have seen many inter-faith meetings. They seem to be so hypocritical and sterile. But this was powerful. I have never seen common people-Jews, Christians and Muslims reach out to each other as it happened here.” All I could say was, “This is the work of God.”

This work of God continues to happen today in the city of Naperville, where common people continue to reach out to each other.

I have been at North Park University for the past nine years now, and I see our students continue this same work, which I witnessed in Naperville, in our very diverse neighborhood. My students reach out to Muslims, Jews, Hindus and Buddhists neighbors. They have fled religious and ethnic persecution in different parts of the world to find refuge in our neighborhood. It brings me to tears to see my students show the love of Jesus, which pulls down all the walls of division and hatred in the world today.

When I see these young people at work, I reflect, “This is indeed the hope for tomorrow -- a powerful answer to the problem of September 11, 2001.”

Rev. Dr. Rajkumar Boaz Johnson
Professor of Biblical and Theological Studies

Next Steps

Read more September 11 Remembrance essays.

Professor Boaz Johnson