Ten years ago tomorrow, I was doing the breakfast dishes and watching the Today Show on our small kitchen television when they started to show footage of the World Trade Center on fire. They said it was an airplane that caused the fire. Kory, who was 6 at the time, came running through the kitchen, and I said, "Hey, buddy, look at this big building that just got hit by an airplane!" I simply thought the tower had been side-swiped by a big jetliner. Actually, I was hoping that was all that happened, as I had tickets to see Elton John's "Aida" in New York City the very next day along with my sister who was in the air at that moment flying there on a plane from Austin, TX. (She was grounded in Houston.) Kory immediately got out some drawing paper and drew a picture of the scene. Little did I know in those moments that the plane was actually lodged inside that tower, and even worse - that a dear friend and former church member was on that plane.
Kory's drawing ~ The eager firefighters with their hoses and ladders.
The smoke and flames coming out of the windows.
Jessica had just graduated from the University of Massachusetts and had recently begun work for an accounting firm in Boston. She boarded the plane that day for a business trip. We didn't find out until the next morning that the tragedy was much closer to home than we thought. Robert and others from our church spoke at her funeral which was covered by many local news stations. It was a beautiful celebration of her life and her faith - exactly as she would have wanted. Her parents requested that all gifts in memory of Jessica be given to our church. For over a year we received checks in the mail - everyone from American Airlines to Jessica's immediate family and co-workers. That money is how we were able to eventually purchase a building for our church, but that is another story.
Five years ago, Jessica's parents were pondering a positive way to spend the five year anniversary of her death. They asked that people send in a story or memory about Jessica. I gathered stories and letters from many in our church - and even many from those who had moved away. They were wonderful, and they blessed her family greatly. Below is what I wrote for her parents and family on that five year anniversary......
(edited a bit for your understanding!)
Jessica on the left with her friend, Sarah. Sarah's husband, Nate, now pastors one of our recent church plants.
Jessica was such a presence! I remember meeting her a couple of months after moving here, and learning that she was really the only student to be a part of the beginnings of MERCYhouse, our church plant. She explained to me that she had talked quite a bit to John Ramirez at the Baptist Convention of New England about getting a church or ministry started at The University of Massachusetts. It was upon this meeting that I first saw her passion and tenacity in her love for the Lord and for ministry.
I remember her being in our home often and that the atmosphere was always one of joy and laughter and joking when she was present. She loved everyone – everyone was her friend! As my friend Shemaiah, who came here from
Oklahoma to work with us for just a summer, has often said, “Jessica was my first friend in .” Jessica, who had known Shemaiah for all of about one hour invited her to go home with her that night and watch a movie with some other friends. Massachusetts
Jessica was always quick to inquire about how I was doing and was always so generous with her hugs and words of comfort. If I was considered “Mom” at MERCYhouse, she was “Mom #2” - always looking out for the needs of others – physical, spiritual and emotional. She considered it her privilege and duty to make sure all those around her were thriving. One Valentine’s Day she gave me and several others a painted terracotta planter. I still have it. It was such a blessing to me that she had thought of me along with her many other friends.
One of my favorite biblical topics is that of created masculinity and femininity. When I began leading a Bible Study along these lines for the young women of our church, I also began to hear rumblings that Jessica was not necessarily thrilled with this idea. She never told me this directly, but the other girls did. She felt that “submission” was a bad word associated only with doormats! We eventually talked about it, and together came to a place of friendly understanding and even the ability to joke about it from time to time.
Despite these strong feelings regarding the idea of submission, Jessica greatly desired to be married. She came to me on several occasions expressing bittersweet feelings over her friends becoming engaged, and her own struggle with loneliness.
I know that she carried around in her heart a lot of inner turmoil, insecurity, and emotion. And yet when we worshipped together at church through music or prayer, she was fully engaged, seeking the Lord with her whole being. Watching her always brought joy to my own insecure, emotional, and even at times, depressed and lonely heart. She was an example and inspiration to me in her walk with the Lord in this fallen world.
I will leave you with a verse that was found underlined in Jessica's Bible. In the margin next to the verse she had written, "I like this verse."
For the word of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.
I Corinthians 1:18
I Corinthians 1:18
We will be celebrating Jessica's life again tomorrow during our morning church services. The students are now all back in town in this 5 college region, and many of them have already begun visiting our church. Robert has had the opportunity to ask many of them how they found out about our church. "I was just walking by," is what many of them have said.
Five years ago, when the opportunity to purchase the old Methodist church near the campus of UMass was presented to us, we had the exact amount of earnest money required to pursue it, because of those memorial monies. That miracle of thousands of students "just walking by" and then deciding to come on in is due to Jessica and her parents. Her life and ministry will never be forgotten.
The redemptive-in-spite-of-evil- ways of our Lord Jesus Christ won't either.