N.C. Baptists deal with 'changed world'
August 23 2002 by Steve DeVane , BR Managing Editor

N.C. Baptists deal with 'changed world' | Friday, Aug. 23, 2002

Friday, Aug. 23, 2002

N.C. Baptists deal with 'changed world'

By Steve DeVane BR Managing Editor

Cynthia Culberson was one of the first relief workers at the Pentagon after the terrorist attacks last September and among the last Baptist workers at New York's "ground zero" in June.

The work at the Pentagon was her first disaster relief mission. The trip to New York won't be her last.

In the hours and days after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on the Pentagon and the World Trade Center's Twin Towers, everyone knew the world had changed.

A year later, that transformation is still felt.

Soon after the attacks, Culberson decided to call Skip Greene, who she knew from a previous mission trip to South Africa. She asked if Greene knew of anything she could do to help. Greene told her a team was being assembled to go help feed emergency workers at the Pentagon.

"I knew he would have something going," Culberson said. "I just happened to catch him in time."

Greene, Culberson and 28 other N.C. Baptists were headed toward the Pentagon less than 16 hours after the attack there.

Culberson's most vivid memory of the trip was thinking about the people who lost their lives. She said the relief workers tried to "be a light" to the emergency workers who were dealing with strenuous times.

"You want to keep an uplifting spirit about you to help them get through the day," she said.

Culberson, a member of Hillcrest Baptist Church in Kernersville, stayed in the area for about a week. Nine months later she spent nine days serving food to police, fire and rescue workers in New York. She saw their strength and their ability to move forward.

"I don't know if I could have done that," she said. "It was highly emotional when I walked up on the scene."

People in the area came to recognize the yellow shirts worn by Baptist relief workers. Just before she left, Culberson was walking down the street when a man in a car, slowed down to say "Thank you."

"They knew why we were there," she said. "That's what was important."

Culberson said she has tried to let other people know what a blessing it is to help others.

"Until you do it, you don't understand what missions is about," she said.

Culberson has gone through more training to be ready for future disaster relief efforts. She's one of about 2,000 to take the training in the past year, almost four times as many as usual, said Richard Brunson, executive director of N.C. Baptist Men.

"I'm sure most of that is because of 9/11," he said.

Brunson said it's hard to say if volunteerism among N.C. Baptists is up.

"We haven't had a big disaster since 9/11," he said.

International volunteerism might be off slightly, but that could be because people are afraid to fly since 9/11 or because of the economy, he said.

Some mission trips had to be cancelled immediately following the terrorist attacks, Brunson said. One group headed to Honduras was stuck in Houston, Texas, when planes were grounded in the days following 9/11 and had to return in vans, he said.

"The interest in disaster relief has been really high," he said.

Brunson said some of those who volunteered in New York or at the Pentagon in the days following the attacks are expected to speak at church services on the first anniversary. Jim Royston, executive director-treasurer of the Baptist State Convention, and Brunson are invited to a service at the Pentagon that day, but neither is expected to attend.

Churches across North Carolina will hold similar services on Sept. 11.

Burgaw Baptist Church in Burgaw will join with local Presbyterian and United Methodist churches for a memorial service.

Burgaw Pastor Michael Parnell said the service will focus on prayer with all three pastors giving five-minute reflections.

"We will have a patriotic element, but we're not going to wrap the flag around ourselves," he said.

Parnell said he has noticed a "greater awareness of the world" in the small town of Burgaw since the attacks.

"The world has come knocking on our door now," he said.

He has also sensed concern among people in the community. It's not a case of "if, but when" something else will happen, he said.

Parnell said people in Burgaw haven't forgotten the attacks. The images of the burning towers and wrecked Pentagon have become emblazoned in their minds.

"This to me is one of those bellwether events," he said.

Ken Boaz, director of missions for the Three Forks Association in the Boone area, said church attendance increased for about a month to six weeks after the attacks, but then returned to normal levels. Interest in spiritual matters followed a similar pattern, he said.

"It was a temporary increase ... and quickly dropped," he said.

Boaz said some people are taking more interest in their faith. One church is planning a revival around understanding the Muslim faith.

"I think people are aware a lot more of this huge thing called Islam," he said.

The association is sponsoring an all-day prayer vigil, Boaz said. Churches in the association will hold services that night, he said.

"We're just asking people to come seeking the face of the Lord and lift up our nation and our world," he said.

(EDITOR'S NOTE-BR Assistant Editor Jimmy Allen contributed to this story.)

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8/23/2002 12:00:00 AM by Steve DeVane , BR Managing Editor | with 0 comments
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