Unification News for November 2001

Dealing With Ground Zero In Our Own Backyard

Michael Yakawich
November, 2001

Recently, our nation and our world were rocked by the actions of evil and hatred. This September 11th brought the reality of pain and suffering a lot closer to all of us. Yet, as we see our great nation brush the dust aside and bury the innocence, we must create opportunity for unity, renewal and reconciliation.

Here in Montana on Sept. 11th, as we saw the atrocity unfold on television, a realization was that prayer was needed. What else could we do so far from Ground Zero? As I talked with other ministers, we knew prayer was essential. Only four hours after the incident, our churches took leadership and organized. We gathered at the Courthouse Park in downtown Billings. The local paper, Billings Gazette captured the event by stating "For the faithful, Tuesday Was Day of Prayer, Mourning". Twelve ministers, two county commissioners, several state legislators and 150 members of the community gathered at noon on Sept. 11 to pray and seek our Lord’s guidance. Several ministers gave words of inspiration. Members of the community asked for prayers for loved ones who were in New York, D.C. or Pennsylvania at that time.

It was here that I realized we each are called to deal with our own "Ground Zero". We do not need to be in New York or D.C. to feel the hearts of the suffering. Whether it is with the issues of terrorism, drug problems, racism, or family breakdown "Ground Zero" is in our own back yard. Wherever we are at, in whatever capacity, we have the opportunity to try to address humanities problems.

On Sept. 12th, we gathered again on the lawn of the Courthouse to bring more healing and more prayer. The Mayor, who could not make it the day before, was very grateful to attend that noon and gave a very inspiring talk. We had a Native American Crow Nation spiritual leader, Mr. Burton Pretty On Top Sr, present a prayer and blessing on our nation wearing his head dress, smudging all of us with the sage he burnt and blessing all directions of our nation. Here again I could see we can address the "Ground Zero" in our own backyard and bring the hope of renewing and restoring our nation beginning in our own community. The Billings Gazette stated regarding this program, "Amid Anger, Prayers For Calm" and captured Mr. Burton Pretty On Top Sr. words "We extend our hands to the East to bless our brothers and sisters and their families whose hearts are broken. We cry with them."

On the third day, numerous clergy, a rabbi and many others gathered at the First United Methodist Church as a city wide ecumenical service. The Methodist church was packed (as many other churches in the community were on that day). We as clergy entered in our robes and shawls down the aisle to the front to the music of God Bless America. Then, as clergy united in one heart, with people from all over the community, we sat together in prayer, songs, worship and reading. The Billings Gazette reported, "Billings Prayer Service A ‘Ray Of Light’". We could take this tragedy and bring us together.

Certainly, we can turn tragedy in to good. God can work his mysterious power to make our nation even greater and our world even more peaceful. It has been our history as a nation that we can roll up our sleeves and make our nation stronger and more united.

Indeed, it is not a time where fear or trepidation overcomes our hope and vision for a better world. It is a time to repent. It is a time to reflect and reconcile. It is also a time to turn our hearts to God and to each other. We have such a great nation. As Secretary of Sate Colin Powell commented, "We’re Americans; we don’t walk around terrified. We’re going to move forward with pride and with determination."

A couple of weeks after Sept. 11th, my father and I went out fishing on the Madison and Jefferson Rivers. This was at the headwater of the Three Forks, where the Madison, Gallatin and the Jefferson Rivers meet to form the Missouri River, which are the headwaters of the Mississippi. The great explores Lewis and Clark traveled this way almost 200 years ago. As then and as now, our nation had uncertain moments and uncertain times. Yet, with such courage as these earlier explores, our modern day men and women of courage continue to pioneer, encourage and lead us into the future.

It was on the riverbank that my father again reminded me of history and maintaining hope in the future. Our nation faced great adversity during World War II. "Times were similar as now in many ways," my father, a distinguished veteran of that war said. "Yet, now years later, we have made peace with our enemy. This present time will pass and peace will come."

As people gather in the community in prayer, volunteer their time, donate their valuable resources, give blood, and so many other ways, they all set a shinning example of the greatness of our country. As our Mayor of Billings, Mr. Tooley stated at our program on the Courthouse lawn Sept. 12th, 2001, "One of the things we can do is we can go forward with our lives. We must continue to go forward, and at the same time be ready to help." May we never lose sight of this greatness and hope of the future. As President Bush stated recently, "Grief and tragedy and hatred are only for a time. Goodness, remembrance and love have no end." Let us continue to be "the light of the world" (Matthew 5: 14), members of our community in our own unique way turning bad into good, despair into hope, and ground where there is tragedy and suffering into ground of peace, love and prosperity.

Rev. Yakawich is pastor of the Billings, MT Family Church

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