by The Rev. Dr. H. Gene Straatmeyer
My wife and I were watching the news on BBC television an evening or so before the most recent 9/11 when all of a sudden a friend, Brian Clark, appeared on the screen and told his story of that eventful disaster.
We left for Africa as volunteer missionaries for the Reformed Church in America just eighteen days after 9/11. On the plane leaving London for Lilongwe, Malawi, the few Americans on board were told by passengers from other countries how badly they felt about what had happened in New York.
We were hardly settled in Lilongwe, when we were informed that Kristen Clark, the daughter of Brian Clark, would be staying in our guest house. Brian was one of the tower survivors of 9/11. Kristin was a young American schoolteacher who had volunteered to teach for two years at a Presbyterian girl’s school in Mvera, a small village east of Lilongwe. She stayed in our guest house until she moved to the Malawian village where the school was located.
During that time we came to know Kristen well and told her if she needed a break after moving to the village, the guest room was hers. We also learned, during her time with us, a lot about her father and his 9/11 experience.
She came from Mvera whenever she could, mostly on weekends. It was about 50 miles and the only way to get to Lilongwe was by bus. She rode with chickens, goats, soldiers and others who wanted to go to the capital city. She became friends with people in the Lingadzi Presbyterian Church where I served as Associate Pastor and with other missionaries in Lilongwe.
After we, and later Kristen, returned to America, she became engaged and sometime later the wedding date was set. She was to be married in the Reformed Church in Wykoff, New Jersey, the church where she and her family had attended since her childhood. We were invited. And we went.
It was at the wedding that we first met Brian, although we had been in email contact since Kristen arrived in Malawi and Brian was interested in helping to buy sewing machines for the women my wife taught to sew. He helped one of my wife’s students get her first machine and now, 10 years later Patricia Mlonda employs three tailors at the shop she owns in Blantyre.
We heard Brian’s story again. It is worth retelling. He is a real hero of 9/11. He saved a life besides his own.
Brian worked in one of the towers, commuting daily from New Jersey to New York City. His office was a couple of stories above where the kamikaze plane hit the wall and bullied its way into the middle of the building.
Brian rushed for the stairs and made it down below the crash site when he heard a voice crying for help. He stopped and rescued a fellow worker on a lower floor. Others with him stopped to talk to some people fleeing to the roof instead of the ground floor. The group with him turned around to follow those going up. This left Brian alone to answer the frantic call for help from a man named Stanley. The group that decided to go up all perished.
It already sounds like the parable of the Good Samaritan. This faithful Christian responded as the Samaritan did and rescued, as it turned out, another Christian. Together, they made their way to the bottom just moments before the tower collapsed. They made it to Trinity Episcopal Church where they paused to pray.
Ten years later, they consider themselves not only friends but brothers. That tragic day bound them together. Prior to 9/11 they were Christian brothers who didn’t know one another. After 9/11 they were brothers who met for the first time in the stairway of a condemned tower and that bond became permanent.
On the 10th anniversary Sunday of 9/11, they spent the day together. In the morning both attended Stanley’s Church on Long Island, New York. On Sunday evening they attended Brian’s Church in Wykoff, New Jersey.
Brian and Stanley are living testimonies that God is present in every tragedy. They have no doubt that God was with them as they walked slowly down the stairs. They were moving through the valley of the shadow of death and yet even there they felt the presence of the God.
If you would like to read Brian’s personal account of 9/11 go to: