Like the rest of America, Leandro Montoya watched on TV as New York's World Trade Center collapsed to the ground after the terrorist attacks of September 11.
For the next few days, Leandro, a sophomore at Indiana's Taylor University, couldn't stop thinking about it. And he felt restless.
"I knew God wanted me to do something," says Leandro, "but I didn't know what. I also knew I needed to act quickly, before the door of opportunity passed."
So, a few days after the attacks, Leandro climbed into his car and drove to New York. "I thought if I could see things with my own eyes, I might get an idea of what God wanted done."
Once in Manhattan, Leandro walked the streets for 12 hours, taking pictures, talking to people from FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency), the Red Cross, Salvation Army, Youth for Christ, Campus Crusade, and Youth With a Mission.
"The Red Cross told me they needed money and help," says Leandro. "They said if people showed up, they would put them to work. So I decided to go back to Taylor, get some people together, and show up."
A little less than two weeks later, that's exactly what happened, as 99 students and 11 faculty from Taylor went to New York City to do whatever was needed.
Andrew Fennig was one of the students: "I had no idea what my role or job was going to be. I only knew I wanted to help."
He was assigned to serve meals and run a snack bar for hundreds of police and firefighters. His main job? Making coffee. Lots of it.
"After traveling on a bus all night in order to volunteer at the site of such a horrible tragedy, it would have been easy for me to feel like coffee-making was a menial task," says Andrew. "There were so many other things I could have done. But I realized that if the coffee hadn't been there, the people who needed it would have missed it. My goal had been to serve others. It was an honor for me to be there, no matter what job I had."
Natissa Kultan felt the same way: "I had visions of serving food to hungry people or cooking for rescue workers. When I found out I'd been assigned to tear down a kitchen, I was disappointed. The job seemed unimportant, and didn't promise much interaction with hungry people or rescue workers."
As it turned out, the job was a perfect fit.
"During the clean-up and tear-down process," says Natissa, "I was able to visit with almost all the volunteers at the site. They talked about their feelings, their responses to the tragedy, their previous experiences with the Red Cross, and much more. If I'd been serving meals or cooking, I wouldn't have had the prolonged interaction with those people. I'll never forget those conversations."
Though everyone on the trip had a single focusto servethey did have one other desire. To see Ground Zero with their own eyes.
"As we walked up Wall Street," says Natissa, "all the buildings were closed. No lights were on. It felt like I'd been 'left behind.' The silence was eerie. Everything became a reality for me at that moment as I looked at the grave site for thousands of men and women."
Andrew says, "The storefronts looked like something out of a ghost town. There was a thick layer of soot and dust on all the windows and awnings. Other than a couple of footprints, nothing had been touched since the attacks. Even five or six blocks away, I could still smell all the different things burning."
For Leandro and everyone else, the trip proved to be more than just a good way to put their own personal faith into action. It also connected them with thousands of others who were doing that very same thing. After watching the Red Cross in action, Andrew says, "I have a profound respect for them. They fed over 100,000 people every day besides all the counseling and support they offer."
Caryn Grimstead, a hall director at Taylor, spent some time visiting with a firefighter named Tony. "Every day, all day, Tony was out looking for bodies, finding mostly just piecesarms, legs, a torso, a hand clasping another hand. Like all the other rescue workers, he put in long hours with little time for eating or sleeping." Of all the volunteers that Natissa visited with, not one was from New York City. "These people were from places like Miami and North Carolina. I thank God there are people out there who will drop whatever they're doing to go and help when it's needed."
God's Hands on Earth
"Before going to New York City," says Leandro, I used to wonder when I'd be able do something really awesome for God. I wanted him to use me in a big way so I could feel like my life had meaning and purpose."
Leandro also says that serving God means much more than just a big project or missions trip. Service is an everyday call. "One of the things I've learned about God is that it's possible to do awesome things for him every day, anywhere, simply by living for him. All God really wants is our obedience and our love."
Leandro cites a Max Lucado book, Grace for the Moment, which asks this question: "If a film were made of a person's hands, what would others see?"
"I want my hands to be active doing God's work," says Leandro, "giving to others, becoming God's tool
becoming God's very hands on earth."
For a few days last fall, the hands of many Taylor students were precisely thatGod's hands, hard at work. Even when they were just making coffee.