It was a question 9/11 survivor Sujo John, a native of India, asked attendees to contemplate Friday, June 10, when he served as keynote speaker at the first Friday Night Lights event of the summer.
John shared his story of survival following the attack on the World Trade Center, weaving in the gospel, during an evening of fun and entertainment in downtown Patterson’s North Park, hosted by The River of Life Christian Fellowship. The church-hosted gathering included children’s activities, music, martial arts demonstrations and a tribute to Patterson’s police and firefighters.
John and his wife, Mary, had moved to the United States from Calcutta only six months before the attack. Sujo John was on the 81st floor of the North Tower, and Mary John, who was four months pregnant, worked on the 71st floor of the South Tower.
At 8:46 a.m. Sept. 11, 2001, Sujo John heard the explosion of American Airlines Flight 11 hitting the North Tower, just a few floors above his office.
“God,” he recalled thinking at the time, “if this building goes down with us in it, I am never going to see my wife and child.”
John made his way through bodies, jet fuel, debris and flames to get to the stairwell and began his descent from the 81st floor. He said there were thousands of people sharing the stairs, and he could see the fear of death on every face. When he reached the 44th floor, he met hundreds of firefighters and police officers heading up into the building. With that recollection, he reminded the audience that none of those first responders survived.
After an hour and 20 minutes, John had made his way out of the building and into the plaza, where he found bodies and debris all around him. Still not knowing if his wife was alive, he walked toward the South Tower, hoping to find her, but as he got within about 20 feet of it, the ground started shaking, and the tower began to collapse. He said he and as many as 20 other people came together without concern for individual religion and prayed as the building fell around them. Of that group, only John survived, but moments later, he saw another person still moving.
“I reached out my hand, and he reached out his hand,” John said.
The two of them saw a light that was still flashing from an ambulance that had been crushed in the destruction, and they headed toward it. The other man, who turned out to be an FBI agent, turned and went back into the North Tower looking for survivors. He was killed inside. In all, 2,800 people died at the World Trade Center.
Confronted with his own mortality, John’s life changed after that day. He has since launched the Sujo John International Evangelistic Ministry and travels the world sharing his faith. His ministry and his personal story of survival and reunion with his wife — who never, in fact, entered the South Tower that day — has been covered in news and talk shows around the world.
Before introducing John, the Rev. Gilbert Ybarra and Tony Grijalva, both of the The River of Life Christian Fellowship, led a tribute to local first responders. Representatives of the West Stanislaus Fire Department and Stanislaus County Sheriff’s deputies accepted certificates of appreciation, followed by cheers and applause from the gathering of nearly 100 people. Throughout the evening, firefighters and deputies shook hands, talked with community members and offered a hands-on look at West Stanislaus Fire Engine No. 75.
Earlier on, parents had set up outdoor chairs, while children enjoyed snow cones and fun with water wars, bounce house play and face-painting. Symphony in the Sky and gospel rapper Sanjo provided entertainment, along with a martial arts presentation by Team Endure from Modesto.
Last summer, the church hosted Friday Night Lights music events for the community each week, but because of a shrinking budget, it will host just two more in June, with Saturday children’s activities planned for the summer months.
For information: www.theriverof.com.