Covid-19Magazine Exclusive

COVID–19: Lessons from 9/11

In 2001, Major Samuel Gonzalez served as a corps officer in Buffalo, N.Y. Every Wednesday, he hosted prayer services for about 25 people.

“They were usually the more committed ones who came to the meetings. But the Wednesday after September 11, we welcomed 100 people to pray with us,” says Gonzalez. “For months following that day, the numbers of people attending those Wednesday prayer services went up and up.”

Almost twenty years later, Gonzalez now serves as the assistant secretary for spiritual life development and holiness for the Eastern Territory. Due to the COVID–19 pandemic, he is finding new ways to welcome people to church and to encourage corps officers to interact with them. Although COVID–19 has paused in–person attendance at many corps, nervous and worried communities are again looking to the Lord in record numbers for guidance.

“Officers are now connecting with their ministries through the internet,” says Gonzalez. “They are reinventing, adapting, and seeing them grow online.”

“What will happen when we are again able to open the churches and welcome people in? Do we continue the online prayers and services? I think we should. We need to keep those contacts and connections. They have led to people having more spiritual conversations in their daily lives.”


The after effects

Gonzalez says that there are lessons from the aftermath of 9/11 that are worth remembering when dealing with COVID–19. For example, Post–Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) will be a factor for many people, and will have a farther reach.

“After 9/11, people who lived in someplace like Utah may not have been as directly affected as the people who lived or worked near the World Trade Center, unless they had a direct connection to New York,” says Gonzales. “But COVID–19 has reached every person in America and in the world. Even those who remain healthy may be traumatized.”

“An officer in Puerto Rico told me how, for the past few years, the island has dealt with earthquakes, storms, political issues, and a broken economy,” says Gonzalez. “Now, just as people are beginning to heal and get help in rebuilding their homes, COVID arrives. People are reliving the pain of being restricted to their homes, just as they were during the hurricanes.”

Gonzales believes that in 2021 it will be crucial to find ways to help people with PTSD, even if circumstances have improved.

“PTSD doesn’t always happen in a few weeks or even in a few months. After 9/11, it was in 2002, around the time of the one–year anniversary of the event, when we saw the cases shoot up.”


Partners in service

The Salvation Army responds to the needs of communities and is known for its resourcefulness. “We must take a look at the resources we have, and find the resources we need,” says Gonzalez. He says that partnering with mental health professionals to provide spiritual and emotional care is something he and others will pursue as part of the Army’s recovery services.

“The Veterans Administration is another organization we could work with. They are blessed with a huge support network and they know all about helping individuals who suffer from PTSD,” says Gonzalez.

First responders did some of the hardest work during the deadliest days of the pandemic. Major Gonzalez says that they are the people who have been affected the most.

“We don’t have a ‘ground zero’ for COVID–19 like we did for 9/11. But finding those first responders is still possible. Many of them are already in contact with our Emergency Disaster Services (EDS) staff. Our officers can reach out to them and offer pastoral care and guidance,” says Gonzalez.

“Just as business owners near the World Trade Center needed help after 9/11, workers will need financial relief from the jobs they lost due to COVID–19. Another way we can help is by partnering with consultants and teachers who are skilled at entrepreneurship. They can help create more business owners,” says Gonzalez.

“Imagine these people going to an evening workshop at a Salvation Army corps to learn a new business or skill to replace their lost job,” says Gonzalez. “The Salvation Army will be able to help more by collaborating with others.”

by Hugo Bravo