Sunday, September 25, 2022

Out of the ashes

Every person of faith struggles at one time in his life to find deeper meaning, and a young Christian immigrant from Calcutta, India was no exception.  New to the United States, Sujo John and his wife Mary were an American success story, with well-paying jobs in New York City and a new home just across the river from Manhattan.

In February of 2001, he and his wife both had secured good positions and good salaries in neighboring buildings in downtown Manhattan. But the success left John feeling empty.

Six months after his arrival, early one morning at his office, John said he sent an email to a friend from church asking his friend to pray for him because while he was enjoying financial and material success, he said, spiritually, there was a “deep vacuum.”

The email was sent at 8:05 a.m.— the date, Sept. 11, 2001.

God, it is said, works in mysterious ways, but for Lantana residents Sujo John and his wife Mary, the mystery of what God wanted for them vanished in the smoke and debris of that terrible day.

After the first plane hit John’s building, Tower 1 of the World Trade Center, from the 81st floor, with fire blazing, jet fuel spilling and fuselage in the office, he tried and failed to phone his wife in Tower 2.

A co-worker led John and the rest of the workers to the stairwell. “If there had been no lights, I think thousands would have panicked and stampeded,” said John.

It would take them an hour to descend the tower, and John had to be constantly talked out of re-entering the building to try to reach his wife, then in her fourth month of pregnancy, by an office phone. Finally, he could wait no more, and somewhere around the 40th floor, he left the stairwell to begin the futile attempts to call her. But soon after, he heard fireman and policeman yelling for him to get out and he snapped to the realization that it was time to move.

“It’s a sight I’ll never forget: when we were running down, they were running up,” he said.

None of this is when John’s story begins, by the way. No, his story started, he said, when “I’m fifty feet from the building and hear this incredible roar, and it was the building going down—the South Tower going down. And I said God, ‘You got me down 81 floors, but death is ahead of me.’”

In the dark cloud of dust and with debris falling all around him, John huddled with a dozen or so other survivors and together, he said, they prayed. They then dispersed to find safety in the pitch-black cloud of dust; most of the others, he thinks, were killed by falling debris.

But John and a man, who said he was an FBI agent, saw the red flashing light of a crushed ambulance and made it out of harm’s way. The agent, who John later found out to be Leonard Hatton, went back into the darkness to help other survivors escape and did not make it out alive.

Meanwhile, John’s wife Mary, who worked for Morgan Stanley in Tower 2, was late to work that morning. “I thought I’d lost my mind thinking that my wife was dead,” said John.

Instead, she was standing in the plaza of the World Trade Center watching bodies fall out of the tower. She was on her way in to find him when a stranger—and now a good friend—convinced her to turn around and wait in her apartment. “That’s what makes this country so great—the best just came out of people that day,” said John.

Uptown and hours later, it was almost 5 p.m. when John’s cell phone rang with Mary’s name showing on the display. Until he heard her voice, he didn’t believe it was really his wife, that she’d survived the worst attack on American soil.

Before the dust from the towers settled, Sujo and Mary had already cut a new path for their future. “After two months, God really changed the course in our lives,” he said.

With some mentoring from his pastor, Don James at Bethany Church in Wyckoff, N.J., John set out to tell the message of his faith. “It was hard—Sujo was new to the nation, new to the culture, just married, and to venture all of that in one whack, leaving a job and going into speaking—it would be scary for me—but I think my rule with Sujo was if God is in this, you’re not going to fail,” said James.

Today, John has two children, Jeremy and Sophia, and is on the road weekly traveling the country and the world to spread his message of hope. The central location of the Dallas/Ft. Worth area cuts down on plane time. That along with the cost of living and family-friendly neighborhood brought him to Texas.

“I want to use our story as a tool to challenge people about faith,” said John.

Internationally, nationally and here in his adopted home state, he has done just that. His evangelistic ministry has turned thousands of hearts towards Christ.

“We thoroughly enjoyed hosting Sujo John and hearing his story,” wrote former pastor Kevin Evans of Flower Mound’s Valley Creek Church in an email. “He is a compelling young man with a message every American should hear. Our church family was inspired and encouraged.”

“Thousands died on this fateful day,” said John. “We will all have to go one day. It is appointed for all men to die once. We are here to challenge the world with the question ‘Do You Know Where You Are Going?’

“So much has happened in our world since this tragic day. This country has been in war and thousands have laid down their lives in Afghanistan and Iraq to make America safe.  May we never forget their sacrifices. They did not die in vain.”

This article was originally published in the Sept. 2007 issue of The Cross Timbers Gazette.

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