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 8:05a.m – the date, Sept. 11, 2001.
God, it is said, works in mysterious ways, but for 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 5:00 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.
Today, John and Mary along with their three children, Jeremy, Sophie and Jayden, call Lantana home, and John stays busy traveling the country and the world to spread his message of hope.
“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.
On the 10th anniversary of that tragic day, John reflects on where our nation was and where we are now.
“As I started traveling with our story, it was incredible to see thousands turn out all across this country. People were coming to Jesus, faith was healing America. Sadly, this lasted only a few months and then we went back and embraced the God-less secular culture as before,” said John.
“Ten years have now passed and we have two wars going on – Iraq and Afghanistan, our economy is broke and we still have real threats posed by radical Islamists. Not only are we financially bankrupt but we are also spiritually bankrupt. America now has the third largest population of unchurched people. We have moved away from our Judeo-Christian principles that have been the bedrock of this country.”
John asks that everyone take a moment as a family the weekend of September 11 to fast one meal in honor of our country.
“America will always be the country where liberty smiles. Believe that and inspire your children with this truth. If you are a first responder or military personnel reading this then, Thank You! America is indebted to you. God bless America!”
Read more about Sujo John’s incredible story of faith and survival at www.sujojohn.com.