“Never forget.” That is the slogan that you can find scrawled all over our city. Usually the names of those lost in the 9/11 attacks are written right next to the call to remember.
Earlier this year it dawned on me for the first time that young people don’t know much about Sept. 11, 2001. They never experienced it. We are already almost 15 years removed from the event itself. In other words, most teenagers will know about 9/11, but they know about 9/11 sort of like I know that JFK was assassinated. There is knowledge of the event itself but none of the emotion.
Michael O’Leary, a tough Irishman who spent most of his life working for the Daily News, can remember that day like it was yesterday. He can remember watching the towers fall. He can remember returning to the site as a volunteer day after day after day after day to “clean up” the area, which entailed some very graphic scenes. He didn’t know—in fact, nobody knew—how toxic the fumes were. He didn’t know that every day, every hour spent at the site was wrecking his lungs and that the sights and sounds would leave him suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder. You can probably already guess it: 9/11 for him isn’t over—not by a long shot. Every few months he is forced to remember 9/11 because he ends up in the emergency room short of breath. They tell him that his lungs are destroyed.
I met Mike for the first time years ago on the street in front of our church. He was living in a total dump of a house in a tiny little room. It took my breath away when I saw where he was living. He was trying to hold it all together, but—he would openly admit—he wasn’t. He was drinking too much and struggling to pull his life together. I tried working with him to bring him the gospel, but it wasn’t God’s time.
Three years passed, and I saw him on the street again with the No. 7 train pounding over our heads. He was doing everything he could to get sober, and Alcoholics Anonymous was there for him, but he still needed to know about this “higher power” that they always talked about.
I told him that I would tell him all about Jesus. That day on the street I invited him to church. The gospel won his heart. Now he only misses church when he can’t breathe.
Mike understands that there was a bigger event in history that means more to him than 9/11. He knows that on Good Friday Jesus died to pay for all sin. He knows that Easter Sunday promises brand-new lungs. Mike has found a growing body of believers at Sure Foundation that will support him through it all. In his words, “I’ve got good people all around me.”
This is why we are here in New York City. We’re here so that our city will “never forget” all that Jesus has won.
An update from Missionary Tim Bourman: On December 4, 2019, right before the pandemic struck New York, Michael O’Leary went home to heaven. I preached for his funeral to a packed house. Some might say that 9/11 stole from his time on this side of things since the event ruined his lungs. I’m convinced that Mike is enjoying our Savior’s presence, awaiting so much more than a new set of lungs. We certainly will never forget—not while I’m here at least.
Author: Timothy Bourman
Volume 103, Number 9M
Issue: September 2016 (Missions)
- Please explain: How do we know that Jesus rose from the dead? - 2021/03/27
- Moments with missionaries: Timothy Bourman - 2016/09/11