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Dr. John's 9/11 advice ‘In Times Such as These’

John Stevens in Classroom 400x400 96
Stevens taught history at ACU for 50 years, his course in Western Civilization often audited by people in the community who enjoyed listening to his informative lectures.
For the Winter 2002 issue of ACU Today magazine, we asked Abilene Christian University alumni from various walks of life to reflect on the tragic events of Sept. 11, 2001 – 9/11, as it had come to be known.
We called our cover story “Living in Our Brave New World.”
One wrote about the ministerial work of members from his church in Manhattan, N.Y., not far from the rubble of the World Trade Center. One explained how the company for which he works was scanning and sterilizing U.S. Postal Service mail addressed to President George W. Bush and Capitol Hill lawmakers following an anthrax scare. Another recounted being evacuated that day from his office adjacent to the West Wing of The White House. From Gulf War photojournalists to faculty experts on Islam and conflict in the Middle East, their views were informative, introspective and often moving.
The final one, by chancellor emeritus Dr. John C. Stevens (’38), was titled “In Times Such as These.” In it, ACU’s eighth president recounted his experiences as a World War II chaplain on the battlefields of Europe, choosing to focus not on grief nor anger but on the great hope with which Christians live, and their responsibility to love and show God’s light to others. Dr. John’s life mirrored that exhortation. The beloved longtime administrator died six years later at age 88.
On the 15th anniversary of a dark day in our nation’s history, Stevens’ words not long after 9/11 have new meaning worth sharing today:

In the fall and winter of 1776, the outlook was quite bleak for Americans struggling for independence. In December, Tom Paine came out with a pamphlet that revived the spirits of Americans. He called it “The American Crisis.” His best-known lines were, “These are the times that try men’s souls. The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of this country, but he that stands it now deserves the love and thanks of men and women.”
Paine proceeded to develop a convincing case that Americans could win the independence they had declared. Gen. George Washington ordered that it be read to all troops.
The situation challenging the United States of America and her allies today is a far cry from that of the struggling colonials trying to establish their independence in 1776. However, the grief of thousands of families brought about by the dastardly actions of a gang of international outlaws makes this a soul-trying time, too.
How do Americans deal with such overwhelming tragedy?
First of all, there have been prayers and great patriotic songs sung in meetings across the country. In recent years, believers in God have, in our public schools and prominent venues, been figuratively forced to sit in the back of the bus. But not since Sept. 11, 2001.
Since that sad day, we have unabashedly prayed and sung and testified to the whole world concerning our faith in God. I wonder how many millions of people have participated in singing “God Bless America,” the magnificent patriotic hymn composed in 1918 by Russian immigrant Irving Berlin and made immortal in 1938 by the voice of Kate Smith?
Right along with it go “Battle Hymn of the Republic,” “The Star Spangled Banner,” and “America the Beautiful.” Our nation’s great patriotic music may have never received more attention than in the days since Sept. 11.
And talk about prayer! On Sunday afternoon, Sept. 23, Yankee Stadium in New York City drew a crowd of more than 25,000 who stood in line for hours, enduring security checks for their own safety. The program consisted primarily of appropriate music and of prayers offered by Jews, Roman Catholics, Protestants, Greek Orthodox, Muslims, Hindus and Sikhs. They were not there to discuss differences in their faiths but to unite their voices in prayer to the God of the universe. The crowd would no doubt have been much larger of their long wait had not been necessary, but organizers of the event could not afford to further risk lives.
Our response has not been prayer and singing alone. Has the world ever seen such an outpouring of money, goods and services to help families during crisis? America has been a nation of action.
World Christian Encyclopedia estimates that in 2001 there are 1,149,486 atheists in the United States. Where are they during times such as these? What sort of rallies do they sponsor? Actions of the American people since Sept. 11 seem to me to present a powerful witness to the world. In addition to soul-stirring assemblies throughout the nation, stories and photos of a multitude of volunteers working around the clock at the scene of the disasters showed the essential goodness and greatness of the American character.
Americans do not always show their faith, but times such as these help reveal it.
During World War II, it was my privilege to serve as chaplain in a frontline infantry division in the campaigns of western Europe (Normandy, northern France, the Rhineland, the Ardennes and Central Europe). During battle, I was generally stationed at the battalion aid station where casualties were brought in by the medics.
I cannot remember a single instance of a wounded soldier who rejected my suggestion that we pray together. I do recall a number of soldiers who I thought did not have a chance to survive, but they did.
I remember a young man from Michigan named Charles Potter who stepped on a land mine when we were involved with the Colmar Pocket in France, and lost both legs. We prayed together, and then he joked with me a bit.
He said, “Chappie, if you know of somebody who needs a right shoe, there is a practically brand new one out there. Of course, he will have to take my right foot out of it.” Apparently he did not know he had lost his left foot, too. I did not enlighten him on that subject. I figured that was the job of the doctors.
Two years later, in the summer of 1947, I was out of the Army and attending graduate school. I saw in the morning newspaper that a legless veteran in Michigan had won election to fill an unexpired term in the U.S. House of Representatives.
That veteran was Charles Potter.
After allowing him a few days to be sworn in, I addressed a short letter to “Hon. Charles Potter, U.S. House of Representatives, Washington, D.C.” I congratulated him on his achievement. He wrote me immediately and closed with this sentence: “If you ever come to Washington and fail to look me up, I will use all the influence at my command to get you drafted back into the Army.”
I had the opportunity several times during the next few years to be in Washington and enjoyed the pleasant visits with Potter. However, no meeting was quite so memorable as our short session of prayer in France.
I believe that Americans prefer to be a people of faith. It is unfortunate that it often takes circumstances of great peril or harm for us to turn to God for answers and help. I also can tell you from personal experience that there are a few atheists on wartime battlefields.
In times such as these, we draw comfort from song-poems based on Psalms 46 and others like it: “A mighty fortress is our God, a bulwark never failing; our helper He amid the flood of mortal ills prevailing.”
In times such as these, faith matters more than ever. Christians have a remarkable opportunity to show others the love of God, the peace of Christ and the hope that empowers our lives.
In dark days and anxious nights, the Light of the World shines brightest.
We should make every effort to help others see it.