A Little Help in a Big Storm

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A Little Help in a Big Storm

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I was reading the classic book by Roald Dahl, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, to my sixth graders when suddenly we were interrupted by the sound of jet engines overhead. Rushing to the windows we saw three low-flying jumbo jets in the skies above our school.

Seeing planes overhead is not a new sight for the residents in our area of Newfoundland since we are located not too far from Gander's international airport. But on this day these aircraft were unusually low and they appeared to be in a holding pattern waiting to land. By this time my students were all excited and as any sixth grade teacher knows, once you have "lost" your students, it's hard to get their attention back again. Therefore I decided the best thing to do was to stop the reading and check with some of my colleagues to see if anyone knew what was going on. In the hallway I was informed by another teacher that the World Trade Center in New York City was hit by two passenger airliners and another had crashed into the Pentagon.

Suddenly, the routines of our little K-12 school of about 300 students and 23 teachers was a buzz with the reports that these disasters may have been the result of a terrorist attack on our neighbor to the south. The news came hard and fast as we learned from radio and television reports that another plane was down in western Pennsylvania and there could be more disasters to come. Needless to say, a sinking sick feeling of shock and horror swept through our school. Teachers were trying to cope with the news as best they could while others were trying to keep order in their classrooms. We also learned from the news that all airports in the United States were shut down and many incoming international flights to America were diverted to Canada. Shortly after, we were informed that Gander had received no less than 32 international flights with approximately six thousand passengers stranded on the tarmac waiting to be checked out by Canadian customs before being allowed off.

The next day all residents in the surrounding area rallied in support of these stranded passengers. Suddenly five schools were shut down and makeshift shelters were set up. Free hotel rooms were made available and people opened up their homes to welcome anyone who needed a hot meal, a good bath and a place to stay. Our school was designated as a supply center and towels, soap, blankets, pillows and a host of life's other necessities poured in and was quickly delivered to the sites in Gander.

Hundreds of volunteers converged on the schools to bring in all the necessary supplies and food to make the passengers feel as comfortable as possible. Also, free telephone and Internet services were provided to the passengers to get in contact with loved ones, while counseling and clergy support was set up to assist anyone traumatized by the tragedy. Towns outside Gander also rushed to help as many residents offered free room and board and volunteered free transportation to and from the stores and malls. For seven days and nights the town of Gander and her surrounding communities opened their arms to strangers. By the time the last plane took off, these strangers had become friends with bonds that will last a lifetime.

There is an old saying, "Those who help others, help themselves." Certainly this held true for us in the events that surrounded the September 11 tragedy. In our attempt to help these stranded passengers feel a little more at home in the midst of trouble in their homeland, we brought ourselves together in the spirit of oneness and community. I can't help but think that when the perilous last-day events prophesied in the Scriptures are over, and Christ returns to set up His Kingdom, we will all be together as one in the wonderful world to come. Until then, let us continue to love our neighbors as ourselves with outgoing concern toward others.