It was before just before 6 a.m. in California when the first hijacked plane crashed into New York on September 11. Chaplain Ray Guinta was on his way to an early meeting when he heard the news. He felt he needed to be in New York.

Guinta is co-founder and chaplain of We Care Ministries, a non-profit organization providing counseling and assistance to victims of trauma since 1987. On September 11, Guinta and his We Care partner immediately discussed going to Ground Zero. But their policy was to be invited by an institution or group. "If God wanted us to go, we'd go," he says. "Something would open up."

A few days later, Guinta's bags were packed in case that call came. When it did, it was from a Manhattan church swamped with needs. Beginning on September 17, Guinta and fellow chaplains worked beside rescue workers for 68 days at the World Trade Center site. He chronicles his work there in his new book, God @ Ground Zero (Integrity). In the following excerpt, Guinta writes about the emotions and anguish present in the wreckage of the towers.

***


We found nothing my first night, no one. Dead or alive. It would be the same story for days. The futility was taking its toll. As one of the multiple-ton cranes was being repositioned, a dozen of us took a break. One of my chaplain team members, a man named Ryan, was standing beside a firefighter who had a faraway, detached look. I heard Ryan ask him how he was coping. Barely changing expression, the firefighter mentioned he had lost forty friends on September 11. Not colleagues, not acquaintances—friends.

"Your family must have been so happy to see you," Ryan responded.

A cloud passed over the firefighter's face. He had gone home to a big celebration, he answered, complete with a homemade ...

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