Crowds begin to gather in front of key American landmarks: the White House and Ground Zero in New York City. The air is jubilant, almost like a party atmosphere, especially in the United States. Congratulatory message and tweets began whirling around cyberspace. Sober yet triumphant statements are issued by US President Barack Obama. Other leaders of the western world follow suit, including former US Presidents Bush and Clinton.
What was the cause for all this excitement?
Osama bin Laden is dead.
Why all this rejoicing at the death of a seemingly lone figure who had not been seen in public for years? The simple reason is that bin Laden was the founder of al Qaeda, the global merchant bank of jihadist terrorism. More specifically, Osama bin Laden was the mastermind of the September 11th attacks nearly 10 years.
Al Qaeda has a simple goal: to rid the Muslim world of US and western influence, reestablish a global Islamic caliphate (a political-religious empire run inhabited and run by Muslims), destroy Israel, and the eventual triumph of Islam over the world. Al Qaeda developed a seven point program to restore the caliphate, including attacking America, drawing it into a war in the Middle East, seeing its demise, along with Israel’s, in the war that would follow, and once the ‘great satan’ and the ‘little satan’ had been destroyed, then the caliphate would return around 2015 or 2020.
Their method of implement is jihadist terrorism: training camps teeming with eager volunteers are raising up a generation of would-be terrorists that would bring the world into submission to their brand of Islam. What has been the score card:
- 1993: first bombing of the World Trade Center in New York City, 6 killed;
- 1998: US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania bombed, 224 death;
- 2000: USS Cole in Aden Harbour, Yemen, 17 sailors killed;
- 2004: Madrid bombing just before the Spanish elections, 191 killed.
But all these tragedies are overshadowed by the greatest terrorist attack in US history, simply called ‘9-11.’ On that cloudless September day in 2001, four airplanes were hijacked. One hit the Pentagon; the second (United Flight 93) crash landed in Shanksville, Pennsylvania (immortalized by Todd Beamer, a Christian believer who planned with other passengers to tackle the hijackers before they could hit their target. After reciting the Lord’s Prayer on his cell phone, he was last heard saying to his fellow passengers: ‘Are you guys ready? Let’s roll’).
The third and fourth planes crashed into each one of the twin tower of the World Trade Center in New York City. Who can forget those images of the smoldering of the North Tower when, 15 minutes later, the South Tower was struck -- with television audiences watching from around the world! The North Tower, which was hit at 8:46 a.m., collapsed at 10:29. The South Tower, hit at 9:01, fell at 9:59. Fires continued at the site of what would become ‘Ground Zero’ for another 3 months.
America changed forever after 9-11. And no wonder: unlike Pearl Harbour’s bombing of 7 December 1941, which happened in the far away Hawaiian territories and spawned America’s entrance into the Second World War, 9-11 was on front and centre stage. America’s major cities and symbols were attacked:
- The Twin Towers in New York, symbol of America’s economic might;
- The Pentagon, symbol of America’s military might;
- The possible attack on the US Capitol Building or White House, symbol of America’s political might, which was thwarted by Todd Beamer and his fellow passengers.
The frightful death toll:
- Twin Towers, New York: 2,750
- The Pentagon: 184
- United Flight 93: 40
- Hijackers: all 19
A whole new vocabulary came into being: al Qaeda, Jihad, 9-11, global terror, Ground Zero etc. became household words.
From this audacious form of religious mass murder came the ‘war on terror,’ America’s wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, and a whole new prism of viewing Islam and the world. Then President George W. Bush made it his goal to find Bin Laden ‘dead or alive.’ That hunt for the al Qaeda leader would take nearly 10 years. Osama survived the mass bombing of the Tora Bora Mountains of Afghanistan at the end of 2001 and slipped into Pakistan.
Periodically, bin Laden would make pronouncements taunting the United States and encouraging the continuance of jihad. America, having thrown its military might in the asymmetrical pursuit of defeating Osama bin Laden and al Qaeda, were mocked because they could not find him. Al Qaeda, Iran, and other enemies were jubilantly predicting that America, now enmeshed in Afghanistan, would soon disappear just like the Soviet Union which had also been embroiled in the feisty mountain nation. They saw the Global Financial Crisis (GFC) as further proof that America was close to being ‘finished.’
Then on 1 May, President Obama made the stunning announcement: Osama bin Laden, the world’s most-wanted man for 10 years with a 25 million dollar bounty on his head, was dead -- killed by US Navy Seal forces in Pakistan.
Of course, the War on Terror continues. Operational forces of al Qaeda have moved out of Afghanistan to places like Yemen and Somalia. But the symbolism of Bin Laden’s death is a powerful boon to the West’s war efforts; it also provides the relatives and friends of 9-11 victims some sense that ‘justice’ has been served. It demonstrated America’s strength and resoluteness: they said they would hit bin Laden and Al Qaeda and indeed, they did.
This was celebration one.
Celebration Two: On 29th April, approximately two billion people watched a traditional marriage service at London’s magnificent Westminster Abbey as Prince William and Kate Middleton said their vows. It brought back memories of a very similar and exciting wedding day nearly 30 years go when Prince Charles and Lady Diana Spencer, William’s parents, said their vows at St. Paul’s Cathedral. The then Archbishop of Canterbury, speaking of that wedding, said ‘This is the stuff of which fairy tales are made.’
Royal wedding happen from time to time. Why did this one receive such extraordinary attention? Why does the British monarchy receive the most attention of all the crowned heads of Europe? One can only speculate: memories of the late Princess Diana, undisputedly the most-photographed woman in the world, were clearly on people’s minds. Diana, who died tragically in a car accident in a Paris tunnel, would no doubt had been beaming at the sight of her first born son and 2nd in line to the throne, standing every bit a prince on his wedding day.
The phenomena of ‘Angloglobalisation,’ a term coined by Historian Niall Ferguson, speaks of how at least a quarter of the world was ‘Anglicized’ through the British Empire. Our Westminster system of government, culture, labour markets, language, and even sport, has linked much of the world to British things. The fact that one-third of the world speaks the English language is proof enough. Therefore, a grand British ceremony resonates with so much of the world’s population, regardless of their ethnic background.
A couple of points to remember: weddings and marriage are normally an occasion of great rejoicing. Hebrews 13:4 says ‘marriage is honorable to all.’ Notice that people are genuinely happy when someone marries, particularly for the first time. When you consider the pageantry of a British royal wedding, and combine it with a Prince like William who courageously and stoically endured the death of his much loved mother and has demonstrated the same charisma that she had, no wonder people who almost fourteen years ago were driven to hysteria by Diana’s death could turn around and rejoice greatly at her son’s wedding.
Weddings and marriage also represent hope and a future. In a year that has had more than its fair share of upheavals, uncertainty, and natural disasters, the wedding a William and Kate represent not only a welcome celebration but also a note of hope for the future. Below is the prayer that the royal couple wrote for their wedding:
God our Father, we thank you for our families; for the love that we share and for the joy of our marriage.
In the busyness of each day keep our eyes fixed on what is real and important in life and help us to be generous with our time and love and energy.
Strengthened by our union help us to serve and comfort those who suffer. We ask this in the Spirit of Jesus Christ. Amen.
Celebration Three: David Wilkerson (May 19, 1931 to April 27, 2011)
At first glance, this hardly sounds like a cause for celebration. US Evangelist David Wilkerson was killed in a car in East Texas on April 27th. His wife, Gwen, was injured. The world has lost an outstanding man of God and relentless prophetic voice for the cause of righteousness.
Nevertheless, it is right and proper to celebrate the life of this amazingly humble man, whose influence was incalculable. In addition, it would be easy to overlook his passing considering the previous two major events; so this tribute is in order.
In 1958 Wilkerson, as a young pastor from Pennsylvania, felt moved of the Holy Spirit to go minister to the drug addicts and street kids in New York City. He founded Teen Challenge, a successful church-based drug rehabilitation program with an 80% success rate; today there are 1,200 Teen Challenge Centres worldwide.
Wilkerson’s ministry in New York City continued into the 1960s. His book called The Cross and the Switchblade, co-authored by John and Elizabeth Sherrill, tells the story of the conversion of Puerto Rican Evangelist Nicky Cruz. The book became a stunning bestseller: 50 million copies in 30 languages. It became the subject of a movie by the same name, starring Pat Boone.
After founding World Challenge in 1971 in Lindale, Texas, Wilkerson returned to New York City and founded the Times Square Church, a mega church in the heart of ‘The Big Apple.’
Wilkerson was a tireless servant of God for the cause of godliness. Deploring the increasing worldliness and carnality in western Christendom, he spoke of return to simple but fundamental Biblical values. He did so with courage and compassion.
This author remembered writing to WIlkerson 35 years ago (January 1976). Concerned about his pronouncements of judgment on the Arab nations for their opposition to Israel, he received a reply literally one week later. Wilkerson proclaimed his love for the Arab people and said that 10,000 copies of The Cross and the Switchblade were being translated into Arabic.
More recently, David WIlkerson made his one and only visit to Australia in 2005. He came for the most magnanimous purpose: to help bless and revive Australian ministers. The conference was called ‘Renewing Your Passion for Christ.’ This author had the privilege of serving as Chairman for the Melbourne conference. Wilkerson came at his own expense, wanted no love offering, and vowed to cover any shortfall in conference costs (thankfully, the conference paid for itself). Not only did he and his son Gary minister wonderfully to the Aussies, but he convened an impromptu youth rally. Many youth eagerly responded to the message from ‘Grandpa.’ At the time -- at the age of 74 -- it was obvious that David Wilkerson still had the gift of connecting with youth, just as he did in the streets of New York almost fifty years before.
At this time of mourning -- Matthew 5:4 is a real comfort at this time -- Teach All Nations offers condolences to Pastor Wilkerson’s wife Gwen, son Gary, family, friends, and congregation at Times Square Church. Without question, the first words Wilkerson would have heard from our Lord upon meeting Him was: ‘Well done, good and faithful servant.’ As celebration of a great life, may we seek God’s Kingdom and righteousness as diligently as David WIlkerson.
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