- The Washington Times - Saturday, December 8, 2001

On the first day of their visit from Texas, the Riebel family stayed up all night, serving hash browns to rescue workers at the site of the crash of American Airlines Flight 587 in the borough of Queens, N.Y.
In the following days, they comforted strangers on Wall Street and offered doughnuts to police officers guarding ground zero after midnight.
Abbe and Brian Riebel and his mother, Maureen, have come to New York from their 320-acre family ranch and landscape business with their Boerne, Texas, Baptist church one of dozens of congregations that since the September 11 attacks have heeded the Rev. Billy Graham's call to bring compassion from afar.
"It's a different culture than Texas," concedes their pastor, the Rev. Charles "Bubba" Stahl. And yet, evangelicals such as Mr. Stahl say they have found an eager sometimes desperate audience in what they once considered a capital of sin.
One New Yorker called Mr. Graham's new prayer center hot line after losing his brother on the 102nd floor of the World Trade Center. The caller's mother had died shortly after she heard the news, and he had turned to alcohol again.
The director of the prayer center, Fred Baye, met a New York City police officer who had seen his partner killed by a falling body as they fled the scene of the attack. Now, the officer can't sleep nights and fights constantly with his wife. He told Mr. Baye that he would be better off dead.
"The city feels violated, their house has been attacked," says Mr. Baye, who moved from Albany, N.Y., to open Mr. Graham's first permanent New York City outpost. "They're all questioning their futures, their security."
Mr. Graham first preached in New York 44 years ago during a 16-week revival at Madison Square Garden. This time, his son and fellow minister, Franklin Graham, came to New York with 20 employees of his Samaritan's Purse relief group, based in North Carolina, and his father's Minnesota staff.
They've fielded more than 1,000 calls from New Yorkers since Sept. 22. Volunteers have distributed about 100,000 pieces of literature, posters and Bibles with pictures of the towers exploding under the title "Why?" or "Fallen but not forgotten." The operation costs about $150,000 a month.
Inside a small room stuffed with eight phones and facing an alley, four persons wait for calls. Operators trained in biblical counseling offer passages of Scripture and referrals to local churches. Mostly, though, they just listen.
Richard and Carla Patzke from Titusville, Fla., staff the call center while waiting for a face-to-face counseling session with a woman who was reminded of her childhood abuse while watching bodies fall from the World Trade Center.
"Jesus Christ is an integral part of the healing process," Mr. Patzke says. "That relationship forms an important foundation." Meanwhile, at the cramped midtown offices of the Harvest Christian Fellowship, near Carnegie Hall, volunteers from churches nationwide prepare for another day of street missions.
"I'm from the countryside and thought we walk a lot, but that's not true," says Randy Miller, who skipped his honeymoon to come to New York from his small hometown in southern Illinois. "I have a new appreciation for city life and the people who live here."
About 100 volunteers from a dozen states chuckle and shake their heads in agreement. The biggest challenge for many was navigating the subways.
Another thousand Southern Baptists have paid their own way to New York to help scrub apartments so the displaced can move back home.
Local evangelical churches, too, have heeded the call. On Long Island, the youth group at the Bethlehem Assembly of God handed out 2,000 cans of soda and Billy Graham literature outside local high schools. They also mailed condolence cards to local residents who had lost people at the World Trade Center.
"It's easier to speak to people" than before the attack, says Tom Wiermann, who attends a local university. "Their hearts are softer."
It's usually not so easy.
"New Yorkers tend to be rather jaded and suspicious of anyone peddling their faith," says Randall Balmer, a Columbia University professor who has written a history of the American evangelical culture. "But New Yorkers, like all Americans, are spiritual seekers. At least some of them are open to this approach."

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