I was in Kathmandu on 9/11 where my friend Randy was leading a prayer retreat in Nepal for Christian workers from central and southern Asia. On the last day of the retreat, Randy and I met for breakfast in a restaurant above a garden. "I am troubled," he said. "There is war in the heavenlies and I just can't do what I planned to do today."
When everyone gathered, Randy began by repeating what he had told me and asking everyone to pray for guidance. We began to pray. Snacks and juice were rolled in for a break that morning and no one moved. Lunch came. No one stirred. Yet another break came and went. Only a shifting of bodies and the clatter of carts marked the passage of time. Finally Randy called the retreat to a close-no grand insights, no revelations.
Walking back to the hotel after dinner, a shopkeeper I had purchased a pair of earrings from for my wife a few days earlier hustled into the street and grabbed my arm. He pulled me into his shop. On the counter was a small, black-and-white television. We squinted at a fuzzy image that faded in and out. It was New York, and one of the World Trade Center towers was on fire. While we puzzled over this, a plane flew into the second tower.
I headed for the hotel. We gathered in groups, wandering from room to room, watching different broadcasts. Those from Pakistan and Afghanistan learned they would not be going home. They would meet their spouses and families elsewhere.
A woman I had never seen before appeared at the door and asked for me. A colleague from home told her to search for me-to lay eyes on me-so that he could report to my wife I was safe. There were no telephone connections and the internet was overwhelmed.
When I finally talked with my wife a day or two later she said, "It is so quiet. No one is moving around much. There are no planes in the sky. Helicopters are flying over our neighborhood. It's so strange."
There was no going home. Randy and I continued to Bhutan. When we returned to Kathmandu a week later, airline schedules were still in chaos. I spent 10 hours waiting for a flight to India, and another 12 in New Delhi for a flight to meet colleagues in Paris.
While in New Delhi, I watched the board as flight after flight was canceled, and my departure pushed back hour after hour. A man sitting across from me made me uncomfortable. Every time I looked up he stared at me. Finally he arose, crossed the aisle, sat two seats from me, and turned to ask: "Are you an American?"
"I'm a Muslim," he said. "I just want you to know we're not all like that."
I couldn't get to Paris but instead flew west over the Indian Ocean, cutting north across Saudi Arabia to avoid Pakistan and Afghanistan. I got as far as London where, totally exhausted, I collapsed. It would be still days before I could fly home.
The world is a dangerous place. There is no safe haven. Yet everywhere-no matter how extreme the situation-are people willing to love and care for us. They are tangible expressions of the kingdom of God.
-Bill Bangham is director of media production at International Mission Board, the mission arm of the Southern Baptist Convention.