Archives For 10 Events That Shaped Me

Part 1 <> Part 2

It was nine days after 9/11. I was watching the evening news. In fact, I think the whole world was watching—what would the United States do? How would they react? What about Al Queda? Do they have more attacks planned?

After President Bush’s initial frozen look of shock when he received the news, while reading to classroom of children, he stepped up his game. That initial look did not inspire confidence, but then again, how would you have reacted nine months into your presidency when your chief of staff whispers into your ear, “A second plane hit the second tower. America is under attack.” 

Even the kids in the classroom were confused by his change in demeanor. Love him or hate him, President Bush has always been known for his down home, friendly manner that made it even hard for his enemies not to like him, after they actually met him.

“In a heartbeat, he leaned back and he looked flabbergasted, shocked, horrified,” recalls Lazaro Dubrocq, now 17.  Another student, 16 [says], “I’ll always remember watching his face turn red. He got really serious all of a sudden. But I was clueless. I was just 7. I’m just glad he didn’t get up and leave, because then I would have been more scared and confused.” Chantal Guerrero, 16, agrees. Even today, she’s grateful that Bush regained his composure and stayed with the students until The Pet Goat was finished. “I think the President was trying to keep us from finding out,” says Guerrero, “so we all wouldn’t freak out.”[i]

This Article is not about Bush

President Bush did regain his composure and reassured the nation that America would hunt down the perpetrators of the Twin Towers attack. But this article is not about America’s response or the rightness or wrongness of President Bush’s wars. This is about what happened to me that night, nine days after 9/11.

The next day, Friday September 21st, I was scheduled to fly to Fort Lauderdale where I would minister. Four things happened within one hour.

  1. As I walked into my house that evening my wife said to me, “They are expecting more attacks.” A cold shiver went down my spine.
  2. President Bush spoke to the nation, saying that we had to be vigilant, because intelligence reports say more attacks could be carried out soon. Getting more afraid…
  3. Next, a video of Osama Bin Laden was played where he gloated and confirmed President Bush’s fears of more planned attacks. (My memory is fuzzy after eleven years as to the exact content of the video, but I do believe there was something about “bringing America to her knees.”  What is  clear is how I felt after I heard him speak—scared.)
  4. Then my mother called me. It just so happened that she and my dad would be flying with me the next day to Ft. Lauderdale. It was a funny coincidence; they had a wedding the same weekend and we had booked ourselves on the same flight. However, she called to tell me that she and my father would be canceling their trip. Why? “We don’t think it is wise that all three of us should be on the same plane. If something happened, Elana and the girls would be alone.”

My first response was, I have a better idea: you go risk your life on the plane and I will stay. Why do I have to be the one that Osama kills? That is what I was thinking, but I didn’t actually say it. Instead I hung up the phone and I am sure I had a similar look on my face as when Andrew Card whispered into the ear of President Bush.

Dazed and Confused—Terror at Work in Me

I was terrified. For the next hour or so I walked around my house in a daze. I could not think or focus. I was frozen with fear. Osama Bin Laden wants to kill me. One of his goons might even be on my plane tomorrow.

Finally, I began to pray. “Lord, it seems to me that I should cancel this trip. The leader of the congregation will understand. It is simply not safe.”

I sensed the Lord asking me, “On what topic were you planning to preach?”

“Overcoming the Fear of Terrorism,” I responded. Oops. I realized how absurd I was acting. I was planning on teaching about the supernatural power of God to overcome fear and I was to afraid to go. I knew that if I didn’t go I would be a hypocrite and I could never preach that message again.

I found strength in the Lord and I did travel (and survived!) and in the process I learned a valuable lesson about overcoming fear and wrote a short ebook if you are interested. It is called 7 Keys to Overcoming Fear (of Terror, Sickness, Recession, Death and Anything Else!)


Part 1 <> Part 3

A Moving Ritual

On September 11th 2001 my two younger daughters were let out of school early. They were eight and ten and had no idea why they were being allowed to go home, but they could tell it was serious. However as the news began to leak and they learned of the attack, they began a nightly ritual.

Years later Yael and Danielle told me about this. They slept in the same room and had the same bedtime—8:30 p.m. However, unbeknownst to us, they would lie in their beds and talk for more than an hour. Each night, however, at 9:11 p.m. they would have a moment of silence to remember those lost on that tragic September day. Then, they would resume their conversation.

Just Get me Home!

They were sent home early and I was longing to get home, as I was on a ministry trip in Argentina. I can’t remember a time when I felt more unity with strangers than I did on September 15th 2001.  We were stuck in Buenos Aires, waiting to get home. Flights were grounded on 9/11. In truth I was not stuck. This was my scheduled flight, but had I been able to get home earlier I would have ended my weeklong class on the Book of Revelation early and headed to the US.

It is not like I was needed in the US. I didn’t know anyone who died or was injured in the attack. Nor was I equipped to help in any significant way. I just wanted to be with my family. Everyone was scared, wondering when the next attack would be. No one dreamed at that point that eleven years would go by without a major terrorist attack on US soil. It is nothing short of a miracle that a suicide bomber has not walked into a McDonald’s or Starbucks with murder on his mind, as had happened so often here in Israel. Yes, there was Fort Hood, but tragic as it was, it cannot really be compared to 9/11.

A Reunion of Strangers

The Americans  I met while waiting in line that day did not mind going through security a second time before boarding. Each one of us was so happy to finally be with other Americans. We spoke with bravado about what we would do if someone tried to take over this plane. In the midst of this awful tragedy we had a powerful moment together.

Chaos in Chicago

I don’t remember anything special about the flight from the Argentine capital to Chicago. But I do remember what it was like arriving in Chicago. Pandemonium!

Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport was already one of the top five busiest airports in the US. Now add to that fact that many people had been stranded for days in the airport or around Chicago, seeking to get home. When I arrived everyone’s flight had been canceled and each traveler had to rebook. There was very little order—just lines everywhere and you had no idea what line was for what need. The workers did an amazing job taking care of people, and travelers were far more patient than normal in the aftermath of the attack. Still, it was chaos.

I got into a line that literally looped around itself three times. I had no idea how long I would be there. Suddenly an clerk for United, after she found out I was trying to get to Richmond, directed me to another line—a relatively short line. Within an hour I was rebooked to Dulles in Washington. From there I would fly to Richmond, which could only have been a thirty-minute flight.

Once on the plane, I was finally able to read an American Newspaper—USA Today. There were dozens of stories of heroics and heartbreak. Suddenly it all hit me and I spent the next two hours reading in tears—feeling the need even more deeply to get home, where I could debrief with friends and family.

I’m Going Home!

I landed in Dulles and realized that although I was only two hours from Richmond, I would be stuck there until later that day. Forget this, I thought, I’m going home!  I was too tired and anxious to walk around Dulles for six hours.

After 9/11, measures were taken to help prevent future attacks. One of those measures was if a passenger wasn’t on his or her plane, his or her bags would be removed. However this was 9/16 and decisions like that were yet to be made.

I’d rent a car and then drive to RIC, Richmond’s airport, in the morning to find my bags. I called from the car rental company to see if it was even affordable. Turned out it was. I hopped on a shuttle and within twenty minutes I was on my way home. I don’t sleep much on airplanes and I was exhausted, having been awake for most of 36 hours. Fortunately the plethora of news reports and updates kept me alert.

We had just bought a home in the Nuckles Farm area of Richmond’s West End. It was located in a cul-de-sac of Graham Meadows. I can’t tell you the feeling I had pulling into Graham Meadows Court that day and seeing my wife on the front lawn. I was home. I couldn’t wait to see my children and drive over to my parent’s house.

As all of America tried to settle back into life with this new reality—terrorism—people were scared. President Bush warned of more attacks. This new name that everyone was talking about, Osama Bin Ladin, declared that he had more plans for the “Great Satan”. Within a short time, I noticed I was afraid. In Part 3 and 4, I will share how I overcame the fear of Terrorism.


Part 1 <> Part 3


The phone rang. “Something terrible has happened in America!” The voice on the other end was Marcela Goldstein’s, the wife of Jorge Goldstein, a Messianic Jewish leader in Buenos Aires and the director of the Messianic Jewish Bible Institute, where I was teaching. “Turn on the TV,” she implored me. Not being a Spanish speaker, I logged onto the Internet.

The first article that came up was something about an airplane crashing into the World Trade Center. Above the article, however, in big, bold, red letters were these words updating the original article:

UPDATE: A Plane has Just Hit the Second Tower

My brain would not receive this as reality. For the first twenty seconds or so I was sure I was watching a trailer for a new Spielberg movie… only it was in writing. When reality took hold of me, I shared the news with Brandon, a student from the Brownsville Revival School of Ministry that was traveling with me. We turned on Spanish television and were horrified as we watched person after person jump from the burning towers. We were horrified.

To this day I don’t know what the news coverage was like in the US on that morning, but in Argentina they were intent only playing the gruesome scenes over and over again. We spent the rest of the day watching the news and reading online in English through the Internet—all the while in stunned disbelief.

A Strange Feeling

That night I went to teach my class and I felt strangely embarrassed. As an American, I was used to being a member of the strongest nation on earth. We helped other nations, but didn’t seek help. We were not used to being in this position. Even the very school I was teaching in would not have been in existence without funds from generous Americans. To this day I don’t know if it was pride, arrogance, humiliation or honest patriotism; a love for my country.

There I was, staring at fifty Argentinian students and I felt weak, ashamed and embarrassed; I could not shake this strange feeling. I felt like Mike Tyson must of felt, who was once thought to possibly be the meanest, toughest heavyweight of all time, when Buster Douglas, a nobody, knocked him out. America had not been knocked out, but we were knocked down and in the midst of my standing eight count in front of a room full of non-Americans, I was shamed.

I am not saying what I was feeling was right or wrong, justified or disgusting, it just was what it was.

The apartment where we were staying was next to a train. Every morning at 5 a.m. the trains would begin take their passengers to their destinations. When the train would pass our flat, it felt like an earthquake. The noise was unbelievably loud and the building shook. Then, this would take place every thirty minutes until we got about of bed.

On September 12th at 5 a.m., when the train arrived, having dreamt all night about the tragedy, I jumped out of bed, sure that we were under attack from Muslim terrorists.

I gotta get Home!

The next day Brandon and I realized that we might be stuck in Buenos Aires, as all air travel within and to the US had been suspended. This was killing us because we desperately wanted to be with our families. And not just that, we wanted to be with Americans. We wanted to grieve with our countrymen and comfort them. We wanted to help. And we couldn’t even get home.

We started making phone calls. We reserved seats, without actually paying, on an Air Mexicana flight to Monterey, Mexico. The plan was to fly to Mexico, rent a car and drive to Houston—about 500 miles. We had friends in Houston and we would figure out how to get home after we arrived.

Fortunately, it did not come to that—a crazy plan. As it turned out, my flight, which was scheduled for Friday night, September 15th, was the first flight allowed from Argentina to the US. Arriving at the airport and seeing other Americans for the first time since the attack was emotional for all of us, though we did not know each other. But like me, they just wanted to get home—to hug the members of their families, to cry, to grieve and express outrage. In the absence of our families, we found solace in each other. On any other day, we would have been strangers. That day, we were fellow Americans—brothers and sisters.

Coming Up… The Trek home

9/11 and the Spirit of Terror Part 2

9/11 and the Spirit of Terror Part 3


For the next three days, over the weekend, I was in a daze. I didn’t know what to do. I was paralyzed with fear. This definitely was uncharted territory for me. When we decided to join the MJBI team, no one told me about the Ukrainian Mafia.

I was the leader of my clan and we had no water. It was up to me to get it turned back on. We couldn’t shower, wash dishes or do any other essential things that one does with water.

Odessa, A Unique City

After classes I decided to walk home. I needed to pray and clear my head. Odessa, despite the poverty is a beautiful city. If you can look past the dirt to the golden cobblestone

Odessa’s cobblestone streets

streets and it’s creative architecture, you can see that she once shined. Unlike most Soviet cities, where there is little to no creativity in designs, Odessa has a Mediterranean feel.

The French and Italians, not the Russians, influenced its architecture. Sitting on the Black Sea, Odessa is one of the most popular vacation spots for citizens of the Former Soviet Union.

I was so blessed when I returned to Odessa in 2010. The city has changed so much. It is clean and all of the formerly gray buildings have a fresh coat of paint. The city is full of

Odessa’s famous Opera House, which according to Odessa’s citizens is only rivaled by Rome’s. Hitler stole its gold-laced curtain during WWII, but Odessa got it back at the end of the war.

cafés and restaurants. On a sunny day, it is one of the most beautiful places to be. During the winter in Ukraine the clouds can move in and not depart for several weeks. Sunlight carries many health benefits, including vitamin D. Three weeks without it, can leave one feeling depressed. At times the clouds over the city felt like a prison. However, on this day, it was sunny and beautiful.

With the cobblestones beneath my feet, I walked back to my apartment. I began to pray.

Clarity Through Prayer

A few things became clear. Nothing escapes God’s view. He allowed this happen. What was He seeking to teach me? When the unexpected and unwanted happens, that should be our question. What am I supposed to learn here?

I was immediately brought back to the passage of Elisha with his servant. The king of Aram sent out soldiers with horses and chariots to capture the prophet because he, being a prophet, was giving advice to the King of Israel, telling him the plans of the king of Aram.

When the servant of the man of God got up and went out early the next morning, an army with horses and chariots had surrounded the city. “Oh no, my lord! What shall we do?” the servant asked. “Don’t be afraid,” the prophet answered. “Those who are with us are more than those who are with them.” And Elisha prayed, “Open his eyes, Lord, so that he may see.” Then the Lord opened the servant’s eyes, and he looked and saw the hills full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha. (2 Kings 6:15-17)

The Lord was teaching me:

  1. He is with me and he is stronger than the meanest mobster.
  2. Intimidation is a spirit and that is what the Mafia relies on. Just like terrorists.
  3. As a believer, I had to stand up to intimidation.

The door I shut in the face of the yelling ‘babuskka’ — big mistake. Deribosovskya 19, Apartment 4A.

Of course, I had already concluded that I should never have slammed the door in the face of the shouting babushka and I would offer to pay for any damages that my leaking washing machine had caused.

I felt confidence return to my soul. Yes, God is bigger. He allowed this to happen to teach me to stand in the face of fear. He can protect my family and me! By the time I got home, I was ready to confront hard-face and get my water turned back on.

According to my book, You’ve Mail From Odessa, they had told me that they would not turn the water back on until at least Monday—after the insurance people had accessed the damages.  The whole mess began on Friday. I don’t remember all that, but fortunately I have a book that serves as a diary. Peter, who I thought was the owner of the store, until I met hard-face, told this in Russian to Tatyana, the wife of the assistant director of the Bible School—now director.

I walked downstairs to the Reebok store and trembling, I entered. Just because the Lord had revealed to me that intimidation was a demonic spirit meant to paralyze me, didn’t mean that I wasn’t a bit scared. Hard-face was still a vicious, mean and ruthless human being.

I was taken to his office. He was angry and he didn’t like the American standing before him. Even worse, I was alone and had no interpreter with me. I cannot remember why I went in without one, but it was most likely because no one was willing to come with me! Peter, his manager, went to look for an interpreter and I was left alone with hard-face in his office. Awkward, scary and uncomfortable and just three words that come to mind.

Tomorrow I will post the conclusion.

The Odessa Mafia and Me Part 1

The Odessa Mafia and Me Part 2

The Odessa Mafia and Me Part 4


Hard-face in my Kitchen

I am standing in my kitchen looking at a man who has, no doubt, killed. He is Ukrainian Mafia and he is yelling at me. He has a security guard with him. His face is weathered and rough. He is tall and muscular, wearing an expensive suit. He is in one word: intimidating.

As he is yelling at me in Russian, I caught one word, Vada. Vada means water and that was all I really needed to hear to understand why he was angry. In Ukrainian apartments, it is a common occurrence to leak water into the apartment below you. For that reason, the tenants on the bottom floor can shut your water off. I realized that someone must be leaking water into his store below me.

He owned a Reebok store. On our street and many streets in Odessa’s city center, businesses inhabit the bottom level of most apartment buildings. In his case, there was no market to sustain a Reebok store in a country plagued by poverty. But of course, the Reebok store was not intended to be a profitable business. It was there to launder money.

The Steakhouse

This is a modern picture of the Steakhouse. It was much smaller in1998.

The real money was made through organized crime. In fact, you could not even be in business in Odessa without either being Mafia or paying off Mafia. My favorite restaurant in Odessa was called the Steakhouse. It was owned by a Jewish fellow. His steaks were delicious and eating out was about a fifth of the cost of say, Ruth’s Chris Steak House.  So we would eat there several times a week. It was only about 200 hundred meters from our flat.

Elana and I would leave the girls in the apartment with a walkie-talkie. Sharon was nine, Yael was six and Danielle was five. For them it was exciting to be alone, and we were just a hop, skip and a jump away, with the other walkie-talkie. We didn’t even own a cell phone while in Odessa.

Anyway… the owner of the restaurant told the local Mafia to go take a hike—he wasn’t buying their insurance! When we returned to Odessa, after being gone for several weeks in the winter, half of my favorite restaurant was gone! Blown up! After that, he started paying. The Steakhouse is still their today, and I enjoyed a great steak with our longtime friends Tatyana and Valentine, who oversee the MJBI and lead a Messianic congregation in Odessa in 2010.

Back to Hardface

The mob boss is yelling at me that water is leaking from my flat into his store. I told him in broken Russian it wasn’t me and he was free to check. I pointed to my bathroom, which interestingly was connected to the kitchen, and opened the door to show him that there was no water leaking from my apartment.

However, as I opened the door, I was shocked to see two inches of water on the floor! You see, in Ukraine, or at least our apartment, the water that flows out of the washing machine is funneled into the bathtub. However, in most cases, even if it emptied onto the floor that would not be the end of the world, as most bathrooms have a drain in the center.

After we moved into the apartment, I woke up at about 3 a.m. on the first night to use the bathroom. When I entered, I was disgusted to find a circle of human waste about three feet in diameter around the drain. For some reason, whatever was going into the toilet would come back through the drain every night. As I cleaned it up, I thought of my daughters waking up in the middle of the night to this unsanitary mess. This would have to be fixed—and soon.

After having a series of plumbers, who would always make a mess and not clean up, try and fix it, it was decided that the easiest thing to do was to simply seal the drain with cement. That would solve the problem—besides, did we really need the drain? Apparently yes…

The hose funneling water into the bathtub from the washing machine had fallen out of the bathtub and onto the floor. Without a drain, the water simply searched for the path of least resistance and that lead to Hard-face’s Reebok store. He was not happy.

I began to apologize. I reinserted the hose into the bathtub… this time with duck tape and somehow mopped up the small flood in my bathroom. However, Hard-face turned off my water.

Now I had a bigger problem—no water and I was too intimidated and terrified to ask Hard-face to turn it back on. I thought to myself, I just came here to minister, to raise up leaders for Jewish ministry, I wasn’t looking to get into a confrontation with the Mafia! What am I going to do?

Come back tomorrow and find out!

The Odessa Mafia and Me Part 1

The Odessa Mafia and Me Part 3

The Odessa Mafia and Me Part 4