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Published: Friday, 11/16/2001

God's presence felt at Ground Zero

BY DAVID YONKE
BLADE RELIGION EDITOR

Major Molly Shotzberger of the Salvation Army, who served as a counseling coordinator at Ground Zero in Manhattan, said her faith in God was strengthened after dealing with the aftermath of the terrorist attacks.

“It reminded me of the constant presence of God in every situation, and that if we didn't have Him, we wouldn't get through these situations,” said Major Shotzberger, who with her husband, Major James Shotzberger, will be a special guest at a Thanksgiving service in Toledo tomorrow.

She said she was getting ready for her 45-minute commute to the Salvation Army office in Manhattan when she turned on the television and saw the attacks on the World Trade Center.

“My first task was to try to assess the situation, to see exactly what I was going to need and who I was going to need.”

She assembled a team of experienced crisis counselors from throughout the region and set up headquarters near Ground Zero.

“You're never really prepared,” said Major Shotzberger, 59, a native of Lewistown, Pa. “I had had critical incident and stress management training and a number of counseling courses but you have to throw the textbook out at a time like that.”

Rescuers worked nonstop at first, “going on such adrenaline, hoping to find someone alive,” Major Shotzberger said. They were getting dehydrated but refused to take breaks, so the Salvation Army staff decided to bring the supplies to them as they worked.

“We literally crawled up on the pile [of WTC wreckage] and formed our own bucket brigade, carrying buckets filled with ice, bottled water, chocolate bars, Gatorade, energy bars, and anything else that the rescuers needed,” she said.

After about five days, the Salvation Army obtained a golf-cart-type vehicle that they used to ferry supplies to Ground Zero.

“The rescuers were just so determined to do everything they can. In the beginning, when they were digging with their hands, they had heavy work gloves that would get torn to shreds. Their hands would be bleeding and blistering. We'd wash them off, massage their hands for them, and give them clean gloves.”

The heat from the smoldering ruins melted the rescue workers' boots, and their socks were soaked from the rain and the fire hoses.

“We literally would take their boots off, take their wet socks off, powder their feet, massage their feet, and put clean socks and boots on them, wishing there was more we could do. Then we'd send them back into the fray.”

While tending to their physical needs, counselors would determine if the workers were interested in emotional or spiritual help.

Many times, Major Shotzberg said, they vented their anger at God.

“We would just say, `It's OK. God's a big God and He understands.' The other thing I would say to them as they questioned their faith and wondered why this all happened, I'd say, `You know what? I've had those same questions.' That surprised them. Here's a minister saying that she had the same questions. And I'd tell them I deal with it not with feelings, but with faith.”

Major Shotzberger said the goal of the Salvation Army counselors was “to bring a calming presence in the midst of chaos, and I think we did that.”

Majors James and Molly Shotzberger will be special guests at a Salvation Army Thanksgiving service, 6 p.m. tomorrow at the Salvation Army, 752 Main St.



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