How should people cope with tragedy? That’s a question Pastor Bruce Porter has had to answer again and again as a preacher, chaplain — and a good Samaritan who was heavily involved in helping victims of both the Columbine High School shooting in Littleton, Colo., and the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center in New York City.
Porter, the Colorado preacher who officiated Columbine victim Rachel Joy Scott’s funeral after the 1999 shooting, later found himself drawn to the scene of America’s most horrific terror attack, arriving at Ground Zero six days after the Sept. 11, 2001, assault to help minister to the afflicted. It was an experience that transformed his life.
“We all remember where we were and what we were doing [on 9/11] … the circumstances of our day,” Porter recently told PureFlix.com’s “Pure Talk.” “And I just sensed immediately that God was calling me with a sense of duty to respond to that, because I knew I had some skill sets that might be useful in New York.”
Watch Porter discuss the dream that he believes foreshadowed the events at Columbine and Ground Zero:
The pastor said that he was a good fit to help volunteer his time, considering his background as a local firefighter, pastor and chaplain. Porter also had plenty of experience helping people in Littleton, Colorado, process grief after the Columbine massacre.
“I arrived on scene [in New York City] six days after the collapse of the Towers … the next morning I was on the pile,” he said. “What I saw, of course, was off-scale terrible. The rubble itself was just overwhelming … we were literally walking around in an open graveyard.”
Porter spent two weeks ministering to first responders who were forced to deal with the unthinkable — a deeply traumatic experience for all involved.
“It was really a mission of mercy, but I found myself really working more with the first responders … in counseling them,” he said. “Doing what I could to help them process what they were dealing with … the emotions were just overwhelming for people.”
(Read also: 9/11: A time for reflection and prayer)
Porter stressed the importance of being a light to help show others the Gospel, and said the experience at Ground Zero left him with some life-changing realizations.
“I think it reinforced in me the duty that every Christian bears to be responsive to the world around them, to be compassionate, to weep with those who weep, to rejoice with those who rejoice,” he said. “The good news and the love of Christ travels with least resistance over the golden wire of compassion.”
Porter also shared details of a dream that he had three months to the day before the Columbine shooting — a dream that he now believes was a foreshadowing of what was to come inside Columbine High School and at Ground Zero.
“I had a horrible dream one night. I woke up in a cold sweat screaming,” he said, describing the strange scene in his dream sequence — one that included kids running in lines with their hands on their heads, explosions, children bleeding and other horrific scenes.
Porter said that the dream, which appeared to take place in a library, didn’t end there.
“A red light went on and I heard bombs, explosions, gunshots, I wasn’t sure,” he said. “I kept hearing in the back of my mind the words ‘911, 911, 911’ over and over again, which I assumed was just the emergency number people call when they’re in trouble.”
The preacher was so shaken that his wife woke up and assumed he was having a heart attack. She later wrote about it in her journal. Then, Columbine unfolded three months later and the couple was totally shocked.
“I saw unfolding right before my eyes the things I had seen in that dream,” he said.
Three years later, as Porter stood talking with a firefighter on the heap of what remained of the Twin Towers, he had another stunning realization about that dream.
“[The firefighter] looked over at me and he said, ‘Isn’t it wild that this happened on 9/11, the emergency number?’” Porter recalled, noting that the mention of 911 in his dream came rushing back and he suddenly saw a connection. “I got goosebumps.”
He continued, “[It] was a foreshadowing of what I was seeing … and I knew that I was right where I was supposed to be, doing exactly what God wanted me to be doing and it was a tremendous comfort and encouragement to me at the time.”
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