In an instant, Sujo John’s American dream became a nightmare on the morning of Sept. 11, 2001. Having come to the United States from India with his wife less than six months prior, the 25-year-old had paused earlier that morning to reflect on just how lucky he was to have found a home and a job in one of the most prosperous cities in the world.
“It was a clear, beautiful day that morning,” John said 12 years after the event. “I remember looking out at the Statue of Liberty on my way to work and thinking ‘wow.’ I was pretty overwhelmed by where my life had taken me in such a short amount of time.” John’s wife, Mary, was four months pregnant and worked on the 71st floor of the South World Trade Center tower. John worked on the 81st floor of the North World Trade Center Tower and had just arrived when the first plane made impact.
Both survived — Mary because she was running late that morning and John thanks to the bravery and ultimate sacrifice of FDNY firefighters. As debris crumbled around him, John said it was Jesus who led him out of the rubble and later called him to a higher purpose.
“I was so young when it happened, still preparing for my life on earth,” he said. “After the event, I had to think about how I would leave this earth and I knew I wanted to leave it better than I found it.”
In the weeks and months following the World Trade Center attacks, John quit his job and found a new calling — spreading the love of God through his personal story of survival. He appeared on Good Morning America, spoke in front of hundreds of church congregations around the world and even developed a nonprofit called You Can Free with agencies in India and Romania to fight human sex trafficking.
Still, he said his primary responsibility is taking care of the soul.
“I want to challenge people to focus on what’s important — faith family, community. You can’t take material things with you when you go, but you can take your faith you your love for God.”
On Sunday, John will take that challenge to the First Baptist Church in Richmond Hill, hoping to inspire faith and love and commemorate the lives lost of thousands of men and women during the 9/11 attacks.
“We are so blessed to have him and really, really fortunate to have him address the church on that Sunday after the anniversary of the disaster,” Scott Speer, senior pastor at First Baptist Church said. “Sunday after the event, after the 6 p.m. service, we’re having a recognition for all our emergency service personnel, because many of those folks actually went to ground zero after the event to help pick up the pieces.”
Speer said First Baptist usually conducts two services on Sundays, but John will speak at three times — 9 a.m., 11:15 a.m. and 6 p.m. — to allow for any overflow of guests. The church has even set up a monitor feed in its sanctuary to prevent people from being turned away if space runs out in the main building.
“Everyone that we’ve talked to is excited. Our church is excited about it — everyone is trying to bring guests. Once the word gets out, I think we’ll have a big crowd for each of those services on that day.”
John said he is prepared to tell his story, much like he has thousands of times before, but wants the people who attend to be prepared for an emotional day of reflection.
“It’s a story of survival,” he said. “But it’s also a way to prevent the memories of those who sacrificed from fading away.”