of the Stray E-mail
By Barbara Baumgardner
September 11, 2001. I watched in horror as the World Trade Center towers were erased from the skyline of New York City. Glued to the television, I felt deep sorrow for the families of thousands who would be grieving intensely. There was no warning, no good-byes and for most, no bodies to bury. There was only stark horror and lives forever changed.
I so regretted that my book, A Passage through Grief, had gone out of print in December. It could have helped in this desperate time of need. As a hospice and church volunteer, that book had been my text and guide in leading grief support groups. It offered encouragement and hope. Now, the people of New York City needed both.
Before the sun went down on that horrible day, God began laying a burden on my heart too big to ignore. I felt he wanted me to send 10,000 copies of my out-of-print book to the grieving survivors. Incredible, in place of any doubts, I felt excited and empowered by the task.
I told no one until the following Sunday, when I shared my plan with Pastor Syd. He was supportive but questioned how I would distribute the books once they were delivered to New York. All I could answer was, "If God gets them there, He'll also get them distributed to the right places."
The next morning I called the publisher inquiring about the process of printing and donating 10,000 books. And then I waited. God seemed to be saying, Trust me.
Two days later, I was excited to get an e-mail from the publisher saying they were checking prices on printing the books in paperback instead of the original hard cover. While waiting, I talked to several writers about printing costs and heard prices from $2.80 to $4.00 each. Suddenly my mission became raising thirty to forty thousand dollars. Yet God was still saying, Trust Me.
I spent hours at my computer sending e-mails to everyone I knew, asking them to send e-mails to their friends. I told them there would be no profit or royalties paid to anyone for this project. "I can't do this alone. I need your help," was my plea. I gave them the address of my home church as a fund-receiving center.
I'll have to admit I was counting up any of my own personal resources that could be liquidated to pay for the books if I didn't get donations. I had a small inheritance from my mom who'd died in June. And I could sell my motor home. It surprised me to have such perfect peace about doing that as I continued to pray, "Please God, send the rest of the money."
Meanwhile, Pastor Syd, still concerned about distribution, wrote an e-mail to two men he knew who would be involved in counseling in New York City. He hit the "send" button and went home. When he returned to work the next morning, messages of willingness to help were waiting, but not from the recipients of his e-mail. Upon investigation, he found that he had apparently hit a wrong button and mistakenly sent his message to every Conservative Baptist church in the United States. Messages came all day: We just received your e-mail. . . We would like to get the word out to our congregation. . . Please let us know where we can send contributions. . . We would like to include the address in this week's bulletin. . .
Other messages came: I'm not sure why I got this e-mail but I can share some input with you. I am currently in New York City working as a part of the NW Medical Trauma Counseling Team. I can see that in the coming months there is going to be a need for material such as you are suggesting. I would suggest you look for a release date about a month from now. . . I am praying for you. . . We are planning to take up a special collection for you next Sunday.
Later that day, Pastor Syd sent me an e-mail that said, "Now I seldom get too excited, but today I laughed out loud. God doesn't make a mistake, but He uses human mistakes!"
As the days went by, we saw more and more of God's perfect plan for this project. My publisher generously decided to get involved, pricing the books below their cost. However, I would have to prepay the order before the printing could begin. In faith, I charged it all on my two credit cards. I felt certain that the money would come to pay for them - and it did. Money came from all over America - it came from other writers, friends, my family, churches and strangers who I probably will never meet.
God's inconceivable plan even included a distributor. The day I ordered the books, I received an e-mail from a Baptist church in New Jersey that had received my pastor's stray e-mail. They wrote: "We have a 'Heart for the Nation' fund that may be able to help. Is it possible that we could have books sent directly here. . .? We are fifteen miles from the World Trade Center and have a great need to meet in this area. Thanks."
The books were paid for and shipped on October 29th. The conservative Baptist church in New Jersey went to work distributing 5,000 copies all over the area. Books were given to churches for use in grief support groups and chaplains gave hundreds of them to firefighters and police officers at Ground Zero. The Metro Baptist Association of the Southern Baptist Convention distributed 2,000 books, many of those in Christmas packages given to families of those who died. And the Salvation Army took the remaining 3,000, and used my newly revised leader's guide for training at a weekend conference for grief counselors. I was amazed at God's plan.
Pastor Syd never did get an answer from either of the two men he sent the original e-mail to. But the misrouted e-mail did the job God intended it to do.