That night, I found the Metro Ministries website and downloaded the internship form. I filled it up and scheduled a few meetings to share my desire with some leaders. Of course, my parents had to give me the green light as I was only 18 years old and this was not a normal holiday. This was a four month internship in the ghettos of New York, somewhere they had not even been before and perhaps knew little about.
My parents gave me their full support and didn’t bother to convince me out of it. In hindsight, perhaps they knew that their sure-minded daughter would have a million reasons for every one they came up with. We met our pastor to share the news and she was overjoyed and encouraged me to pursue the internship. Before we left the meeting, she prayed for me and told me to read Psalm 91. Little did I know, that verse kept me going for the next few months as a series of events unfolded.
I boarded the plane in September 2001. It was the most teary-eyed farewell with family and friends who came to send me off at the airport. This was my first solo trip and some friends thought I was crazy to go that far and to a place that was infamous for gang fights, drug dealers, gun shots and incessant chaos.
I arrived in New Jersey and spent the first week with my childhood friend. We ate stacks of pancakes, helped out at her parents’ Chinese takeaway restaurant, went to the beach, and walked the stretch at Jersey Shore Ocean City while admiring the waves and beach bums basking in the sun. We spent a full day at Six Flags lining up for crazy roller coaster rides, drove into New York City, wandered around Times Square, roamed Battery Park and got tickets up to the World Trade Centre. I had the ultimate American experience that left me craving for more.
I finally enrolled into the internship after the week long holiday. The Metro Ministries headquarters in Brooklyn, New York was going to be my home for the next four months. We were introduced to other interns from different countries such as Germany, Belgium, Holland, United Kingdom and China. As we were to share a home together, we were each given a bed and a tiny cupboard to store stuff. The first night was especially exciting. We had a big ‘family’ dinner in a room filled with fairy lights and a banquet table overflowing with food. We ate and chatted, ate some more and talked into the wee hours of the morning.
September 11, 2001 – The next day, we gathered in Metro’s main office building and were divided into small teams. I was introduced to Nena, a petite and incredibly stunning Latin American with big round eyes, Adele, a lanky, funny and warm-hearted Hollander, Angel, a teenage boy who once roamed the streets aimlessly but was now giving back to street children and Matt Helland, an American intern.
Midway through the meeting, we were interrupted by an unprecedented event. Live news on TV were showing images of the World Trade Centre in smoke. A plane had just flown straight into one of the towers. “How could this be?”, there wasn’t much time to make sense of things. Within seconds, we scrambled up the stairs leading to the rooftop and got there in time to witness the horrific scene of the second plane crashing into the other tower. In a flash, the World Trade Centre, an iconic landmark of New York’s buzzing metropolitan vanished into a pile of smoke and debris. Time stood still.