Thirteen years ago I had the privilege of interviewing Jeannie Braca, sharing her story — Al’s story — in Focus on the Family magazine. It still moves me deeply:
On the morning of Sept. 11, 2001, Jeannie Braca switched on the television to check the weather report, only to hear that a plane had just hit the World Trade Center. Jeannie’s husband, Al, worked as a corporate bond trader for Cantor Fitzgerald. His office was on the 105th floor of Tower One. Jeannie hadn’t spoken to Al since he had left for work that morning.
“Normally we would talk on the phone a lot — maybe five or 10 times a day. We would pray together all the time, as different situations came up,” Jeannie explains. “We had just moved into our new home, and that morning I was busy unpacking and getting things organized.”
The phone began to ring, but it wasn’t Al. Anxious friends and relatives were calling to see if Jeannie had heard from her husband yet. Many of them made their way to the Braca home to be with Jeannie, including her four children: David, 31; twins Christina and Deanna, 28; and Christopher, 16.
A year earlier, Jeannie had suffered a severe heart attack that had left only 16 percent of her heart functioning properly. Friends and family worried that the stress would be too much for her. When the second plane hit, they turned off the television. Jeannie was, in fact, starting to feel ill and having difficulty breathing. They didn’t tell her when they heard the Towers had collapsed.
There For A Reason
Al had survived the World Trade Center bombing in 1993 — even helped a woman with asthma escape from the building. Jeannie didn’t think it would be any different this time. “I knew he would stop to help and minister to people,” she says, “but I never thought for a minute that he wouldn’t come home.”
Later in the evening, after Jeannie had received medical treatment, her sons broke the news about the Towers. Family members held out hope that Al had only been injured. They called area hospitals, searching for him. But, Jeannie says, “By the time I went to bed that night, I knew he was never coming home.” A week later, Al’s body was found in the rubble.
Then reports trickled in from friends and acquaintances. Some people on the 105th floor had made a last call or sent a final e-mail to a loved one saying that “a man” was leading people in prayer. A few referred to Al by name. The Bracas learned that Al had indeed been ministering to people during the attack. When he realized that they were all trapped in the building and would not be able to escape, Al shared the Gospel with a group of 50 co-workers and led them in prayer.
This news came as no surprise to Jeannie. For years, she and Al had been praying for the salvation of these men and women. According to Jeannie, Al hated his job; he couldn’t stand the environment. It was a world so completely out of touch with his Christian values. But he wouldn’t quit. He was convinced that God wanted him to stay there, to be a light in the darkness. To that end, Al freely shared his faith with his co-workers, many of whom sarcastically nicknamed him “The Rev.”
“They mocked him,” Jeannie recalls, “but when horrible things happened in their lives, they always asked Al for prayer.”
He prayed with them and shared the importance of having a personal relationship with Jesus Christ.
A Real Faith
Al himself had become a Christian through a trying experience. He often shared the story with his co-workers. When their 4-year-old daughter Christina was diagnosed with a rare and deadly blood disease, both Al and Jeannie cried out to God for help. They began reading the Bible, looking for answers. Family members shared Christ with Jeannie, who in turn shared with Al. In answer to their prayers, Christina was miraculously healed.
From that point on, the Bracas committed themselves to sharing the love of God with everyone they came into contact with.
“We wanted to be a light and to shine and let people see Jesus in us,” Jeannie says. They became actively involved in a local church, leading several couples’ fellowship groups. Al was appointed as a deacon and charged with overseeing the discipleship of new believers.
Gary Cuozzo of Christian Athletes International got to know Al and Jeannie well. The Bracas stayed at his home for six weeks the summer their new house was being built.
“Al was a bigger-than-life kind of person,” Gary says. “He was full of joy, fun to be with, always looking to live life to the fullest. He was a great husband and a great father and a great example to other people. He loved the Lord with all his heart and mind and soul, just as the Scriptures say. He lived to serve the Lord and to serve other people.”
Al touched many lives in his workplace, at church, and in the community. But his family came first, Jeannie explains. “My husband always taught me that ministry begins at home. You have to be an example to your own children and be a light in your own house. It starts here and then it goes out into the world. When I was sick for almost two years, my husband ministered first to me and my children, and then he ministered to others.”
On Sept. 11, in the midst of the chaos, Al’s family was uppermost on his mind. Unable to get through on the phone, Al asked an MCI operator to contact his family. “Tell them that I love them,” he said. It took the operator more than a month to reach the Bracas, but the message brought them much-needed comfort.
“The last thing my dad did involved the two things most important to him — God and his family,” Christopher says. “He loved to lead people to Christ. That takes away a lot of the hurt and the pain.”
In the darkness facing our families, our communities, our country today, how can we — you and I — be a shining light?