Texas raid prompts First Baptist ministry
ELDORADO, Texas (BP)--A Baptist congregation housed about 80 women and children April 4-6 after a raid on the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (FLDS) near Eldorado, Texas.
Members of First Baptist Church in Eldorado embraced the opportunity to minister in Christ's name, pastor Andy Anderson said.
First Baptist also loaned the state of Texas the use of two 25-seat church buses to help transport more than 180 women and children from the 1,619-acre polygamist compound.
"Our folks were eager to step in, and not just our folks, but the entire community," Anderson said. "We have church members who provided a large bulk of the money needed [to buy food]. We also had a huge outpouring from the community."
In addition to church help, the pastor said a statewide grocery chain provided food, while Goodfellow Air Force Base in San Angelo about 45 miles north sent nearly 200 cots to Eldorado.
First Baptist's pastor received a call the morning of April 4 from Schleicher County Sheriff David Doran, alerting him that there would be a need to transport people from the compound of the sect that broke away from the Mormon Church. FLDS' leader Warren Jeffs was convicted last year of two counts of being an accomplice to a rape for his role in arranging and performing a marriage between a male follower and his underage cousin.
Similar reports apparently triggered the Texas raid. The Salt Lake City Tribune reported April 6 that authorities had issued a warrant for Dale Barlow, who is being investigated for marrying and impregnating a 16-year-old girl in Eldorado.
The Eldorado Success newspaper reported in May 2004 that Jeffs' flock was in the midst of a major relocation from the Utah-Arizona border to this southwest Texas town of 2,000, located about 250 miles west of San Antonio.
Known as the YFZ Ranch, the newspaper said the FLDS purchased the property under a shell company's name and told local residents it would be used as a corporate hunting retreat.
Initial news reports indicated 183 women and children were located at the compound. However, the Success reported the morning of April 7 that Texas' Child Protective Services (CPS) now acknowledges relocating 219 residents -- 159 children and 60 adults.
Anderson said he and other church members spent all day April 4 and 5 shuttling women and children from the YFZ ranch to the Schleicher County Civic Center or First Baptist.
Approximately 100 residents were taken to the civic center and the remainder went to the church's fellowship hall, the pastor said.
They stayed at the two venues until noon on April 6, when state authorities transported them to Fort Concho, a historical site in San Angelo, Anderson said. The old pioneer days fort contains adequate housing for the women and children, Anderson added.
In addition to First Baptist, members of Community Baptist Church provided food and sent members to help with cooking, the pastor said, and members of First United Methodist Church and Eldorado Church of Christ also played an active role in the ministry effort.
The churches were limited to providing food and shelter, with personal contact handled by CPS staff members, Anderson said.
"I think it was for privacy issues, to allow the women and children to feel comfortable [and] so they wouldn't feel they were in a fishbowl," Anderson said.
"They were obviously tense and under stress. But overall, I was impressed with the women. They held up well and showed good parenting."
Although First Baptist members willingly stepped in to help, the effort caused cancellation of the church's Sunday School classes. Because of a mistaken belief that Sunday services also wouldn't be held, their normal attendance of 140 was down about 30 people, Anderson said.
This isn't the first time the Baptist General Convention of Texas church has been in the media spotlight.
Numerous reporters descended on the town after a bus accident in Louisiana in October 2003 killed eight senior adults who were on a First Baptist-sponsored trip to historic sites across the Southeast.
Though unprepared for the onslaught of attention they received then, Anderson said people were ready for the latest media frenzy.
"I've had several questions from people about the level of stress," Anderson said. "But for the most part, we didn't think about the stress it was causing. It was just a joy and an opportunity to minister."
Ken Walker is a freelance writer based in Huntington, W.Va.