Church rallies to aid blast survivors
GHOLSON, Texas (BP) -- As news broke of the fertilizer plant explosion in West, Texas, pastor James Stevens in nearby Gholson contacted local media to offer the use of church facilities to survivors of the catastrophe.
First Baptist Church in Gholson also has hosted various Southern Baptists of Texas Convention and Texas Baptist Men volunteers and chaplains who have responded to the crisis in West, about 10 miles from Gholson.
Stevens was quick to note that plenty of assistance came to First Baptist after the announcement offering to help.
"The community is really banding together," Stevens said. "I sent an email to KWTX, the local news station in Waco, saying that FBC Gholson was opening our church doors to anyone needing a place to sleep. Without even being asked, the [Gholson] community started bringing us blankets, food and water. Before long we had piles of it in our fellowship hall."
Some of the donors were church members, but many were simply community residents wanting to help.
After two survivors from West stayed at the church the night of the explosion, a lady from an apartment complex in Waco came by to invite them to stay in a furnished apartment with food as long as needed, Stevens said.
With no displaced persons remaining at the church, FBC Gholson transported several truckloads of water, clothing and supplies to West for distribution to those in need, Stevens said.
For the volunteers and chaplains, Stevens said, "We've been cooking breakfast for them. They are on the ground at lunch, but we cook them dinner."
"They have really been feeding us well and taking care of us there," said Darryl Cason, disaster relief trainer and incident commander for the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention.
Others outside the community have been generous as well.
"I received a phone call at 2 a.m. Thursday from Patty Hilburn of Unclaimed Freight in Ennis, Texas," Stevens recounted. "She offered to donate a large amount of frozen meat and food but we had no way to store it." Stevens tried unsuccessfully for several hours to locate a refrigerated truck.
"The next morning I got a call from Heritage Dedicated Trucking Company in Waco offering the use of one of their refrigerated trucks as long as we needed it," Stevens said. "I had no idea they were going to call."
Unclaimed Freight delivered four pallets of frozen food and one pallet of clothing, all of which were distributed to people in West.
The Southern Baptists of Texas Convention's disaster relief ministry and Texas Baptist Men of the Baptist General Convention of Texas are working together to provide chaplaincy and assistance such as portable shower units for weary emergency workers.
The SBTC, for example, deployed 12 disaster relief chaplains, 11 of whom worked through the weekend with emergency responders and families affected by deadly blast.
Into the weekend, the blast had claimed 14 lives, including 11 area firefighters and emergency medical personnel. At least 200 were treated for injuries.
The explosion damaged or destroyed more than 100 homes, a nursing home, apartment complex and middle school within several blocks of the blast and registered a 2.1 on the Richter scale, according to news reports.
The SBTC chaplains arrived early the morning after the blast and were sent to a family assistance center at the West city library and to the West fire station where they ministered to first responders and families.
One of the volunteer chaplains, Wade Taylor, pastor of First Baptist Church in Alvarado, Texas, counseled the family of one of the fallen firefighters at the fire station. The couple had driven from Houston after learning from Facebook posts that their son, a firefighter from Abbott, Texas, was among the victims.
"They were trying to get some kind of official word and the official word was not being released," Taylor recounted. "They were able to receive confirmation from some of the rescue workers that their son had been in the building. I counseled with them and prayed with them and was part of the conversation when they were told." He also spoke with the father on the phone the next day to see how the family was doing.
The chaplains registered 94 such visits on Thursday, including first responders who had lost friends.
Disaster relief personnel attended official briefings and memorial services and escorted some families into parts of the damaged area at the request of emergency management officials.
"That can be a very traumatic time for victims and families when they come in to see the damage to their homes," said Darryl Cason, SBTC disaster relief trainer and the SBTC's incident commander with the first wave of DR volunteers.
SBTC chaplains teamed with Texas Baptist Men volunteers to hand out empty packing boxes to families as they drove into their damaged neighborhoods on April 20. The boxes were brought to the site on TBM's box truck and trailer unit.
SBTC churches across the convention also will provide church vans to transport the families of the fallen firefighters to a memorial service at Baylor University's Ferrell Center on Thursday, April 25, said Jim Richardson, SBTC's director of disaster relief.
"The SBTC has also provided a laundry unit to help families with their laundry needs" at the request of the Best Western in West where many of the displaced families are staying, Richardson said.
The SBTC and Texas Baptist Men jointly are manning a table at the assistance center at the Knights of Columbus hall where TBM has set up two portable shower units for use by displaced families.
Mike Jansen, who followed Cason as incident commander over the weekend, said, "We will be going door to door, telling people what services we have to provide for them and otherwise ministering to their needs."
Jane Rodgers is a correspondent for the Southern Baptist TEXAN (www.texanonline.org), newsjournal of the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention.