Texas church, after the blast, worships

As pastor John Crowder stepped onto the makeshift altar in a field, the sun peeked through the overcast morning in West, Texas.

Words of hope pierced through the cool morning air as members of First Baptist Church gathered for their first worship service since an April 17 explosion at a local fertilizer plant.

As Crowder preached, the crowd remained largely quiet. Couples held hands. Mothers and fathers put their arms around their children. Before and after the service, hugs were plentiful and tears were scattered.

Preaching from Psalm 46, Crowder emphasized that God is the refuge for West’s citizens. In the midst of losing friends and homes, the townspeople will continue to suffer, the pastor confessed as he struggled at times to hold back his emotions.

“We have more questions than answers,” Crowder said.

“We have lost so many of our friends and neighbors … . As scary as this has been, we don’t have to be afraid,” he said, encouraging people to lean on God during such trying times. At an individual’s lowest point, he said, God often most clearly shows his power. “When you reach the point where you are on your knees crying for help,” he said, “you have just reached the point of your greatest strength.”

God already is bringing a variety of support for the community, Crowder noted. Texas Baptists’ Disaster Recovery, of the Baptist General Convention of Texas, already has been providing assistance for Crowder, his family and the congregation, and has committed to help for the long-term.

Church architecture staff from the BGCT have examined First Baptist’s facilities. The convention currently has a list online (www.texasbaptists.org/disaster) of drop-off locations for supplies for West, especially for schoolchildren.

Numerous Texas Baptist Men volunteers were present during the worship service. The organization has a laundry and a shower unit in the area, and a childcare unit is in operation. More than 1,500 boxes have been distributed to residents for salvaging their belongings as they return to see their damaged homes for the first time. Chaplains also are on location.

Dallas Baptist University was set to send students to First Baptist to lead a Disciple Now youth retreat next weekend. After the explosion, the church was prepared to cancel the event. DBU president Gary Cook called Crowder and offered to charter a bus that would bring the youth to DBU for the weekend.

Chris Liebrum, who leads Texas Baptists’ Disaster Recovery and participated in the worship service, said he believes God will use the members of First Baptist in a mighty way.

“First Baptist Church in West will be a major force in the rebuilding of that community,” Liebrum said. “Texas Baptists will stand with them and provide the resources needed so that in Christ’s name they can bring hope to so many who have lost family, friends and possessions.”

The pain West residents are feeling is deep and difficult, Crowder said. Nothing can change what happened. Only God can carry the community through this situation. “What happened here … is awful. But God is bigger than this.”

— Hall is news director for the Baptist General Convention of Texas (www.texasbaptists.org).