WEST—Hundreds of volunteers from all over Texas—geared up with shovels and servant hearts—partnered with Loving West, a weeklong recovery effort sponsored by the Baptist General Convention of Texas.
“One of the greatest ways God is blessing us is by these people sitting in these pews right now,” said John Crowder, pastor of First Baptist Church in West, as volunteers sat in the sanctuary for the daily morning announcements and safety orientation.
After orientation, project leaders chose an assignment that fit their team’s skill level. Jobs varied from construction and plumbing to yard work and sweeping. Volunteers sought to help residents of the Central Texas town recover from the April 17 fertilizer plant explosion that killed 15, injured 200 and destroyed about 150 homes.
“The Lord just orchestrates so perfectly who goes to each job,” said Marla Bearden, disaster response specialist for Texas Baptists.
Crews battled rain and heat throughout the week. Most worked from 8:30 a.m. until 4 p.m.
Each home site registered through Loving West needed to “look like a million bucks” before volunteers’ work was considered finished, said Vaughn Managan, long-term recovery volunteer coordinator for Texas Baptists.
While volunteers traveled from all over the state, Bearden said a majority came from surrounding communities such as Waco.
“They want to help their fellow county citizens,” she said. “They say, ‘West is our people.’”
The largest clean-up job was at the apartment complex, located across the railroad tracks from the fertilizer plant. It was bulldozed the previous week, and crews sifted through debris and collect treasured items—photos and other keepsakes valued by the people who lived there.
As the week progressed, clothing and backpacks lined the fence surrounding the apartment complex. Tears of joy gave way to joyful tears as owners recovered sentimental items they never expected to see again.
“There’s story after story of how God is on the move here,” Managan said. “I’ve cried here every day because of what the Lord is doing.”
Texas Baptist Men prepared meals, providing the workers’ breakfast, lunch and dinner in the First Baptist fellowship hall.
Rejuvenated through worship
The words “greater things have yet to come, greater things are still to be done in this city” from the song “God of this City” conveyed a unique connotation for residents and volunteers as they rejuvenated through worship each night, led by Revere, First Baptist in West praise band.
“That song has taken on a new meaning for me this week,” Bearden told the congregation. “As I sing it from now on, I’ll be thinking of West.”
Managan encouraged workers to pray for homeowners as they headed out to worksites. Each person who was in or near West on April 17, the day of the explosion, had a “mind-blowing story of where they were and what they were doing,” he said.
West resident Roseann Chudej was outside a neighbor’s house that day when “fiery fingers” raced across the yard as she tried to cover her ears from the shrill noise.
That night, Rebecca Word drove to her parents’ West residence, where she found them and her 6-year-old son buried in debris and covered with cuts from glass. The blast blinded both her parents, and her son cannot hear out of one ear.
Grateful to God
While West has a long way to go to recover fully, Mayor Tommy Muska said the devastation could have been much worse, and residents are grateful God was there on April 17.
“There is no doubt in my mind,” he said, “with the debris that flew all over this town, that God protected these people.”
With an anticipated three to five year recovery process, West is moving forward with the help volunteers provided through Loving West.
West Long Term Recovery Center, located in downtown West, partnered with the event to facilitate resources for the week.
“This is our 9-11, our disaster,” said Jamie Allnutt, event and corporate relations coordinator . “We’ve been overwhelmed and blessed with the amount of help.”
Beginning to see the dawn
By the end of the week, 642 volunteers completed 282 jobs through Loving West, and the apartment complex was nearly a clean concrete slab.
“We’re beginning to see the dawn,” Pastor Crowder said. “The sun is starting to rise.”
Texas Baptist Disaster Recovery will sponsor future “Loving your city” events, including Moore, Okla. in late summer.