Slow but steady recovery continues in West

Student volunteers help clear rocks and debris from a lot for a construction team to continue working on a house in West.  (PHOTO/Rachel Moreno)

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WEST—Nearly one year after a fertilizer plant explosion shattered the lives of West residents, observers see signs of slow but steady progress.

Volunteers are clearing debris from lots where homes used to stand, and they are building and refurbishing homes.

Emotionally, residents have moved beyond the initial shock and sorrow.

west pray425A house stands as a constant reminder to pray for West and the restoration the community still needs. (PHOTO/Rachel Moreno)“I think they are doing a whole lot better,” said Mike Rhodes, a volunteer with Texas Baptists’ disaster recovery. “Between when the explosion happened to now, there is a huge change.”

Texas Baptist Men provided immediate disaster relief in the days and weeks after the explosion, offering a variety of ministries. The Baptist General Convention of Texas disaster recovery ministry then stepped up to provide long-term relief, explained Marla Bearden, BGCT disaster recovery specialist.

Spring break volunteers

During spring break, 336 volunteers served in West with Shalom Builders, a Texas Baptist disaster recovery initiative that aims to mobilize trained and equipped construction workers to serve in areas affected by disaster.

Texas Baptists’ disaster recovery has worked in partnership with First Baptist Church West and West Long Term Recovery Team.

“If we needed help, I would hope that people would help us too. That’s what Christ told us to do,” said Whitney Stroke, a student from First Baptist Church in Teague.

Throughout the summer, Texas Baptists’ disaster recovery will continue to clean debris so homes can be rebuilt, as well as build and repair homes of the uninsured and underinsured residents.

“That’s the whole reason I came here,” Rhodes said. “I retired and moved here so that I could help. I prayed for many years that God would give me an outlet for my talents. I have been in construction my whole life, and then this happened. God will provide.”

Changing plans

For some volunteer groups, service in West meant changing plans.

“We were originally scheduled to go to Colorado, but the Lord put on our hearts that we needed to take this time to serve,” said Timothy Davis, youth pastor of Lakeside Baptist Church in Dallas. “There are so many things we could have done in Dallas, but we wanted to look beyond the needs of what our local community, and West was near and dear to our hearts.”

After retiring from a career in construction work, Harold Dotson wanted a way to serve using the skills God gave him. He has spent extended time in West with Shalom Builders, working on the home of a single mother with four children. She and her family will be able to move back into their home soon.

“Within the last year, there has been a lot of progress being made,” Dotson said. “You can drive around town and see all the new construction, and I think you’ll probably see that multiplied here soon because there are more and more builders and groups.”

‘Every morning, new mercies I see’

John Crowder, pastor of First Baptist Church in West, compared the tragedy in his community to the destruction of Jerusalem described in the Old Testament book of Lamentations.

“When Babylon destroyed Jerusalem, Jeremiah cried over his people and wrote one of the saddest books in the Bible,” Crowder said. “People were killed, people were hurt, people were missing, and the place was destroyed. That’s the way we felt in West.

“But in the middle of that book, there is a verse of hope. ‘Every morning, new mercies I see.’ And that is what we have seen every day in West.”

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