WEST – After a year of rebuilding from a tragedy that shook its little part of Texas, the town of West is still remembering, but a sense of change has overtaken the emotions of sorrow and remorse. As you walk the streets, you can see lots where homes used, now being cleared of blown debris and stones. You can see houses being built and refurbished for families to return to.
“I think they are doing a whole lot better than they were a year ago,” said Mike Rhodes, volunteer for Texas Baptists Disaster Recovery. “Between when the explosion happened to now, there is a huge change.“
Often times, relief teams will respond to a disaster and provide assistance for the time being until their help is no longer needed.
“Texas Baptist Men Disaster Relief is the immediate contact who are here right after the disaster,” said Marla Bearden, Disaster Recovery specialist. “But Disaster Recovery is the long-term relief, that can last three to five years, that is why we are still here.“
During the days of Spring Break, the city of West was engulfed by 336 students, adults and groups looking to serve, from the youngest of kids all the way to retired workmen. Among those workers were the Shalom Builders, a new Texas Baptists Disaster Recovery initiative, which aims to mobilize trained and equipped construction workers to the mission field of disaster affected areas.
Texas Baptists Disaster Recovery, in partnership with First Baptist Church West and West Long Term Recovery Team, has been in West since the moment of need almost a year ago and to this day are still there working for and giving their service to those who still seek it.
“If we needed help, I would hope that people would help us too. That’s what Christ told us to do,” said Whitney Stroke, youth at First Baptist Church of Teague.
Throughout the summer, Disaster Recovery will continue to clean up abandoned lots with debris and rocks to make the land more accessible to build new homes on, as well as, working with the building and repairing of homes of the uninsured and underinsured people in the area.
“That’s the whole reason I came here,” said Rhodes. “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.“
Being on mission for Christ is what God commands of us. Many churches and groups still go to West to help out and give their time.
“We were originally scheduled to go to Colorado, but 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 years of construction work, Harold Dotson, still wanted a way to serve the Lord using the skills God had given him. Since then he has been in West with the Shalom Builders working on a house for a lady who is a single mother with four kids. Her house was effected by the explosion and made it a dangerous place for her to raise her family, but with the help of the builders renovating her home, her family will be able to move back into her home soon.
“Within the last year, there has been a lot of progress being made,” said Dotson. “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 on groups.“
When talking to Pastor John Crowder of First Baptist West, he compared the tragedy that happened to West to the destruction that Babylon caused Jerusalem in the book of Lamentations.
“When Babylon destroyed Jerusalem, Jeremiah cried over his people and wrote one of the saddest books in the Bible,” said John. “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.“
Every day God has given the people of West something to strengthen and move them forward, whether it be a new home that is built or a new relationship formed among their community.
“When you help a home, you aren’t just helping that home alone, but in fact you are helping a community,” said Davis.
Disaster Recovery is looking to continue their stay until summer of 2014, but even after they are gone, there will always be people there for support and rehab.
“I feel like God is really helping the people here. What He did, he did for a reason,” said Chloe Crook, youth at First Baptist Teague. “He is changing everybody’s lives and is taking everyone through this situation to show them how to react and how much He loves them.“