This Is Bad, But God Is Bigger
Thoughts from a West, Texas pastor, helping his community see God in the midst of devastation.

I've lost my home. It's standing, but it's not safe. All of the windows are out; in every room the ceiling is on the floor. Insulation is everywhere. My entryway is in the living room. My front door landed right on my chair, the one I usually sit in. I'm extremely blessed I was not home.

The reason I wasn't home is that my daughter ran well in a mile relay, so we were out of town for her track meet. On our way back home to West, Texas, my cell phone started ringing. Our friends told us what the rest of the nation now knows: a fertilizer plant had exploded.

After a fire started at the plant, our volunteer firemen rushed to put out the fire. That drew them in, and once they were out there, the explosion happened. Many died. One of the first responders, a volunteer fireman, was our sound technician. The blast literally blew him out of his boots. His boots stayed on the ground and he did not. Fortunately, he's going to be okay. He suffered some cracked ribs, a shoulder injury, and he had problems breathing. He was pretty sick for a while in the ICU, but he's doing better.

Even now, everybody is in shock. It's horrific. We're beginning to heal, but for days we just walked around in a haze. It feels like walking through a science fiction movie, and we're just waiting for the credits to roll. We've verified 14 fatalities. We'll find more. An apartment complex that houses about 20 units was totally obliterated. They have dogs in there, and they're still finding remains. There are many casualties, many injured.

In my church family, we had no fatalities. We feel very blessed. We had many injuries, but only a few that were serious.

Our church's response

We're a small town. I've heard media say 2,800, but I think it's closer to 2,500. We're doing the best we can to stay in touch with all of our folks. We're working with groups from our denomination who specialize in disaster relief. Folks all over the town know they can come to First Baptist to meet with these guys and get some help. They're starting to repair houses and fix up the place. They're doing a tremendous job. Authorities are slowly letting people into the blast area to see their homes. We've determined that 12 of our families have had their homes destroyed. Up to 30 had damage of some sort to their homes.

We were determined from the beginning that we still were going to have church. The explosion happened on a Wednesday night, and on Thursday morning we began telling people, "We're going to have church, we just don't know where." We waited through the, week hoping and praying that we would be able to get into our church. By the end of the week, we still were not allowed in. So we went to the other side of town and set up some chairs in a hayfield. One of our men mowed the area. We set up chairs and brought out a flatbed trailer, and one of our sister churches in Waco brought us a portable sound system. And we had church. My church usually has about 250 people but that Sunday more than 500 showed up.

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April 25, 2013

Displaying 1–3 of 3 comments

Ron Johnson

May 14, 2013  12:57pm

We were pastoring in CA when the Northridge Quake hit about 3 miles from the parsonage. I was warned when we moved there about the quakes but I foolishly thought I could handle it. I didn't do well. the description of 'walking around in a haze' is exactly right. The house behind us had a gas explosion and burned to the ground in minutes. I checked our furnace in the attic and gas was filling the attic. I was shaking as I turned our gas off at the meter. Tragic stories and stories of miraclous survival came one after another, a rollercoaster of emotions that exhausted me. I was amazed though at how God draws people together and heals them in His time.

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Julio Guarneri

May 04, 2013  11:42am

Thank you pastor John for a heart that is aligned with God's heart. I will like to share this story with our congregation. We had been praying for you before we knew your name. Now we will pray more informed. Blessings to you and the church.

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Marshall Shelley

April 26, 2013  11:06am

I appreciate this glimpse of ministry in a disaster area. And John's point that he spent 18 years to be prepared for this situation–how true! How profound!

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