How Churches Rebuilt a Town After Its Fertilizer Plant Exploded

Three years ago, an industrial disaster nearly blew the city of West off the map. Today, local congregations are at the heart of its recovery and revival.
How Churches Rebuilt a Town After Its Fertilizer Plant Exploded
Image: A Name Like Shields Can Make You Defensive / Flickr

Most people can’t say their town was simultaneously put on the map and almost wiped off it in the same day. Yet that’s just what happened to the tiny community of West, Texas, a little more than three years ago, when a local fertilizer plant exploded and shook the town with the force of a 2.1 magnitude earthquake, destroying a good chunk of the town’s infrastructure.

April 17, 2013 will be forever remembered by the 2,800 or so residents of West as the day when their lives were turned completely upside down. Fifteen dead. Two hundred injured. Schools, apartments, businesses, a nursing home—all gone. Five hundred homes leveled to the ground.

Today, however, as the town reaches an important milestone of recovery—the destroyed schools are just now reopening—a pastor is looking back and seeing how God used the church to rebuild West from the ground up.

Referring to himself as the “Disaster Pastor,” First Baptist Church of West’s Senior Pastor John Crowder has played a unique role in helping his community recover. In addition to pastoring one of the larger churches in West, he also serves on the board of the West Ministerial Alliance and the West, Texas Foundation. After the explosion, his church became a hub of activity.

Crowder explained that while FEMA is set up for long-term recovery after a disaster, they are not equipped to handle short-term relief. Even secular organizations are bound to rules that keep them from being able to work as quickly and effectively as churches can, he said.

“It’s popular these days for people to put on spiritual airs and look down on organized religion,” Crowder continued. “But in a disaster, you better hope organized religion ...

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