Methodists "Go West" to Help After the Blast
Methodists in the TAC have given almost $130,000 to provide the frazzled people of West, TX with real resources through avenues such as UMCOR and First UMC of West. Read how the money is helping, and how two TAC pastors provided hands-on help just hours after tragedy.
This Facebook post from First UMC West says it all:
“It is so awesome to get to be a blessing to others! Thanks to generous congregations and people from all over the country, our church has been blessing those in need following the West explosion with assistance for a variety of things. From down payments on replacement cars to medicine to household goods to gas money to rent assistance to auto repairs, we have been using the donations sent to us to directly help those in need. No red tape, no long forms to fill out, just godly people reaching out to help others and using the blessings sent to us to do it!”
Methodists Doing What They Do Best
In April, the United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR) approved an emergency grant to the Central Texas Annual Conference of The United Methodist Church to assist in relief efforts, and the contributions of products, services and cash continue to flow in. UMCOR often works in tandem with governmental agencies to provide assistance. In fact, due to many myths and misunderstandings in this area, part of UMCOR's response is to educate disaster survivors on which of these programs are available.
Rev. Laraine Waughtal and the Central Texas Disaster Response Team are very appreciative of the outpouring. “Three hundred-fifty homes were affected by the factory blast,” she reports. “Some 170 homes are uninhabitable and are being bulldozed. We will move into the Long Term Recovery phase within the next couple of weeks. Your prayers and support mean more than you can know.”
Flashback to Disaster: Day 2
The memory of this disaster is still fresh on the minds of two of TAC’s trained responders. Here are their stories.
On the night of April 17, when Rev. Jeff Stull of First UMC- Marlin was outside with his dog, he heard a noise that sounded like a large limb had fallen on his house which is located about 35 miles away from now-famous town of West. Tx. “I couldn’t find an explanation for that mysterious boom until the Marlin Fire Chief notified me moments later that a disaster was happening and I should call my CERT team together and be ready for deployment,” he says.
Rev. Tommy Myrick, associate pastor at Christ UMC, College Station, first heard about the explosion at West like most everyone else -- on the news. The volunteer chaplain for Texas Task Force 1 says, “Shortly thereafter, I was notified of my deployment to the scene via our Task Force paging system. Since I had never been to the site of an explosion, my expectations were limited to what I’d seen on television.” Tommy, who also serves as the Disaster Spiritual Care Director for TACCOR, adds, “I was not really prepared for the level of destruction and how far the blast reached out from the site of the explosion. Seeing big chunks of concrete a quarter mile from the scene is mind-blowing as you realize the amazing power behind that explosion.”
By daybreak Thursday morning Tommy was on the scene to pray with emergency and military personnel and provide spiritual support, and soon partnered in that effort with Rev. Jeff Stull, a longtime law enforcement chaplain.
This was Jeff’s eighth disaster, and each have been horrific in their own way – including the Texas F5 tornado in 1996, the space shuttle explosion and Hurricane Rita and Katrina. “I was escorted onto ground zero of the command site in West and accessible to pray and provide a brief service as bodies were recovered,” Jeff says. “I am there to watch over the emergency crews, as a disaster of this magnitude is much more intense than anything most local responders have ever seen.”
“Our mission statement is to take a caring Christian presence into the aftermath of a disaster so we did that as needed until Saturday,” Tommy adds, “when everyone was accounted for.” Tommy’s passion for disaster work stems from his desire to be proactive in ministry. He is also a retired police officer and occasionally helps with the College Station Fire Department. “Each one of these opportunities allow me to establish relationships with people who might never attend a church,” he adds. In the early hours of service he was most impressed by the outpouring of support from the community and state – physically, spiritually --- and electronically.
Tommy recalls a surprising number of emails and text messages of prayers. “My Facebook account was overwhelmed with people praying and offering support. One of the members of the Task Force said he has been on about 20 deployments and never seen support like this!” Hot meals were provided and local restaurants would not accept payment. “When we needed lumber and supplies to make structures safe, for example, Home Depot delivered truckloads of lumber and dropped it off free. People were driving by every 30 minutes with drinks and snacks. The support was amazing and encouraging and helped sustain the team as they performed their duties.”
Jeff was able to meet the local Methodist pastor briefly during those first few days. “Rev. Jimmy Sansom was busy caring for the community, and Tommy and I were focused on the response team, so we did not get to talk much with him,” he says. “Our conference should be very proud of Rev. Myrick and Rev. Stull,” adds Clay Whitaker, Disaster Response Coordinator for TAC.
Inspiration Behind the Role
Jeff says he “happened into” the role of law enforcement chaplain. “About 17 years ago my local police chief asked me to be the chaplain and I asked him what that would entail,” recalls Jeff. “He tossed me a radio and a badge and said I would figure it out! Over the years, it’s been an amazing and challenging ministry.”
Tommy decided to “give back” after he was the recipient of much-needed comfort and community support. “A few months after I got out of the U.S. Army I had no job and had been sleeping in my car. I was living off of handouts from people and churches.,” he shares. “One morning, I had about five dollars and no gas I was sitting in a parking lot of a store. I was at the end of the road. Out of desperation I put my head on the steering wheel of my car prayed for God to help me. When I looked up I saw a Salvation Army center next to the store. I had never actually seen one before. I remembered when I was a little boy watching a television show about how the Salvation Army helped people. It was a different story each week in the form or a drama about someone being helped. I remembered the shield at the end of the show so I got out of my car and went inside.”
As he recalls, “The officer there treated me like I was his best friend who happened to stop by for a cup of coffee. I was tired, sleepless and dirty and he loved me like Christ would have. I ended up driving a truck for the Salvation Army for a year and then was able to move on. I have since retired from a police department, have a master degree in psychology from Texas A&M in Texarkana and a license as a professional counselor. I have also gone to seminary at SMU serve in a church and, believe it or not, on the Advisory Board for the Bryan- College Station Salvation Army.”
Jeff and Tommy know that the letters spelling CHAPLAIN on their shirts are beacons of hope at a distance in a crowd of first responders. Notes Tommy, “Of course my passion is disaster work wherever the need might be, but I am most passionate about taking the hope and love of Jesus Christ to people who are without hope. I remember being that person a long time ago and what it was like to have someone help me. I love working with the poor, the ones least loved and seeing a smile on their face. “