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Explosions, tornado meet with church’s readiness to help

EL DORADO, Ark. (BP)–With a voice breaking with emotion, Doug Riley, vice president of operations of Teris Inc., praised West Side Baptist Church in El Dorado, Ark., for their unique response to “an extremely dangerous situation” for his company and the community.

An overflow crowd at the morning worship service on Jan. 30 expressed their own appreciation to law enforcement, fire department and other community organizations that worked together twice during the month of January in response to two local tragedies.

A serious fire and ensuing explosions struck the toxic chemical waste disposal company early on Sunday morning, Jan. 2. Ten days later an F-3 tornado cut a 23-mile swath of destruction, killing two residents and injuring 26.

The Teris official said he and his wife had lived “in many communities, but never in a place like this. The love of the community was amazing! While some were threatening to sue us, and we were having to evacuate people from the area of the fire, this church sent us a fruit basket with a note from Pastor Mike Eklund and the congregation which read, ‘We are praying for you,’ and today you invite us here to feed us lunch!”

The tearful business leader, accompanied by the president and other officials of the international company, praised local emergency services for their well-planned response to the situation.

Once the circumstances of the fire were evaluated, even before the conclusion of the Jan. 2 Sunday morning worship service, Eklund and his two associates, Gerald Perry and Robby Sherman, were busy mobilizing the willing West Side congregation to play an active role in meeting the needs of the community.

Residents of two nursing homes in the evacuation area were invited to move to the church gymnasium. After being transported there by ambulance, car and in the buses of two other churches, more than 150 were fed by 1 p.m. That night, 125 nursing home residents made the gym their temporary home. The needs of the displaced patients were tended to during the next 24 hours by teams of church volunteers who assisted their regular nurses.

Church members eager to help “rushed all over town securing the necessary items for the overnight stay,” Eklund recounted. “The Red Cross provided the cots, and businesses and individuals donated food and bedding. These humble, dedicated servants of God paid no regard to their own comfort or lack of sleep. They really came together, determined to show that we at West Side not only talk the talk, but that we walk the walk!

“So many of our people and countless others from throughout the community joined together in such a sacrificial way,” Eklund continued. “That was the reason behind the plans for the special service at the church on Jan. 30. We just wanted to say ‘thank you’ to so many dedicated community servants and especially to the Lord!”

Before Jan. 30 arrived, however, West Siders again embraced an active role in becoming their brothers’ keepers in response to those whose homes and lives were devastated by the tornado. When Eklund arrived at the scene of destruction, he was pleased to see that many church members already were there to pull victims out of their destroyed houses and help clean up the damage of the night storm. During the two tragedies, many volunteers worked day and night, going without sleep for as long as 72 hours.

Eklund, stopping at a country store after the two crises, recognized one of the police heroes. “I know that you have really been stretched by these two episodes,” the pastor said.

“No one could believe how much we have been stretched,” the young officer replied, almost crying.

More than 250 guests of honor came to the church for the special Jan. 30 service and luncheon, including many of those “stretched” public servants. A crew of church members fed them a feast of chicken and steak and every imaginable dessert. Expressions of thanks often were voiced by the grateful guests for sub sandwiches, fruit baskets, caring words and prayers from the church during the two tragic times.

One of the local heroes sent a handwritten note after the day of recognition. “Just a note to say thank you to your congregation for the church service and meal. Those who attended received a blessing. Also, thanks to your members for all they have done for our community this past month. West Side Baptist Church and its members are the true champions! God bless you and your congregation. — El Dorado Police Chief Ricky Roberts.”

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  • Ted Stone