Crisis-Trained Chaplains Minister to West, Texas After Explosion

By   •   April 19, 2013

When a group of crisis-trained chaplains from the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association arrived just outside West, Texas Thursday night, they knew they would come across people affected by the deadly explosion that shook the region only 24 hours earlier.

They just didn’t know their first encounter would happen so soon.

Hoping to grab a bite to eat, the Rapid Response Team chaplains surveyed dozens of brightly lit restaurant signs off Interstate 35 in Hillsboro. For some reason, The Black Eyed Pea seemed to stand out.

“That was definitely a God incidence of ‘ministry-on-the-way,’ ” said BGEA chaplain coordinator Sandy Bender. “We could have chosen several restaurants in the area, and that’s where we were led to go.”

Inside, Bender and her husband, Chuck, quickly realized they had been placed right in the midst of heartbreaking grief.

The employees of The Black Eyed Pea had lost one of their own — a 26-year-old man who had worked at the restaurant for the better part of seven years. Jerry Chapman was killed while responding to the fire-turned-explosion at West Fertilizer as a volunteer firefighter/EMT. His death left his coworkers, including his devastated girlfriend, reeling.

“They were all grieving,” said Sandy Bender. “It had just been 24 hours, and they were there at work.”

A young restaurant employee named Mindy told the chaplains what happened. They began to get to know each other over dinner. When it was time to call it a night, Mindy asked if they would come back the next day.

“They were in real need,” said Sandy Bender. “They asked us to come back and do a prayer in the morning for them before they started their work day.”

Friday morning, before the restaurant opened its doors to the public, the chaplains returned. One by one, a dozen employees appeared from behind kitchen doors and circled up in the dining room, hand-in-hand.

“We were sent here for you,” said chaplain coordinator Desi Perez. “Please, don’t deny us the chance to help. We are available to you 24/7.”

Heads bowed as the chaplains began to pray for the staff in the name of Jesus. A tear made a tiny splash on the tiled floor as Chapman’s girlfriend remembered the kind, generous man who had always made her laugh.

“We were able to minister to his girlfriend and all of his coworkers,” said Sandy Bender. “We cried and held them and prayed for them. We told them it’s going to be a rough road ahead, but the Lord is with them, and He will hold them by the hand and take them along this journey.”

Throughout the day, the chaplains stumbled upon one divine appointment after another. A man named Jack, who had been knocked off his feet by the blast, just needed an ear to listen and some words of encouragement.

“He was at his wit’s end,” said Sandy Bender. “He was very frustrated. He’s never experienced anything like this. He’s going through stages of grief and stress and trauma and loss.”

When she offered to pray for him, his answer was a resounding, “Yes!”

“We prayed the Lord would give him strength and patience,” said Sandy Bender. “We prayed for his health. We thanked the Lord that he was saved from the blast.”

Perhaps no one is experiencing quite as much grief as the first responders who lost so many of their own. Firefighters, EMTs and law enforcement officers continue to work around the clock in the small, closely-knit Texas town, and they need prayer, too.

Friday afternoon, Desi and Carolin Perez saw an opportunity to bless a pair of law enforcement officers guarding the perimeter of the blast site. God used a simple conversation to open doors. Soon, the two chaplains had their arms around the state trooper and sheriff’s deputy, who had removed their hats and bowed their heads to pray.

Desi Perez said they were very receptive to prayer and quick to open up to the chaplains after hearing they were part of a Billy Graham ministry.

“They were thankful,” he said.

Back at the Black Eyed Pea, there was also a sense of thankfulness towards the little group of strangers that came through the door carrying the love of Jesus.

“It was no mistake, you walking in here,” Mindy told the chaplains. “God has His hand on all of us. He saw us hurting, and He sent people.”

“I agree absolutely on that,” said Sandy Bender. “We needed to be there. It was a God-ordained appointment. He led us there, and we’ll be going back.”

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  1. Sandra says:

    In God's Word it says, “Go” and I am so thankful for BGEA for being the obedient ones to do God's work here on earth at anytime. After being at the Cove this past October with my husband I can say I will never be the same. I thank you from my heart.

  2. Gregory says:

    This is a beautiful example of God's love for his people expressed by the ministers of the word doing the work of Jesus Christ to share the good news and heal the sick.

  3. Terrie says:

    I got frustrated, TX got little attention because of Boston. They were both tragedies. There is nothing worse then suffering alone. God's eye is on the sparrow.

  4. Lois says:

    God bless you for the way that you are reaching out to those in need of comfort, strength and spiritual encouragement. And, these emergencies never check your calendar to see if it is convenient for you, yet you immediately go help. Praying for you

  5. TED - Australia says:

    Thanks for posting these amazing stories. I am one of over 2500 school chaplains here in Australia, who love what we do and often are led in to being there, God moments, when people need a deep non judgemental ear and simple loving kindness.

  6. Blessed to read this says:

    The peace that passes all understanding! To know that you were willing to be a vessel for the Lord is comforting to me. I will pray for your strength to carry on in His plans!Bless you,Bonnie from Colorado.

  7. Anne says:

    GODS HANDS ON EARTH!…….We, as ambassadors for Christ need to be mindful.. that we were born to be.. HIS Hands.. His Heartbeat.. His Love….We are the Heart of the hurt and the lost….Thank you for the obedience of this team…

  8. Debbie says:

    Thank you for being there for them. God will put us where he needs us.

  9. Barbara says:

    Encouraging and amazing!! You cam always count on Jesus!!

  10. Barbara says:

    My heartfelt prayers and love of Christ to all those affected by this tragedy. In times of loss such as these we have to lean in and trust in the grace and mercy of God to get us through. I am reminded that His grace is sufficient.