Texas Baptist churches give
warm welcome to cold travelers
___DUMAS--"No room at the inn" took on new meaning for Christmas travelers stranded in the Panhandle and North Texas by winter storms. But it also opened an unexpected door for ministry by Texas Baptist churches.
___At least four church buildings became places of refuge for stranded travelers between Christmas Day and New Year's Day.
___The churches swung into action after receiving pleas for help from police and even motel clerks.
___In Vernon, Robert Prince, pastor of First Baptist Church, received a call from a church member who works as a desk clerk at a local motel. The motel was out of rooms, and more stranded travelers were showing up needing someplace to stay.
___Prince opened the church to help the travelers, but even getting to the church was difficult, he said. "It was so slick on the roads that the people weren't even able to park straight in our parking lot. The cars were just every which way."
___The church played host to about 70 travelers, allowing them to bed down with blankets, pillows and sleeping bags in educational space and the Family Life Center.
___The surprise visitors caught the church off-guard after the kitchen pantry had been depleted over the holidays.
___"Normally, we would have had a lot of food on hand, but it was a holiday weekend, and our cupboard was nearly bare," Prince said. "Fortunately, the grocery store in town opened at 7 a.m., and we were able to get coffee, muffins, donuts, cereal, fruit and milk."
___Across town, Ron Fox, pastor of Calvary Baptist Church, got a call about 11 p.m. Christmas night. "A policeman called to ask if we could help an older couple and their grown daughter who had no place to stay. The motels were all full, and the roads were too bad to continue their trip," he said.
___Fox agreed to open the Family Life Center, and by 3 a.m. Dec. 26, the church housed 136 stranded motorists.
___"We put them in the Family Life Center and in the sanctuary," he said, adding that while the church had a few blankets, "most of the travelers were on ski trips and had sleeping bags."
___Calvary was able to feed the motorists from food stocks on hand. "We keep sausage and gravy in the freezer, and my son (David, the associate pastor) is a pretty good cook and made biscuits from scratch."
___In Bellevue, located between Bowie and Wichita Falls, a youth group from a Methodist church was stranded at a truck stop. The proprietor called Tom Dobbs, pastor of First Baptist Church, to see if he could help.
___Dobbs opened the church, and the 60-plus members of the Methodist group spent the night on Baptist church pews.
___Far north, in Dumas, the Red Cross called on Eddie Tubbs, pastor of First Baptist Church, with a plea for assistance the morning of Dec. 26.
___Within a few hours, the church's activities center was prepared to house an estimated 50 to 75 people. Soon after, all of the highways leaving Dumas were closed. By dinnertime, 75 people were taking shelter at the church. Before long, that number had grown to 150.
___The crowd grew so large that First Baptist Church opened its 900-seat worship center to provide additional space. All told, the church housed 600 stranded travelers.
___Many people pitched in to help, Tubbs said. Local restaurants, grocery stores and merchants gave services and goods at reduced prices or without cost. Dumas school buses were used to ferry motorists to the Dumas High School athletic center so people could take hot showers.
___One of those seeking shelter at First Baptist Church was Ed Hale, director of church and membership resourcing for the Baptist General Convention of Texas. Hale and his family were on their way home to Dallas from a Christmas ski trip to Wolf Creek Pass, Colo.
___Hale immediately introduced himself to Tubbs and offered to help. He also assured the church that the BGCT would help cover expenses for their "no room at the inn" ministry through the Mary Hill Davis Offering for Texas missions.
___Hale and his family spent the night sleeping on pews in the balcony of the worship center.
___"A couple of the deacons cooked breakfast the next morning," Hale said, explaining that the travelers were fed ham, bacon, sausage and scrambled eggs. "We ran out of food, and a local fast food restaurant provided egg burritos."
___Lunch was barbecued ham sandwiches and spaghetti.
___By early afternoon Wednesday, most roads were opened, and Hale was able to detour and make the remainder of the journey uneventfully.
___Tubbs said the travelers kept asking the Dumas volunteers, "Why are you doing this?"
___"Probably the best response was given by a church member who simply answered, 'Because of Christ," he said.
___Reported by Dan Martin of Texas Baptist Communications
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