Rural West Texas church finds new life after fire

More members belong to Carey First Baptist Church than the census says live in Carey, Texas—a town of about 60 people roughly two hours southeast of Amarillo and two hours northeast of Lubbock in the Texas Panhandle.

With about 100 people attending, the church has seen an exponential increase over the last 13 years—up from 18 members in 1999.

The pastor says the growth had nothing to do with him, everything to do with the Lord, and quite a bit to do with a devastating tragedy a decade ago.

As a train rolled through Carey on the night of Sept. 12, 2002, the engineer spotted flames from the church building and called 911. Emergency operators sent out the call to the fire department and also called Randy Wilson, the pastor of Carey First Baptist Church.

Wilson drove over and peered through his windshield at a church building engulfed in bright orange flames, just as fire trucks filed in behind him.

Firefighters soon realized the fire was burning too hot and was being fueled by a gas water heater, prohibiting the crews from quelling it. Wilson said he remembers telling the fire department not to risk their lives battling an unquenchable blaze.

“It was a devastating time for the church,” Wilson said. “Word got out and we had 50 members hanging out watching the fire all night long.”

The devastation, though, was not accompanied by a spirit of defeat or hopelessness, but instead a determination to go on.

When Wilson went to tell one of the 90-year-old deacons what happened, the man asked if it was totally gone. Burned to the ground and a total loss, Wilson replied.

“Well, it’s time to build,” the deacon said.

And that was the consensus from the whole church, Wilson added. But they soon discovered that rebuilding costs would far exceed their insurance money.

One day while riding the bus to a Future Farmers of America event, Wilson’s daughter, Amy, kept seeing Baptist church after Baptist church pass by her window, and she got an idea. Pulling out a piece of paper from her bag, Amy wrote a letter to all those Baptist churches telling them what had happened to Carey First Baptist Church and simply asking them to pray for them.

“We sent a copy of that letter to every Baptist church in the state,” Wilson said. “We didn’t change a single word in it.”

Soon, letters began filtering in, and many of them included money for rebuilding.

“Churches started calling me saying, ‘We have a mission team, and we go and do work at churches,” Wilson recalled.

Call after call came in with more churches wanting to help by sending teams or donating materials.

“Every church that called and the work that they did came exactly when we needed it,” Wilson said, explaining how God had ordained even the timing details for the rebuilding.

Everything from metal studs to sheet rock began pouring in as church teams came to work on the church side-by-side with the dedicated and determined members.

“Every weekend people would just show up and work,” Wilson said.

At first Wilson had been praying that they would complete the building debt-free, but soon he realized he needed to pray that they would finish debt-free with money in the bank so that ministry could continue once the new building was established.

“A month later we walked in debt-free with $10,000 in the bank,” Wilson said.

Now, 10 years after the church’s building burned to the ground, Carey First Baptist is thriving, even drawing people from the nearby town of Childress and offering Spanish translation for each sermon as it extends its reach to embrace the Latino community.

Wilson heaps praise on his Lord.

“It’s a fun time right now, watching it grow,” Wilson said, “because I can’t do it. It’s a God thing. Anytime a church grows because of man, it doesn’t last long.”

But lasting growth, both spiritual and size-wise, has been characteristic of Carey’s church for a decade now, assuring Wilson that God has his hand on the congregation.

“Anytime you start getting growth, people start getting excited and getting involved,” Wilson said. “It’s
helped my morale and the church folks’ too.”

Wilson said he’s been using the Baptist Faith and Message to teach church members about Baptist distinctives and biblical doctrines, and to help them understand why the church believes the way it does. He said they have been enjoying the study and learning a lot.

Wilson said he and the church have learned a good deal from the entire experience God has allowed them to walk through.

“The lesson would be to be faithful,” Wilson said. “We must be faithful to who God is and to what his Word says. We have a saying that ‘nothing is set in stone except what God’s Word says.’”

And as the growing church continues to reach out to their community, and even to nations as far away as Ecuador and Belize, Wilson asks that just as people agreed and committed to pray for them when their church building burned down, that they would continue to keep Carey First Baptist Church in their prayers.

“Pray that we continue to be the lighthouse God has called us to be,” Wilson said. “That we continue to do God’s will, God’s way.”

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