(Editor’s Note: Billy Dan Hughes was a beloved member of our community, working for Carson County for many years. He was a 1974 graduate of Groom High School. Billy Dan passed on Jan. 16, 2013. This is a testament to how one man can make a big difference.)
In the late 40’s Eastridge Baptist Church was founded as a mission church by Grand Ave. Baptist in Amarillo. At the time the need for a church in Eastridge was prompted by a thriving Air Base and the need for a church to minister to those families stationed there and the people who worked on the base.
EBC grew rapidly and quickly outgrew the house church where it was meeting. Property was secured and a new building (about 30’X 80’) was constructed. Well the need for more space came quickly and several buildings actually from the Air Base were brought in and added to the structure. The final piece of the structure was added in 1954, a 400+ seat sanctuary which housed multiple services until the late 1970’s. Then what would seem to be the worst possible thing that could happen became a reality — the Air Base was closed. People left the Eastridge Community in droves. Houses were empty everywhere and you could have one for pennies on the dollar.
It seemed as though God was through with the relatively young church. Attendance began to decline rapidly. What remained of the congregation was a group of people dedicated to serving God in the Eastridge Community. At that time the language makeup of the community was primarily English and Spanish. But then something special began to happen. With the end of the Vietnam War, there began to be a need for communities to welcome refugees from Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia. Eastridge was a natural place for refugees to settle, with many empty homes and meat processing plants located nearby. When the refugees began to arrive, Eastridge Baptist came forward to sponsor the first Laotian Baptist Church in Texas. This was only the beginning. The core group remaining at Eastridge were not stopped by the radical changes, they knew God had a plan.
Part of the ministry that reached out to the community was a bus ministry where Bill Dan Hughes took great pride reaching children. He worked in the background desiring to make a difference for the kingdom of God regardless of where the children he picked up were from.
Throughout the years, many more refugees came and by 2010 Eastridge Elementary was serving students that spoke 23 different languages; only 8% of the community spoke English.
The church now had only about 20 English speaking members and a small Laotian congregation. At that time the church felt God leading to reach out to more of the refugee groups. The decision was made to reach out to the Karen, a language group from Burma. Before long about 120 Karen were attending EBC and Dawe Po was called as associate pastor. Ministry at EBC was anything but “normal”. Ministry included a food pantry and a partnership with High Plains Food Bank to feed over 100 children per day during school, assisting refugees with food stamp and medicare applications, making doctor appointments etc… Although there were many ways to minister, it became clear that a need for a “Mission Center” for the purpose of providing a safe place for children year-round was needed desperately.
The church voted to build the Mission Center even though the current budget was not being met. The church gave the $15,000 they had to start and the Laotian church gave $10,000. A good start but a long way from the $300,000 it would take. Other individuals and churches began to give and before long the total grew to $50,000. To avoid a price increase in steel our builder encouraged us to buy the steel ($50,000) and store it, so we did. After a year, we had collected about $10,000 more. Reluctantly, we decided to secure a $130,000 loan to complete the “shell”. By the time we finished the shell, we had $20,000 in the bank. Several churches came forward to help and got the framing completed. But we were still far short in finishing the project. Then another miracle happened. For years, during all the difficult times, we would arrive at the church to find groceries by the door and a note that simply said “Mr. Eastridge”. We had no idea who “Mr. Eastridge” was. In early 2013 the groceries stopped. Just as we were praying and wondering where the funds to complete the building would come from, we were contacted by Robert Redmon, Jake Lopez and Jigger Britten, the trustees for the Billy Dan Hughes estate. Yes, Billy Dan Hughes was our Mr. Eastridge. As the story unfolded, Billy’s love for the Eastridge children, community and EBC had never died. He continued to watch and pray for the community hoping he could help to feed the children and even be involved in some sort of building to minister to the children and community. Before he passed away, he was able to see the beginning of the building. His gift completed the construction and retired the note on the building! Billy Dan Hughes was faithful in life and death to the dreams that God planted in his heart. The dream that he had, lives on in the faces of children every day.
Mike Garman, Pastor
Eastridge Baptist Church