In 1881 El Paso sat as a tiny adobe village of three hundred people on the banks of the unpredictable Rio Grande River. Little did the citizens of this small border town know what the future held as they heard dynamite blasts in the distance at night and the rhythmic sounds of picks and shovels in the hands of over 1600 Chinese workers lay track for the railroad during the day.
On May 19, 1881 El Paso entered a whole new era in its history, ready or not, when the old Iron Horse of the “Southern Pacific” steamed and chugged into town across the Fort Bliss parade grounds and came to a stop at the corner of Oregon and Mills streets. Soon after the “Texas & Pacific” railroad would arrive under the direction of Jay Gould out of Fort Worth followed by the “Galveston, Harrisburg & San Antonio” railroad, the “Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe” railroad, and finally the “Mexican Central” railroad out of Mexico City.
In a matter of days El Paso boomed from a sleepy little town perfect for an afternoon “siesta” to burgeoning “boom town” complete with saloons on practically every corner, houses of “legalize” prostitute and gambling lining the streets, and visionary business men from the East and West. Soon the town grew to over 3000 residents and would reach 10,000 by the year 1890.
With the growth came a wide spread reputation. Soon El Paso came to be known as “Sin City” or the “Six-shooter Capitol” of Texas. Sadly these reputations were well deserved as stories spread like the legend of “Four Dead in Five Seconds.” On April 14, 1881 John Hale, a cattle rustler and gunfighter, found himself as the center of an inquest concerning the deaths of two Mexican ranchers. The charges were dismissed. Following the inquest Hale, in a rage, drew his six-shooter on Gus Krempkau, the inquest translator, gunning him down in cold blood. Just down the Marshall Dallas Stoudenmire heard the gunfire and came charging down the street with three shots he dispatched an innocent bystander, Hale, and George Campbell, a Hale supporter and former El Paso Marshall. In less than five seconds a reputation of gunplay emerged and spread across the plains.
Meanwhile, a handful of Baptists settled in “Sin City” as representatives of the Kingdom of God. On a hot summer Sunday evening, August 26, 1882, fourteen gathered to hear Rev. George Baines, Jr., a Baptist pioneer missionary preach in the home of Major W.F. Fewel, a Methodist no less. Baines chose as his text the story of Jacob at Bethel in Genesis 28.
Centuries before Moses recounted the story of Jacob running for his life and finding himself falling asleep and dreaming of a staircase to heaven where the angels of God descended and ascended to the throne room of the LORD. When Jacob awake he declared the place none other than the “House of God” and named it “Bethel.” With this text Baines declared to the faithful that he envisioned El Paso becoming the “House of God.” That night the vision of the First Baptist Church of El Paso came to life in the hearts of those brave pioneers.
On this Sunday, August 26, 2012, over seven hundred followers of Jesus will gather in the heart of El Paso keeping the light shining that was sparked 130 years ago. Truly this is the “House of God.”