A fire that broke out on Friday burned down a historic church in Texas and consumed almost everything but a wooden cross, which a pastor sees as a sign that God is watching over his congregation as they begin to rebuild.
“I’m heartbroken. You need to think about it and everyone who was baptized there,” Pastor Sonny Smith of Balsora Baptist Church said in an interview with The Christian Post on Tuesday.
“This is a dramatic event for the whole community because we are about seven miles from the nearest major city. We are sort of in the middle of the country. So I knew how important the church was to many of people.”
The church stood for over 120 years before it burned down in the fire.
The Wise County Fire Marshal said the fire started just before 1 p.m. and a few first responders suffered minimal heat-related injuries.
A GoFundMe page seeking to raise money to rebuild the church pointed out that “no one was injured” in the fire.
According to Smith, Balsora Baptist is a “little country church”. Around 60 to 75 people attended regular Sunday services, with attendance usually reaching around 120 on Easter Sunday.
The pastor told CP he was at home when church members called him and informed him that the building was on fire. The church was under construction to expand its kitchen and communion hall, but the building reportedly caught fire after the work crew went out for lunch on Friday.
Smith noted that the men who responded to the call were members of the volunteer fire department. He said that when a call like this is made, responders can take a while to get there.
“They tried to stop him, but they couldn’t get him out,” Smith said.
Aside from a stack of Bibles, all that survived the fire was a wooden cross. The pastor explained that the church sanctuary has a prayer tree where members of the congregation can hang their prayer requests. Near this tree, there was a cross.
“The church was practically burnt down except for this little wooden cross,” he said. “It wasn’t really that small; it was probably about four feet tall. But anyway, when you look at the pictures, back at the shrine, and right there was the wooden cross with a little bit still of fire coming out of it.”
The church leader said it was ‘incredible’ that the cross survived the fire, proclaiming the event a ‘miracle’.
“Of course, I told our church congregation that I felt like it was a sign from the Lord telling us that, you know, you go through fire, you go through changes, but I’m going to be with you all the way,” Smith recalled.
“And he certainly has been. We’ve had many calls from churches in the area offering their facilities, whatever they can do to help us. And that’s the Church of Christ and Methodist, not just our dominion. It’s been something to see what God is. To do.”
Last Sunday, the congregation gathered in front of the burnt church to hold a prayer service and take time to worship God. Smith acknowledged the ministry needs a new location because the Texas heat makes it “too hot” to continue holding services outdoors.
“Also, most of our church family members are elderly. We have a few young couples, but overall they are older people, so we have to consider their health in the place. where we are going and what we are doing,” he said.
While other churches offered their facilities, Smith said many knew his church would “quickly” look for another place to move in before the rebuilding was complete. The pastor plans to meet with church leaders on Tuesday evening to “pray and seek God’s direction” regarding where it should be.
Smith could not yet provide an estimate for the cost of the repairs. He noted that the church needs to determine what the new structure will look like in terms of size and whether it should be a normal brick building or something else.
He envisions the completed church to hold 200 people, with an interconnecting communion hall serving as a “multipurpose facility” for hosting events such as potlucks and wedding receptions.
The pastor, however, acknowledged that the church will have to consider all sorts of “different directions” as it rebuilds. After the meeting with church leaders, Smith plans to invite the congregation to vote and share their ideas.
Smith revealed that he and church members continue to remember that God is ultimately in control and has a plan.
“We don’t know what the next chapter will bring, but we know the author,” Smith said.
The “Rebuild Balsora Baptist Church” fundraiser on GoFundMe raised $145 of a goal of $100,000 on Tuesday afternoon. The fundraiser states that “the church has insurance, but it is unlikely to pay enough to rebuild the building AND restock the church (Bibles, hymns, choir robes, office supplies, etc.) .”
The fundraiser assures potential donors that all they give “will go to furthering the cause of Christ” and that “anything above the amount needed to rebuild and replenish will go to community outreach, missions and our youth program.