Members of burned churches fighting with faith

By Courtney Lane - bio | email

ATHENS, TX (KLTV) - The fires have not just the congregations but the whole community around Athens on edge. However, church members say they are not afraid and are standing strong in their faith.

Their houses of worship were destroyed but members of Lake Athens Baptist and Grace Community are praying for the suspected arsonists.

"I don't know who they are but i'm still going to pray," said Shirley Richards, member of Lake Athens Baptist.  "God knows who they are. That their souls will be saved, they'll change enough and come back and say i'm sorry i've done what i've done to your church."

"Churches all over the world get persecuted and sometimes we don't get that persecution in east Texas and i'd say we're getting a little dose of that today," said Brian Brandt, Executive Pastor of Ministries with Grace Community Church.

Just over two years old, Grace Community was a fairly new addition in Athens. Sound equipment and sacred books are now reduced to rubble. But Campus Pastor Shane Barnes says through all this, there's a light.

"We still serve a God who's in control and life and ministry is more than brick and mortar even charred brick and mortar," said Pastor Barnes.  "This is nothing in light of eternity."

The sanctuary at Lake Athens Baptist has seen weddings, baptisms, and special services. 24 years of memories, up in smoke.

"It just breaks your heart that someone wants to destroy God's building," said Richards.

Church members like Shirley Richards are hurt but not discouraged.

"I'm so glad that the church is not a building," said Pastor John Green.  "The church is the people and that's the strength that we have."

As investigators hunt for the culprits, Pastor Green with Lake Athens Baptist is praying for their salvation.

"I love them and pray for them and hope that they find a reason for living which is Jesus Christ."

Lake Athens Baptist has a gymnasium facility that firefighters were able to save. They plan to hold Sunday services there for awhile. Grace Community says other churches and even businesses have offered spaces to hold worship.

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