1 year later: Church reflects on New Year's Day arson

By Layron Livingston - bio | email

VAN ZANDT COUNTY, TEXAS (KLTV) -  The sign outside Little Hope Baptist Church faces Van Zandt County road 4106, reading, "Living for heaven in 2011."

Sunday marked the first church service, one year and one day since arsonists allegedly set fire to the decades old church building.

Inside, members celebrated the anniversary with songs of joy.

"We survive and get stronger," said Rhonda Alexander.

"We don't believe in coping," said Bill Parr, pastor of Little Hope. "We believe in winning, and we felt victory from the very start."

Parr lives next door to the church and recalled seeing flames shooting through the roof of the building.

The church was established in its current location 117 years ago. It was reduced to ashes within minutes.

J.D. Wilkerson, 76, said he's been a member since he was a baby. He said he's a contractor by trade was allowed to restore his church to even greater glory.

"That's been one of the greatest blessings I've ever received in my life," he said while admiring the door that was salvaged from the blaze. It was reinstalled in it's original place, in front of the church. The door was donated in memory of his late sister.

Rhonda Alexander said the church is more beautiful, now, than before the fire. She said the past 12 months and one day has made them stronger than ever.

"It was really a time of coming together," said Alexander.

"Satan meant it for evil; God meant it for good," said Parr.

Sunday, prayers still went out to Jason Bourque and Daniel McAllister--the two men believed to be responsible. The two pleaded guilty in December several counts of arson and attempted arson at churches in Smith County.

"They can't undo what they've done," said Alexander. "We don't know why they did it, but we know it's hurt them more than it hurt us."

"We're just here to pick up the ministry and make it what God would have it to be," said Parr.

Bourque and McAllister still face charges in Henderson and Van Zandt counties. Both men are scheduled to be sentenced in Smith County, Jan. 10th.

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