As the community in Cleveland, Ohio, continues to learn new information about the three women found in a West Side home on Monday after a decade of captivity, a local pastor reflects on what this story teaches Christians about hope, perseverance, and the wickedness of man.
Peter Folger is a senior associate pastor at Cleveland Baptist Church, a congregation which was established in the late 1950s and sits a mere a six miles from where three young women, Amanda Berry, Michelle Knight, and Gina DeJesus, were found Monday evening after being held captive for nearly a decade.
Cleveland authorities have told reporters that the three women, two of whom were abducted in their teens, were being held captive in the home with the use of chains and ropes by three suspected brothers – Ariel Castro, 52, Pedro Castro, 54, and Onil Castro, 50.
Folger told The Christian Post in a recent interview that he believes this tragic story of perseverance can teach Christians, and people in general, two things: the truth in God's Word, and the teaching found in 2 Timothy 13.
These recent events reveal to Christians that "God's Word is true," Folger told CP. They also reveal "to us just how evil and wicked man can be."
"What I mean by that is the Word of God reveals to us the evil heart of men," Folger continued, referencing the seemingly heartless behavior of these three suspects who held young women against their will for years.
"An evil heart left to itself without any moral compass is capable of doing things even worse than this," the senior associate pastor noted.
Folger went on to state that he believes stories such as these are indicative of the times, referencing 2 Timothy 13 (NIV) which states: "while evildoers and impostors will go from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived."
"Things are going to get worse before they get better," Folger said, asserting the importance of Christian ministries bringing the light and the Word of God to as many sections of society as possible to ensure such evil doesn't happen again.
The senior associate pastor, who has lived in Cleveland for most of his life and has served as a youth pastor at Cleveland Baptist for the past 12 years, recalled his reaction on Monday night when he first learned that Berry had been discovered after she escaped from a dilapidated home on Seymour Avenue in the low-income area of Cleveland's West Side.
"I was shocked and amazed, wondering what the details were," Folger said of learning the news, adding that he and his fellow church members were "elated, grateful, and thankful."
"I'm glad this has somewhat of a decent conclusion compared to what it could have had," he said.
Cleveland Baptist Church, which is led by Folger's father, Kevin Folger, has been previously visited by Berry's cousin, Tasheena Mitchell, who reportedly conversed with the youth pastor's wife a mere week before her abducted cousin was discovered.
According to Folger, the church has a predominant bus ministry, which seeks to spread evangelism to all parts of the Cleveland area, especially to the community's youth.
Folger told CP that although there are no official records, he has received confident responses from many working in the bus ministry that most likely Berry, as well as her cousin Mitchell, rode one of their buses at some point before her abduction.
The youth pastor asserted that this information proves that now, more than ever, it is important for congregations to branch out and make connections with the local community.
"This further cements our commitment to continuing that ministry and connecting with people throughout the Cleveland area," he said, adding that their bus ministry helps to push the evil out of the community.
As seen through Folger's words, the themes of hope and perseverance in times of darkness seem to permeate many of those connected to this story of captivity and freedom.
For example, Gale Mitchell, Amanda Berry's aunt, recently told CNN's Anderson Cooper in a telephone interview that she never gave up hope that one day her niece would return.
"You don't give up hope; you just pray and pray and pray," Mitchell told CNN on Tuesday.
Additionally, Charles Ramsey, the heroic neighbor who freed Berry on Monday evening after he heard her screaming for help, has described himself as a "Christian and American" who did the right thing.
Ramsey told CNN's Anderson Cooper that while others in the neighborhood sought to mind their own business when they heard Berry's screams, he sought to help her.
In spite of his heroic efforts, Ramsey said he doesn't feel like a hero and any FBI award money for finding the missing women can go to their families.
"I'm a Christian and an American, I'm just like you," Ramsey told CNN's Anderson Cooper.
"We bleed the same blood. Put our pants on the same way ... It's just that you got to put that being a coward, 'I don't want to get into anybody's business,' you got to put that away for a minute," Ramsey added.
Local and national authorities have been searching for Berry, Knight, and DeJesus for the past decade, even featuring two of the girls on a 2005 episode of "America's Most Wanted."
Berry went missing on the eve of her 17th birthday in 2003, shortly after calling her sister to tell her she was getting a ride home from her job at the local Burger King.
Knight disappeared in August 2002 at age 20, while DeJesus was abducted at age 14 in April 2004.
Neighbors claimed they contacted police three times regarding suspicious activity taking place at the Castro brothers' home, just minutes from where the girls were abducted.
In spite of these reports, police never discovered the girls being kept hostage at the run-down, two-story home.
The Castro brothers reportedly spent Tuesday night at the Central Prison Unit at the Cleveland Police Headquarters. Ariel Castro was charged on Wednesday with raping and kidnapping the three women.