A fire that broke out Friday burned down a historic Texas church and consumed nearly everything but a wooden cross, which a pastor sees as a sign that God is watching over his congregation as they begin rebuilding.
"I'm heartsick about it. You have to think and all of the ones who have been baptized there," Pastor Sonny Smith of the Balsora Baptist Church said in an interview with The Christian Post Tuesday.
"It's a dramatic event for the whole community because we're about seven miles from the nearest larger city. We're kind of out in the middle of the country. So I knew how important the church was to a lot of people."
The church stood for over 120 years before it burned down in the fire.
The Wise County Fire Marshal announced that the fire broke out just before 1 p.m. and a couple of first responders suffered minimal heat-related injuries.
A GoFundMe page seeking to raise funds to rebuild the church emphasized that "nobody was injured" in the blaze.
According to Smith, Balsora Baptist is a "small country church." Around 60 to 75 people attended regular Sunday services, with the number of attendees usually rising to about 120 on Easter Sundays.
The pastor told CP he was at home when church members called and informed him that the building was on fire. The church had been under construction to expand its kitchen and fellowship hall, but the building reportedly caught fire after the work crew stepped out for lunch 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 that goes out, it can take responders a while to get there.
"They tried to stop it, but they could not get it 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 used to have a prayer tree where congregation members could hang their prayer requests. By that tree, there was a cross.
"The church pretty well burned up except for that little wooden cross," he said. "It wasn't really that small; it was probably about four feet tall. But anyway, when you look at pictures, back at the sanctuary, and right there, there sat the wood cross with still a little fire coming off of it."
The church leader stated it was "amazing" that the cross survived the fire, proclaiming the event to be a "miracle."
"Of course, I told our church congregation I feel like that was a sign from the Lord telling us that, you know, you're going through fire, you're going through changes, but I'm going to be with you all the way," Smith recalled.
"And He certainly has been. We have gotten numerous calls from area churches offering their facilities, anything they can do to help us. And that's Church of Christ and Methodist, not just our domination. It's been quite a thing to behold what God is doing."
Last Sunday, the congregation met outside the burnt church to hold a prayer service and take the time to worship God. Smith acknowledged that the ministry needs a new location, as the Texas heat makes it "too hot" to keep holding services outside.
"Plus, most of our church family is senior citizens. We do have some young couples, but by and large, it's older folks, so we have to consider their health in where we go and what we do," he said.
While other churches have offered their facilities, Smith maintained that many know his church will be looking "quickly" for another location to move into before the rebuilding is complete. The pastor plans to meet with church leadership Tuesday night to "pray and seek God's direction" regarding where that should be.
Smith could not yet provide an estimate regarding the cost of the repairs. He remarked that the church needs to determine how the new structure will look in terms of size and whether it should be a normal brick building or something else.
He envisions the completed church will have room to seat 200 people, with a connecting fellowship hall serving as a "multi-purpose facility" for hosting events like potluck dinners and wedding receptions.
The pastor acknowledged, however, 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 input their ideas.
Smith revealed that he and church members continue to remind themselves 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 has raised $145 out of a $100,000 goal as of Tuesday afternoon. The fundraiser indicates that "the church does have insurance, but it's likely to not pay enough to rebuild the building AND resupply the church (Bibles, hymnals, choir robes, office equipment, etc)."
The fundraiser assures potential donors that anything they donate will "go towards furthering the cause of Christ" and that "anything over the amount needed to rebuild and resupply will go towards community outreach, missions, and our youth program."