They're too weak to bear this, Lord. Jared slumped against the mud courtyard wall and looked at the church. Pieces of jagged glass clung to charred window frames, bearing testimony of the destruction within the cinder block walls. Tendrils of smoke curled out from the smoldering heap that was once a pulpit and simple wooden pews.
Jared raised his eyes to the roof of the building. Even the cross Marco made, Lord, it's gone. And the new Bibles and hymnbooks. Oh, Lord, I wish I hadn't brought them over last night. His eyes slid closed as his chin dropped onto his chest.
At the squeal of the gate Jared looked up. Marco stepped in and stood surveying the damage the vandals had done. Looking up at the roof, his eyes narrowed and his jaw set, but he said nothing. He turned and looked around the courtyard at the garbage that had been dumped and strewn around. Shaking his head, he walked back out the gate without looking back.
Jared's head fell back against the wall and his eyes burned from more than just smoke. Lord, Marco is leaving--the man I thought could someday be the pastor here.
Jared heard the gate clanking, but didn't open his eyes. He didn't want to see any one else turn away. After a moment, a scraping noise grated on his ears and he raised his head.
“Marco. What are you doing?” he asked.
Marco leaned on the handle of his shovel. “We have a service here in 30 minutes and I thought it'd be more pleasant if we didn't have to stand amidst the garbage.”
“I don't know that it will make a difference.”
Marco looked down, scraping the sole of his worn shoe on the shovel. Scratching his trimmed, black beard he looked at Jared. “That's just a building, Pastor,” he said. “The people, the true church, will still be here in 30 minutes.”
Will they come, though?
The gate squealed again and a group of women entered, each carrying a broom. Their hushed talk ceased as they stood in the courtyard.
Tears rolled down Carmen's face as she looked at the destruction. “Those men who did this are fighting against God. They think that burning the church will put an end to God pursuing them, but they're wrong. We need to pray even harder for them now.”
Jared rose to his feet, emotion filling his throat as he reached for the extra shovel Marco had brought. Here I was, thinking they weren't strong enough to handle this, Lord, and they're praying for the ones who did it. Forgive me, Father, and help me learn from them. Give me the wisdom to handle this correctly. Please, use this for Your glory.
Garbage quickly gave way to people. Father, they're all here. Not one is missing.
Marco stood beside him, grinning. “This is the church, Pastor.”
Jared smiled, struggling to find his voice. “How did you become so wise, my friend?”
“You taught me that, just as you taught me that good can come from these ashes.”
Lord, bring beauty from these ashes...
Jared raised his hands, and in a clear, strong voice he led his flock. “Praise God, from Whom all blessings flow...”
When the last notes faded away Jared raised his voice again. “Jesus asked Peter an important question one time. He asked, 'Who do you say that I am?' and Peter answered, 'Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God.' Jesus' response was, 'and upon this rock I will build My church; and the gates of Hades shall not overpower it.'*” Jared turned and reached for his Bible.
Pray for the men who did this, Jared.
Jared turned back to the group without his Bible. “Pray with me. Dear Heavenly Father, I pray for those that did this. Let them see that burning a church will not put an end to You pursuing them. Don't let go of them until they stop fighting against You and completely surrender to You. Open their hearts to Your love and forgiveness. Please, Lord, do not let go of them; draw them to Yourself and make them one of Your beloved children. In the name of Jesus I pray, amen.”
Hiding in the shadows of the alley, a man who reeked of whiskey, wood smoke and garbage wrapped his arms around himself as his head dropped and his shoulders shook.
* Matthew 16:15-18
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