Despite their sanctuaries being destroyed by arson, East Texas churches vow that they will continue to meet and have service. Eight churches have been burned since the start of the new year, leaving many East Texans without a building to call their church home. Authorities are not taking it lightly that someone is setting churches on fire.”If anyone knows anything, we are asking that you contact your local authorities immediately,” said Paul Findley, Tyler fire marshal.The reward for information leading to any arrests has increased from $5,000 to $10,000. Since a church is a place of worship, the charge is increased to a first degree felony and if someone is convicted they will do jail time according to ATF Special Agent Jim Crowley, ATF.No one has been injured during any of the fires, but the possibility of someone dying due to fire makes this even more serious. “That is why arson is considered a crime of violence, because lives can be lost,” said Agent Crowley. “There is a sense of urgency to get to the bottom of this.”While authorities are committed to finding and prosecuting whomever is behind this, the church community is praying for the soul of the guilty. “We are praying that whoever did this comes into a relationship with Jesus Christ,” said. Nathan Cravens, associate pastor at St. Louis Baptist Church. “Vengeance isn’t ours to seek, it belongs to God.”Peter McCook and his family received calls from church friends alerting them that their church, First Church of Christ Scientist, was in flames.”We were hoping they had made a mistake, but arrived to find our church blocked off. We walked two blocks to witness one of the worst sights imaginable,” said Peter McCook and elder at the First Church of Christ Scientist.The members of churches are still having a hard time accepting their church home has been destroyed.”Seeing my church home burn was horrific, it made my heart sink, “said McCook.According to McCook this is only a material set back. The church plans to rebuild. Until then services will resume in the Christian Science reading room, a part of the church that wasn’t destroyed by the blaze.”What would any church home do?” McCook said. “We are going to rebuild in this same spot. We are going to grow from adversity. Healing is our mission.” The entire East Texas community has been affected by these devastating fires. Tyler Police Department is asking churches to raise awareness. “Some of the churches have hired more security as a precautionary measure, and others are relying on members of the church,” said Neal Franklin, Tyler fire chief. Concerns at other churches have been raised since the fires first began. “We’re more aware and trying to make sure our church remains safe,” said Pastor Cravens, “But even if something happens to the building, church will go on. The building isn’t the church, the people are.” East Texas is a community of strong faith and that hasn’t seemed to change, even withthese tragic turn of events. “It’s the enemy and his influence, but we have to keep the faith and continue to do God’s work in spite of what is happening,” Cravens said. “We have to be an example of strong faith and still let our shine at work, in the community, school, etc.” Those most affected said they are thankful to the community for rallying around them. “We can’t give up and have to pray as a church community,” said Cravens. “They can burn every church in Tyler, and we will still have church even if has to be in a parking lot.” According to McCook, not everything in the First Church of Christ Scientist was a total loss. The walls of the church still remain and on these walls the scriptures that were written years ago are still there and readable. One reads, “you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.” These churches have a long road ahead of them, but they understand they are notalone. They believe even this is part of God’s plan. One particular scripture that remains on the wall provides McCook with the most comfort, “I know God keeps his promises and as the scripture says, divine love always has met and always will meet our needs.”

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