By Myron Heckman, lead pastor of Cape Cod Bible Alliance Church in Brewster, Massachusetts
It was 3 a.m. Our home phone’s insistent ringing rustled me out of my sleep. It was the church alarm monitoring service notifying me of a reported fire.
I drove to the scene to see flames shooting out of the roof of our building. In a matter of hours the fire razed the entire structure to its foundation.
November 2012 was the beginning of a journey thrust upon us by arson.
Early on we thought of the promise in Isaiah 61 that God would give us beauty for ashes. We claimed this passage as our theme throughout the rebuilding.
This reconstruction was a huge task as we decided to build differently than we had 30 years ago including a subsequent addition. We designed the building in a way that allowed the life of the church to exist on one floor, but this required more square footage and higher insurance costs.
Another difficulty lay before us: displaying the love of Christ to the arsonist, who was apprehended in less than 24 hours.
We needed to affirm the law, but the young man, Adam, also needed help that an extended incarceration couldn’t provide. We decided as a Body to forgive him and, while desiring a guilty verdict, we asked God for mercy.
The judge handed down a two-and-a-half-year sentence followed by a lengthy probation that required drug testing and treatment.
In the meantime, a retired pastor in our congregation suggested we attempt what Chuck Colson, founder of Prison Fellowship, had emphasized in cases of crime: reconciliation and restitution. He suggested that Adam could work on the construction project, even if only in small ways.
My first thought was, That is a wonderful idea, but how would it ever happen?
Upon reflection, I decided to step out in faith. At Adam’s sentencing, I briefly described our church’s hopes for a healed relationship. The judge remarked it was the first time he had heard the word “reconciliation” at a sentence hearing.
A few in our church had corresponded with Adam while he was in prison. After he had served his two-year sentence, I visited him at his home.
As I stepped out of my vehicle, it struck me that I would soon shake hands with the man who had caused so much shock and sadness. In that handshake I would carry the congregation’s grief and sorrows as well as our costly forgiveness.
At our meeting, Adam apologized to us and expressed his hope that we could someday forgive him. I told him we had forgiven him, and our motivation was that Christ forgave us.
Adam helped with a few tasks around the church as we rebuilt. He did some of the landscaping and assisted in moving the offices and supplies into the new building.
He is not yet a follower of Christ, but he is in a much more stable and sober place than he was a few years ago when he was using alcohol and drugs to medicate himself.
God’s Gracious Provision
In the rebuilding process, God provided gracious people to help us. We met for three-and-a half years in an accommodating elementary school. A community businessman outside of our church gave us spacious offices for the cost of utilities.
Also, God led us to a Christian contractor who worked for well under market value, which allowed us to come in at budget. Local churches allowed us to hold major events in their buildings. We hosted an outdoor VBS each year under tents and discovered we will always want a large component of this summer ministry outside.
Dedication to the Lord
On July 17, 2016, we dedicated our building to God’s glory and to blessing people. Our former Alliance New England District Superintendent Richard Bush offered the dedicatory prayer. He prayed that our building would be well-worn by people coming to meet the Lord and that “smudges on the walls would be holy smudges” of children and adults coming through our doors.
God has given us beauty for ashes, and we anticipate more of His beauty to come.