Pastors of burned Louisiana churches discuss forgiveness and rebuilding

Updated: Nov. 15, 2019 at 6:59 PM CST
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JACKSON, Miss. (WLBT) - Three Louisiana congregations are rising above the ashes and the hate that left their churches in ruins earlier this year. You may remember seeing images in the spring of charred pews and piles of rubble.

“It’s not easy to keep on and holding on to a congregation without their building,” said Pastor Gerald Toussaint, Mount Pleasant Baptist Church.

Three predominantly black churches burned in St. Landry Parish, Louisiana, in a ten day period. Ultimately, 21-year-old Holden Matthews, son of a sheriff’s deputy, was charged with federal hate crime charges in connection to the three fires.

“Even though the church fires are out, our lives are disrupted," added Greater Union Baptist Church Pastor Harry Richard. "Emotionally, we’re going through this grieving process. This is the place where we used to worship our God.”

But the pastors don’t want that to be the final word on this story. Instead, they’ve been pushing to spread a message of forgiveness, hope and love.

“We’ve got to learn how to forgive and we’re all about love and if we preach love, we ought to practice love,” noted Pastor Richard.

That message has echoed far beyond the boundaries of St. Landry Parish. And the pastors will be recognized by the Louisiana-Mississippi Network Coalition on Friday night.

“These fellas have decided that they’re not victims, they’re vessels," said National Baptist Convention USA, Inc. President Rev. Jerry Young. "And they’re going to be used by God to do mighty work because of what happened to them. That is absolutely phenomenal to me.”

The resilience is what caught the attention of so many and is also what’s pushing them closer to rebuilding. But they’re also praying the negative will spur talk about how communities can better love and support one another.

“It opens the door to conversations," added Rev. Kyle Sylvester of St. Mary Baptist Church. "It opens the door to us really paying attention to things like this and having conversations that wouldn’t have happened if these things didn’t happen.”

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