Church’s rebuild on hold after setbacks; congregation calls on community for help
BATON ROUGE, La. (WAFB) - From the outside, Good Shepherd Missionary Baptist Church in Baton Rouge appears to stand strong but the inside tells a different story of trials and tribulations.
There are holes in the walls, windows busted out, and smoke stains from a fire sparked by an equipment malfunction. Church administrator Juanita Bonton still gets emotional seeing the church in its damaged state. She says the sanctuary once served as a haven for community members seeking fellowship and worship.
“It was beautiful. Sometimes, it makes me want to cry,” said Juanita Bonton as she walked through the gutted church building Thursday.
After that equipment fire ripped through the church in January of last year, church leaders began the lengthy and expensive process of rebuilding. But the rebuild stalled this summer when church officials were alerted to another blaze in the building. Investigators would reveal this second fire was no accident.
Church leaders say more than $500,000 used to repair damage from the January fire went up in smoke during the arson this summer. Suddenly, the church was left without cash for repairs and once again had to inform the congregation that reopening the sanctuary on Mission Drive this fall would not be possible.
“We were excited because we knew we would probably be back by September,” said Bonton. But excitement quickly turned to disappointment. And the hits keep coming.
Baton Rouge police were dispatched to the empty church last month because of a burglary.
“Stop these acts. We forgive you. Come worship in service with us,” said Associate Minister James Dawson.
For more than 40 years the congregation has gathered on Mission Drive and church leaders say they had never had such misfortune.
“A lot of good things happen here. People come off the streets to hear the services,” Bonton explained. But with services temporarily being held in Baker, membership is down.
For some, the drive to church is now more than 20 minutes away.
“We don’t know what else to do. We don’t have the funds,” said Bonton.
Instead of abandoning the building on Mission Drive and making the move to Baker permanent, church leaders say they are committed to their community. Despite the setbacks, they hope to restart repairs at their Baton Rouge location sometime soon.
They say they will rise from the ashes, but they need help and support to get them through this latest round of trials.
An online account is set up for donations through a mobile cash-sharing app called Cash App. The church’s account name is $GSBC2023.
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