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Missouri church ransacked, no known suspects

The sanctuary of the New Home Baptist Church was looted and all the pews tipped over in a recent series of vandalism events in late November. Stain glassed windows were also shattered and thousands of dollars of equipment and furnishings were destroyed. Photo by Randy Festervand, Fellowship Baptist Association

WARSAW, Mo. (BP) – The New Home Baptist Church sits outside of Warsaw, just down the road from the Baptist Ridge Camp of Fellowship Baptist Association. In late November the church was plagued by a series of increasingly drastic vandalism incidents. The damages from four separate incidents are estimated to be in the tens of thousands of dollars, according to church officials.

Recently it had been experiencing a string of fairly minor incidents, but then incidents began to get more severe. A church “blessing box” of food for the needy was damaged first. The door was ripped off of the box, which was outside the building and contained non-perishable food items. The food was left undisturbed.

Unknown assailants overturned the pulpit and did extensive damage to furnishings and equipment at New Home Baptist Church near Warsaw, Mo.

Then a week or so later, some windows were damaged, some of them historic stained glass windows that are from an older church building and are essentially irreplaceable. Even though they had outer glass coverings, the vandals busted the windows all around the outside of the sanctuary. Two nights in a row, window damages occurred.

Then, a week or so later the building was completely ransacked, and items were overturned and destroyed all throughout the building.

Pastor Paul Dawson said members have no idea who would do such a thing to the church building. He has served there since March of this year and said there has been some vandalism reported at the Warsaw United Methodist Church and at a church in nearby Cole Camp, but he cannot think of any reason anyone would have a grudge against the church.

The church is near the Baptist camp and the home of the director of missions for Fellowship Baptist Association, Randy Festervand. Festervand said his wife noticed furniture strewn across the front yard of the church as she drove by on a Saturday morning. She reported it to her husband, who called the sheriff’s office and notified the pastor. Damage was considerable in almost every room of the church.

Sanctuary pews were turned over. The pulpit was tipped over onto the Lord’s Supper table, offering plates sent flying. The piano and organ both were tipped over. An expensive guitar was smashed. Paint was splattered on the projection screen. The church office and media room were vandalized and equipment destroyed. In the Sunday school rooms, tables and chairs were thrown about. And in the church kitchen/fellowship hall, the appliances were damaged. The glass cooktop of the range was busted.

The fellowship hall was one of many rooms of New Home Baptist Church was hit hard by vandals in late November. Photo by Randy Festervand, Fellowship Baptist Association

In all of this ransacking and looting, church officials have only discovered theft of about a hundred dollars. Some money was being collected for a missions cause by a women’s group, and cash was stored in a jar. Other than that, nothing seems to be missing, but thousands upon thousands of dollars of damage has been inflicted.

Pastor Dawson said even the investigating sheriff’s officers were baffled at the rage inflicted on this rural church. Some of them expressed emotion at the damage caused. They were surprised that no Bibles or hymn books seemed to have been touched or tossed around.

Dawson said despite the damage and the trauma inflicted, church leaders didn’t want to disrupt New Home’s Christmas celebration plans. They held services the next day after the major damage was discovered.

Festervand offered the chapel of the Baptist campground to them, but church leaders were determined to get the mess cleaned up, and they worshipped in their building the next day, though the furnace had been damaged and there was no heat available. New Home will postpone its annual Christmas dinner, but the plan is to have it a week later if the fellowship hall floors can be replaced in time.

The church’s insurance will cover most of the damage.

“It’s just things that are replaceable,” Dawson said, adding that members feel a little violated and some even angry at the events. But he believes they will bounce back as they process the loss.

Dawson said the church would press charges if suspects are caught. If he could speak to the perpetrators, he would ask them, “Why? What anger, at this level, would drive you to do this?”

Dawson expressed that some good can come out of the situation. He is proud of church members for how they are handling the crisis.