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China Grove B.C. destroyed by fire

No injuries reported in early-morning blaze in Grambling
Friday, December 13, 2019
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Leader photo by NANCY BERGERON
            Louisiana fire marshal’s investigators combed through the rubble of the China Grove Missionary Baptist Church on Thursday looking for the clues as to the cause of an early-morning fire that destroyed the church located on Mondy Road near Grambling.

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            China Grove Baptist Church in Grambling was fully engulfed in flames when firefighters arrived early Thursday morning.

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Leader photo by NANCY BERGERON
            All that remains of the China Grove Missionary Baptist Church building is part of the front wall and the sign. But Pastor Damian Wilson said his congregation “will have service somewhere on Sunday.”

GRAMBLING — The fire that destroyed the China Grove Missionary Baptist Church building early Thursday morning left parishioners shaken but not discouraged.

“It’s unreal, but still we have to keep the faith,” lifelong member Joe Wilson said.

Investigators with the Louisiana State Fire Marshal’s Office combed the scene Thursday for clues as to the cause of the blaze that quickly leveled the building located at 699 Mondy Road.

“This is where God can show people of faith he can do something with nothing,” church Pastor Damian Wilson said as he looked at the pile of charred rubble that was once the church building.

The church has been in existence about 125 years, parishioners said. The now-destroyed facility, that was the site of a school decades ago, had been renovated several years ago.

Flames were already shooting through the roof when firefighters arrived shortly after 2 a.m. Thursday, Lincoln Parish Fire Chief Kevin Reynolds said.

Parish firefighters received a call at 2:03 a.m. that the church was burning.

“The initial crew tried to attack (the fire) from inside the (building), but they saw something they didn’t like and came out, and as soon as they did, the ceiling collapsed,” Reynolds said.

A total of five trucks and approximately 15 firefighters fought the blaze, battling hot spots until well after daylight.

No one was at the church at the time of the fire, but parishioners had been there Wednesday evening for Bible study, Damian Wilson said.

China Grove members describe their congregation as close-knit, God-fearing people. Many of the members are related or have attended the church all their lives.

Yolanda Wilson, the congregation’s program coordinator, was one of the first on the scene as word spread among members that the church was ablaze.

“I just kept saying ‘Oh, my God, oh, my God.’ I was just devastated,” she said.

The congregation has been planning for its annual “Christmas in the Grove” celebration, something Yolanda Wilson sponsors. As many as 150 people were expected for the event that was scheduled for Sunday afternoon.

But despite the blaze, the celebration “is not totally off the table,” Damian Wilson said. As of Thursday afternoon, at least one other area church had offered its facility for the event.

LaBreesha Wilson Crowe was a member for 25 years. She now lives in Alabama.

She worships at China Grove when she comes home to visit family. Even as the church was burning, Crowe’s mother called her to apprise Crowe of the tragedy.

“I started crying a little bit,” Crowe said. “I told my husband ‘I cannot believe this is real.’ It’s been there all these years. It’s been a staple of the community. I’m sad to see it go, but I also realize the church is the people. The love that everyone has, you almost can’t find that anymore.”

China Grove — the name came from the chinaberry trees on the church property — was preparing to add a fellowship hall, Yolanda Wilson said.

But now she thinks that may not have been what God wanted.

“I just think the Lord was letting us know don’t attach a brand new fellowship hall to a building that old,” she said. “I just think he wants us to start anew.”