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Reedley MB Church burglarized, set on fire

New ministry year will begin as scheduled

By Connie Faber with files from the Reedley Exponent

Firefighters were able to put out the early morning fire at Reedley MB Church in just more than 30 minutes, minimizing the potential damage.  Photo by Grae Gerster Photography.

Reedley (Calif.) MB Church, the first Mennonite Brethren congregation organized in California (1905) and one of the city’s oldest and most historic churches, was burglarized Aug. 27 and then set on fire.

The fire was started in the custodial office, breached into the adjoining chapel and then began to move into the second floor through the ventilation system. The main office complex sustained smoke damage.

The congregation was able to hold worship services the next day, Sunday, Aug. 28.

“At the end of the day, it's just a building,” Pastor Malcolm Light told the Reedley Exponent newspaper. “And buildings come and go. You can rebuild them. It’s not the church. The church is people, and that’s where our focus is.”

Light arrived at the scene about an hour after the initial report of the fire, which was made at about 2:15 a.m. A team of 30 Reedley firefighters was assisted by Dinuba and Fresno County fire department personnel. The firefighters were able to control the flames in just more than a half-hour, reports the Exponent.


Extensive damage

“Without the prompt response of our Reedley Fire Department and Dinuba Fire Department, we would be talking about nearly half of our campus being affected by this fire,” says Light in an email interview. “They arrived quickly and worked professionally. We are very thankful for them and what they did in minimizing the damage we could have had.”

The chapel, photo right, is located between the RMBC sanctuary and fellowship hall in the “original” part of the campus. Lights says that as of Sept. 1, the chapel, custodial office, west education wing, the main office building and a breezeway that includes exterior bathrooms are all a loss.

“We are being told that these areas will all need to be gutted and rebuilt,” he says.

The west education wing housed five staff offices, four adult classrooms, a music library for the choir and a robe room. Five staff offices and the information technology (IT) server room were located in the main office building.  

In spite of the damage to parts of the RMBC campus, the new ministry year will begin this week on Sept. 7 as scheduled, says Light. “We believe we can accommodate for now with some creative movement into other spaces,” he says. “This has been a reminder of the resources God has blessed us with.”

One of the first projects following the fire was a deep cleaning of the church kitchen so that this week’s Wednesday fellowship meal can be served as planned. The AWANA program will begin, although adjustments will be made to some class locations.

Four adult Sunday school classes are being relocated to the Student Center and Children’s Center. A temporary office trailer will be delivered within the next two weeks. Until then eight staff members are working out of the Student Center or from home. 

Estimates for the completion of the project are between nine and 12 months, or longer depending on the extent of the work that is done. Estimates on the cost of the repairs and rebuilding are still being gathered.


Much to be thankful for, prayers appreciated

When asked how he has seen God at work following the fire, Light has a good-sized list: “We have seen God at work in the quick response from the fire department as well as Yanez Construction. We have seen God at work in the quick response from Mennonite Aid Plan and getting an outstanding adjuster to the site Monday morning. We have see God at work in no one being hurt. We have seen God at work in reminding us that buildings are things; the gospel and people are our real business and where we must continue to focus our efforts.”

Light is thankful for the support of U.S. Mennonite Brethren. “I would be remiss to not point out how many of our USMB family from around my district and in other parts of the country have reached out to share their prayers and support. (It is) very refreshing and a great reminder of the broader body of Christ.”

When asked how the USMB family can pray for the Reedley congregation, Light details the following:

  • Pray for the arsonists/burglars, that RMBC might have the opportunity to share Christ with them.
  • Pray for wisdom and discernment as RMBC begins to plan for what “needs to be those spaces” that were severely damaged.
  • Pray for strength for the next nine to 12 months, as “we are likely to be displaced and rebuilding.”
  • “Pray for God to be glorified through our witness to our community on how we are responding.”
  • “Pray that we will see a harvest of people coming to Christ as a result of this in our church.”

While the Reedley Police Department is aware of known arsonists in the area, no arrests have been made. Items stolen from the RMBC custodian office include a small computer, tool chest and leaf blower.

Joe Garza, Reedley police chief, says investigators are trying to understand why thieves would set a fire after burglarizing the church. “Burglaries do occur throughout the community,” Garza told the Exponent, “but you don’t have them where they’re setting fires behind them. It’s really odd.”  

Chapel photo by Malcolm Light

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