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From Arson to Absolution

Updated: Jun 3


St. John's Lutheran Church, Long Beach, CA


For St. John Lutheran Church of Long Beach, the year 2020 began with a number of events that would affect the congregation in ways that we could not even imagine. In early March, a homeless individual burnt three bushes along the side of the sanctuary completely destroying them in the process. The congregation then installed some fencing to limit the access to the property, based on a recommendation from the Long Beach Fire and Police Departments. This was effective until October of when a series of arson and vandalism attempts were made against the property, causing a number of stained-glass windows to be vandalized and four additional attempts to start fires to damage or destroy the sanctuary. The congregation was very blessed as God prevented any serious fires from taking hold.


On October 20, security camera footage and eyewitnesses made identification of the responsible individual possible. Prosecution was complicated as the perpetrator had an affiliation with one of the local street gangs, making testimony against the perpetrator problematic as witnesses were concerned for their own safety. Security camera footage, along with body camera footage of responding police officers, thankfully alleviated the need for anyone to testify. The perpetrator was found guilty of several counts of arson and vandalism and was sentenced to three years in state prison.

 

Then on Sunday, April 21, 2024, something extraordinary occurred at St. John’s. Pastor Mike Grobelch explains, "An individual came to our Divine Worship service and, before the service, spoke to me about addressing the congregation at the end of the service. He identified himself as the person who had tried to burn down the sanctuary back in 2020. He apologized for trying to burn the property down and asked for our forgiveness. God certainly works in ways that we cannot understand. But like the infomercials on TV state: 'But wait, there is more'! The entire congregation rose and came forward to the front of the church, gathered around this individual, and we granted our forgiveness, and we prayed for and with this man."


The congregation told “T” (not his real name) he was always welcome at St. John’s, that they hold no grudges against him, and that he has a church home at St. John’s. Pastor Grobelch exclaimed, "The depth of bravery, love, and forgiveness shown by "T" and the congregation can only be attributed to our Lord and Savior who leaves the 99 sheep and looks for the one sheep that is lost in a hostile world. Our Bible study that week was the Prodigal Son. I am having the same chills sharing this as I did when "T" addressed the congregation and by the congregation’s response of love and mercy just like Jesus showed us how to do. "T" has returned to worship our Lord and Savior and I can’t wait to see how God uses this to further His kingdom." God @ Work restoring the lost in the PSD!

 

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Untold thousands are still in darkness, lost like “sheep that have gone astray”. But this is exactly the mission our Lord has created His Church for – reaching the lost for Jesus’ sake in as many ways as necessary. This is the purpose for which our 300 churches and 150 schools were founded in their many contexts. And “the fields are ripe for the harvest” right now!


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