Pastor Bob Little says when members of Galilee Baptist Church in Panola watched their mortgage papers burn up July 16, it was a different kind of feeling than the last fire they watched together.
It was a “sigh of relief,” he said. “We have that behind us now.”
The small rural church took out the mortgage 15 years ago to pay for materials to rebuild their sanctuary after arsonists burned it down in February 2006. Galilee Baptist was one of nine church buildings torched over the course of a few days that month.
Little is the only one of the pastors still serving 16 years later.
“We’ve seen God’s hand in the whole process being able to help while we hurt,” he said.
It started with Carpenters for Christ, who had Galilee’s new building framed up in four work days. Volunteers continued construction, with Galilee’s mortgage loan covering the cost of materials.
In the years since, Galilee has passed the fruit of that experience on to others.
“We were able to help maybe five other churches go through Carpenters for Christ and help them rebuild churches in the rural communities,” Little said.
Because of the fire, Galilee also built a relationship with Pickens Baptist Association, which they later joined. They’ve also kept membership with the National Baptist Convention.
Through the church’s partnership with Pickens Association, they got involved in prison ministry, planting several churches in nearby federal prisons.
“Through the fire, it allowed us to bridge some gaps, work alongside one another and advance the Kingdom,” Little said. “A lot of things we were a part of wouldn’t have happened if the fire hadn’t come.”
And now the congregation has paid off its 20-year mortgage five years early, a blessing they celebrated during the note burning ceremony July 16.
“To be able to do that with a small congregation in a rural community is not easy, but we thank God for His favor,” Little said.