A Wynona church building melted in a fire early Saturday, and it is suspected that arson played a role, the minister said.
David Downing, who has preached at the Assembly of God Church in the tiny Osage County town for 26 years, said the fire is believed to have started after midnight, but a deer hunter drove by about 6:30 a.m., saw the fire and called emergency personnel.
Downing got a call from a parishioner just before 7 a.m. alerting him to the news.
"He said, ‘Hey, preacher, the church is on fire,'" Downing said. "I said, ‘You got to be kidding me.'"
But after he arrived to see everything charred, reality sank in.
"Everything was just destroyed," he said. "I helped build that church. You labor and you labor for the Lord and spend hundreds of hours building something, and then some thieves come along and light a match to it."
Downing said investigators believe the suspected arsonists entered in through a side door and stole a bass, amplifier and a tuner, then set the place on fire. He says they left a $3,000 handmade amplifier untouched.
He also found his Bible melted into the podium at the front of the auditorium.
"Mind-boggling that anyone would think so little of others," Downing said. "If they felt they needed to steal from the church, then OK. Take it and leave. But to stoop to arson after you've stolen from us? That's what so hard to understand."
The state fire marshal's office will determine the official cause of the fire. Downing also said the Osage County Sheriff's Office told him they know of four or five suspicious people in town they are going to speak to about the blaze. Meanwhile, there are a lot of questions left unanswered.
"We have a lot of things we do to help people in our community, we help with funerals and we were getting a special wheelchair for a boy who is disabled," Downing said. "We take on projects all the time as an outreach. Now, after the fire, we have to assess our priorities and now things that will help people in need will have to be put on hold. It's a shame."
Downing said the building is a total loss, but the large gymnasium on the property was not damaged. The congregation will gather on Sunday morning to worship there.
The gym also is the spot where folks in the community come for the church's "feeding program" on Wednesdays. It's a place to grab a meal and get warm. According to Downing, about 125-130 people come attend, which is half of the town's population.
Downing said he already had a sermon planned before the fire, but he has since switched up the topic.
"I'm going to preach now about Nehamiah," he said. "About how he put his hand to the plow and didn't look back and didn't crumble. We have a lot of work still to do for the Lord."
The gym will offer the group a place where they can worship, despite the trials ahead. But, Downing said, they will trudge forward.
"I'm a street preacher," Downing said. "I got my start preaching on the street corner, so I don't need a sanctuary to do what I do. We have insurance, but those things take time to sort out. The outreach programs we have will suffer for a while because someone wanted to destroy what wasn't theirs. Did they do it just for fun or for a vendetta? I don't know, but it's a shame."