His breath reeked of alcohol and his face was rough with stubble, as he shuffled along the street.* He stopped next to a small church, and looked up at the stained-glass windows, smooth and colourful in the dim street-light. In a flash, he picked up a rough brick, and threw it through a side window, and a sharp, tinkling sound of glass smashing and falling, broke the silence of the peaceful night. He threw something else, and a spark caught on.
There was a loud crackling as bright flames leaped at the sky. Before long a siren wailed, and water was launched into the blazing inferno, but it was too late. The little church was gone, burnt beyond repair, along with almost everything inside—a blackened, charred hull, stained with the smell of smoke.*
In 2006 the local papers in Windsor, NSW, carried the news of the Adventist church that had been destroyed by an act of vandalism. Thankfully, although the police never found the culprit, the church was covered by insurance. Another blessing was that the church hall was separate to the main building and hadn’t been destroyed, so the members were able to continue meeting there.
At first, they simply imagined rebuilding the church in exactly the same design as before. However, it had been designed when Windsor was a small country town, and Windsor was now busy and bustling with growth. It wasn’t long before the church members had a different vision.
They imagined a spacious foyer where they could welcome people; a large sanctuary space with a high ceiling and plenty of pews to fit all the worshippers; they imagined having plenty of rooms for the children’s Sabbath school classes. With the door of opportunity now open to them, they re-imagined and the pastor, who happened to enjoy designing, built a mini wooden model with working lights to make their dreams more tangible.
After agreeing on a design, an architect drew up some plans. After three years of paperwork, they started construction. They were blessed to have a builder in the congregation, and the members and pastor also pitched in and did as much of the work as they could, tearing down much of the gutted structure with their own hands. After five long years of waiting, their church was finally ready.
The old church was charming and historical, but the new church is modern, spacious and full of light. Just as they had imagined, it has a large foyer that runs around the sanctuary space, with a screen that shows the sermon. It has plenty of rooms upstairs for the children’s Sabbath school classes, and a large sanctuary space inside that has a gentle slope and can fit over 120 worshippers.
It is also graced with artistic beauty, as the pastor happened to do glass-blowing as a hobby.
There are hanging lights at the front of the church made from blown glass in varying colours. They can be lowered to change the bulbs. He also made a pulpit, using a piece of wood salvaged from the burnt church, and a five-panel stained glass window at the back of the sanctuary, depicting Jesus with a lion and a lamb, highlighting Christ as Priest, Sacrifice and King. There are many other features that make the church a welcoming, light and beautiful space.
Since the night the church went up in flames, and the tearful morning when it was a smouldering shell, years had passed. Through the prayers, sweat and tears of the church, God was able to work everything together to give them the opportunity to raise up something better than they had at first imagined.
Today the new church stands as a testament to how God can work all things together to bring something profound out of tragedy. And isn’t God just like that? He is waiting at the doorway of our tragedy and loss—in the midst of our cold ashes, to lead us into something new—something more than what we could ask or imagine.
What is the worst loss in your life? Have you lost your job; your health; your savings, or worst of all, a loved one? Perhaps you’ve lost an opportunity that you can never get back, perhaps a moment when you should have done or said something different. What seems the worst loss of your life, could be your greatest opportunity, if you continue trusting Him, take the opportunities He gives you and work with them, and trust your life into His hands, for Him to work everything together for good.
Out of what seemed like cold, barren ashes, something new and beautiful grew. That is a picture of what God wants to do with your loss and tragedy.
*as the culprit was never found, artistic licence has been taken at the beginning of this piece.
Leesa Briones writes from Port Macquarie, NSW.