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Church deals with burglary, damage

This sign outside the Cowboy Church on Highway 34 was put up in response to a burglary and vandalism that happened around Easter.

Drive by the picturesque, barn-style church aptly named The Cowboy Church on Highway 34 near Height of Land, and you’ll see a sign outside that reads: “You can steal our stuff, but you can’t steal our faith.”

It’s not just a cute saying. For members of this church, it’s their newly adopted attitude after their building was burglarized and vandalized.

Folks from the Cowboy Church are standing up and banding together to overcome the incident that very well could have ruined Easter and their faith in humanity – had they let it.

The incident either happened in the late hours of April 19 or very early on Easter.

When Pastor Brian Erickson walked into the church Easter morning, he was greeted by the sight of a broken window in the sanctuary and the realization that somebody had entered that house of God with some ungodly intentions.

Stolen was a few thousand dollars’ worth of sound equipment.

“I was shocked,” said Erickson, “I was like, what the heck happened.”

The situation worsened significantly when he heard a noise coming from the storage closet.

“I opened it up, and in the midst of ransacking the closet, the guys had broken a water pipe,” said Erickson, who went downstairs to check out the damage.

“I came down here and half the ceiling was down, and it was like a waterfall,” said Erickson, who says the Sunday School room, or what they call “The Kids Corral,” was saturated.

The water had also run halfway down the fellowship hall where church members gather after the church to have coffee and treats.

The carpet was soaked and so were the walls and ceiling of much of the downstairs.

The sound equipment may have only been worth a few thousand dollars, but the damage left behind was much more.

“Probably at least $20,000,” said Erickson, shaking his head at the senselessness of it all.

Members of the Cowboy Church say they’d be lying if they said they weren’t angry — they were.

But it didn’t take long for this down-home congregation of roughly 100 to come together.

Within an hour, the sign had been changed outside the church to reflect what would become the attitude.

People flocked to the church to help clean up the mess at least enough to have Sunday night church service.

“And it was a great service,” said Erickson, who says the past couple of services have been used to help people wrap their heads and hearts around the situation.             

“You lose stuff you can’t really replace… and we’ve lost our innocence,” said Erickson. “You feel violated. To have someone come into something that you cherish, do what they do and then leave, and you know they’re selling it in no time flat for just a few bucks, that’s been hard for people.”

And the kids did have questions about what happened to their room.

“They ask ‘Why did the bad people come into the holy place? and ‘Why did they come into Jesus’s house and hurt Jesus’s house?’, and last night in the sermon I talked to the parents about making sure their kids knew that there is bad out there… that we try to be as good as we can, but it doesn’t mean everyone is going to be good all the time, and we have to deal with this and handle it the way God wants us to handle it,” said Erickson, who says the whole congregation seemed to process the crime in their own time.

“You go through stages beginning with shock, then anger because you feel someone has interfered in your world and they had no business doing it,” said church member Doris Kostman. “Then thoughts of ‘what the heck is wrong with people’, but then you start to think… if this is the way it is maybe there’s a reason the good Lord had this happen, and we need to adjust our thinking and go on.”

And there have been plenty of people to help them go on.

That’s because for the one or two people who stole from the church, there have been many more who have stepped up to help.

“I’ve had couple of pastors from other churches come and introduce themselves and told me if there was anything they could do to help, just to let them know,” said Erickson. “That felt really good.”

And other people from outside of that church have called to offer support as much of the church basement is being gutted and sanitized to prevent mold.

The church has lost some items that aren’t replaceable by insurance, and members like Kostman say they’ve got to forgive.               

“But deep down you still hope they catch them,” she admitted.

Despite suspicions among some church members who have heard of items for sale that match the description of what was stolen from the church, there have been no arrests made in the case.

If and when any suspects are pinpointed, they will likely receive similar treatment from much of that congregation.

“We’ll pray for them,” said Erickson, who says this is their chance as Christians to practice what they preach.

“We hope someday they (the perpetrators) are sitting in our pew,” he added, “And what a story they’d have to tell about how they came to know God… that they first entered our church through a window.”