January 14th, 2012
10:00 PM ET
By Bob Crowley, CNN
Springfield, Massachusetts (CNN) - The phone rang at 3:00 am on Wednesday, November 5, 2008, hours after Barack Obama had been elected president. Bishop Bryant Robinson Jr. assumed this was his 6:00 a.m. wake-up call.
Robinson, the pastor at the Macedonia Church of God in Christ here, asked his brother Andrew to phone him so he wouldn’t oversleep. He told his brother just to let the phone ring a little while, as he planned to just get up and not answer.
So Robinson was a little annoyed when he heard the ringer again.
Not fully awake, he had trouble processing the voice on the receiver: “They are burning our church to the ground.”
Robinson drove to the site to watch his brand new church building, about 80% complete since construction had begun in 2007, disappear into a fire.
“A new facility that we had dreamed about had been snatched from us,” he remembers thinking.
Robinson says it didn’t take long for authorities to tell him the fire was an arson that had targeted the predominantly African American congregation in response to the election of the first black president.
Macedonia Church of God in Christ had been founded by Robinson’s father in 1950. The pastor says he never doubted how he would respond. Robinson would rebuild.
“This site,” he says, “would not become a monument to hatred and violence.”
There would be arrests, trials and prison sentences for each of the three men convicted in the arson.
The church had insurance, but only enough to cover the loans they had for construction of the lost facility. To re-build, Robinson needed to raise nearly $1.8 million, relying on loans, donations and faith.
“It would have been easy to run the white flag up the pole,” says Robinson, who turns 75 this year, “but that was not God’s purpose for us.”
His prayers were answered last September, less than three years after the fire, when the Macedonia First Church of God in Christ opened the doors to its new worship facility, built on the same site as the previous building.
It has a main sanctuary for Sunday services, meeting rooms, a function hall, and offices. Congregants like Robert Rivera feel like they’ve come home: ”It’s just a testament to our faith and how God has proven himself through our faith.”
Says Robinson: “They’re experiencing confirmation that God did not abandon us in a very dark hour.”
There is still work to be done on the new facility. The church grounds are not finished and the parking lot needs extra paving, but Robinson is hopeful that more funds will come. He has become accustomed to overcoming obstacles.
“We would be delayed,” he says, “but we would not be denied.”
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The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.