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Inspired by the fire

Darkness covered the Harlem Temple Corps parking lot one quiet morning at 2:00 A.M. That’s when someone entered it and set a Cadillac Escalade aflame. The fire totally consumed the SUV. In the process, several other vehicles were badly damaged, including the corps’ canteen, which is a mobile food service and delivery truck. Fortunately, a brand–new van, parked at the front of the lot, escaped the blaze.

What could have been a tragedy, instead resulted in the solidarity of a community that became outraged when it learned of this blatant and reckless act. “A lot of people were angry at whoever did this,” said Captain Chaka Watch, corps officer. “The people thought the arsonists were targeting The Salvation Army.”

One local news reporter remarked, “How could somebody do that to a church? This is God’s house!”


A caring community

Watch and his staff  were grateful for the support from community leaders who said publicly that this was wrong and that they must help in whatever way they could.

“We were on TV, a lot of channels. People were making donations from as far away as California,” said Watch. “A little 8–year–old girl, who had saved some money from Christmas , about $65, ended up giving that money to The Salvation Army.

“Some things are a blessing in disguise. Now, more people than ever know that The Salvation Army is a church and that we serve God,” Watch said.

“We have made some connections that are important to the mission of what we’re trying to do in Harlem right now,” he continued.

“This incident has helped people notice some of the work that we do. We’ve made connections with new volunteers even though some of them may not be able to come yet because of COVID–19.”


A burning heart

As the media focused on identifying the perpetrators and their motives, and the community galvanized its effort to restore what they had destroyed, Captain Watch contemplated the condition of their hearts.

“I’m thinking about the human beings who did this. Maybe they need help. I’m praying for them. I wish I could meet them to find out exactly what is going on with them.

“Most people who do stuff like this are crying for help. They need Jesus. They need God. They need to be saved because a saved person would never do something like this.

“They just wanted to burn a car. They didn’t want to hurt anybody. But our canteen has three gas tanks in it. If those tanks had exploded, perhaps the next building, which are residential apartments, people would have been hurt or maybe even killed. That would have been a game changer.”


An opportunity to evangelize

Watch said that, if the persons who did this need Christ, they came to the right place but at the wrong time.

“We’ve done a lot of street evangelism because of COVID–19,” he said. “So, we have a lot of new members. People have also been joining us online for bible study and we still have about 50 people who come on Sunday. So, we are excited that we’ve made a lot of progress.

“We believe that when we fully reopen, things are going to be better than when they were before COVID–19.”

Regarding the girl who donated her money to The Salvation Army, Watch says, “ I promised her that when COVID is over, we want her to come and see what we do for the community. We want her to know that her contribution is going places, it’s doing some great work.”

by Warren L. Maye

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