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Louisiana Reverend Focused On Rebuilding Church, Community After Arson Attacks


A crowdfunding drive to raise money to rebuild three black Louisiana churches destroyed by fire has raised more than $2 million. The son of a local sheriff's deputy has been charged with arson and hate crimes in the case. For the pastors of these churches, this Holy Week has been a time for guiding their members through difficult times. Reverend Gerald Toussaint is pastor of Mount Pleasant Baptist Church in St. Landry Parish. And he joins us now.

Good morning.


GARCIA-NAVARRO: Could I ask you to start by taking us back to April 4? Where were you when you heard the news?

TOUSSAINT: I was on my way to work. And my wife calls me. And she says, Mount Pleasant - they say - told me Mount Pleasant is on fire. I said, oh, no. So I turned around and went to the church. And it was on fire. It was almost gone.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: That must have been hard, considering that your family has ties to these churches going back decades.

TOUSSAINT: Well, yeah. My daddy pastored for 21 years. And I've probably been there for 13 years.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: As we mentioned, there hasn't been a trial or conviction yet. But there's a long history in this country of attacks on black churches. As someone who knows your community well, did these fires come as a surprise?

TOUSSAINT: It came as a surprise to us because we didn't think - expect none of that going on around here because we're a community of people that stand together. And I don't know if it's really racial or spiritual - just after the black church, after the church in general. I really don't know. But I know that the way that the country has been going lately, people have been emboldened to do things they had never done before in a long - well, in a long time.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: This past week, as you know, the world's attention was captivated by the fire in Paris at Notre Dame. I understand it was after that that the money started flowing in to help your churches rebuild. How did it feel to see the sudden increase in support?

TOUSSAINT: I understand Notre Dame. And I - it's a hurtful thing to see any church anywhere be burned. But to my understanding, Notre Dame was an accident. Our church was intentional. Someone took time to set fire to three churches in St. Landry Parish. And for us to forget about it, to let it go - every church that's open in the name of our Lord and savior Jesus Christ is important because some reach a large crowd, but some reach a small community. And that's what our churches are. We still need to hear the word too.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Reverend, what do you think should happen now? I understand you and your congregation have talked about forgiveness for the alleged arsonist.

TOUSSAINT: Yeah. We got to forgive him. I feel for him because, oh, he's so young. He don't know nothing about the civil rights movement. He doesn't know nothing about lynching. He doesn't know nothing about racial violence. He don't know that. That young man is 21 years old. What does he know? - only what people feed him - hatred and envy and strife. And if you keep feeding people with that, then it's going to turn into a whole lot worse than three churches.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Easter Sunday is about resurrection, rebirth. What is next for your church?

TOUSSAINT: Rebuilding because that's what Jesus does. He rebuilds lives that have been torn apart. He rebuilds. And that's what we're going to do.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: That's Reverend Gerald Toussaint, pastor of Mount Pleasant Baptist Church in St. Landry Parish, La.

Thank you very much.

TOUSSAINT: God bless you. Have a Happy Easter. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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