ROCK HILL — Since January, the people who pray, worship and assemble at Faith Christian Ministries in Rock Hill have dropped loose pocket change and the occasional $20 bill in a 5-gallon water jug locked away in the churchs finance office.
On Friday night, someone broke into that office and the jug, taking $500 in coins and cash and leaving behind the jug, now filled with a few coins, a couple of dollar bills and at least one $20 bill the thief overlooked.
The money helps our seniors with gas and light bills or buying food for their families, said Pastor Jimmy Alexander.
Its a gift to our seniors and youth of the church every Christmas.
Now, nine months of fundraising is gone, and the jug, once filled to the top, is nearly empty. Before the break-in, Alexander was preparing to start another jug for the church because the donations were pouring in.
Its a great disappointment to me and the congregation, Alexander said.
Before 9 p.m. Friday, one of the elders, Albert Heath, went to the church, where his foot accidentally hit the jug on the floor and tipped it over. He knew it shouldnt have been like that, Alexander said.
Heath called Alexander, who called the police. Officers found no signs of forced entry into the building, according to a Rock Hill police report.
Alexander said its possible the thief entered the church with a key and then gained access into the finance office by climbing through a sliding glass window that doesnt lock. Officers dusted the window for fingerprints and turned up four prints. As of Monday evening, there were no suspects in custody.
Alexander says either someone accidentally left the front door to the church open, or one of the churchs key holders gave a key to the person who eventually broke in.
Sunday morning, he broke news of the theft to the congregation. The mood, for the most part, was somber, he said. He also anyone who may have been involved an opportunity to come forward.
No one did.
We dont have much
The church, located at 840 Saluda St., has occupied a former appliance store for more than a year after previous stays in a Holiday Inn on Cherry Road and then a facility on S.C. 72. The congregation has grown from 32 members to about 100 in five years, Alexander said.
Lakaii Burns-Anthony is one of those members.
After her father, who she said actually never went to church, attended services at Faith Christian and returned home impressed with the sermons and inspired by the pastor, Burns-Anthony joined the church and soon became its secretary.
Its heartbreaking, Burns-Anthony said about the stolen money. Were so small, and we dont have much.
Burns-Anthony, who was at church when Alexander made the announcement Sunday morning, said many members were shocked. Some were in tears.
We do so much for people all the time, she said.
The church has been involved in feeding the hungry, helping people in the community get jobs and paying for peoples stays in hotels for a week or however long it takes, Alexander said.
With Christmas only three months away, Alexander said he doesnt have plans to burden my congregation and ask members to replace the money that was stolen. Instead, he said he and his wife are prepared to pay from their own pockets if they have to.
Our seniors and youth wont be disappointed, he said.
God handles wrongs
Alexander, who was hesitant to have the incident publicized, said he doesnt want sympathy.
Were not going to ask anyone from the outside for help, he said. Were not going to solicit (from) other churches.
We just dont harbor animosity, Alexander said. God has forgiven all of us. Theres no reason to be to hateful. It happened. We cant change it. We cant bring the money back.
Alexander said he doesnt have any plans to press charges if an arrest is made. His reason: The Christ in me.
Scripture says you reap what you sow, Alexander said. In the long run, God handles that.
On Monday, Heath surveyed the finance office, discussing with Alexander strategies for possibly placing bars around the office window.
About the thief, he said, We pray for them. We give them a second chance. God gave us chances. I feel for (the culprit).
I still love em, he said. I hope he or she realizes that.
Alexander holds onto the same hope. After he told the congregation about the theft on Sunday, a visitor who had never been to the church walked up to the front during offering collection and gave $100 just to replace the stolen money.
Thats amazing, Alexander said. You hurt the church, but you still cant hurt our spirit.