As millions of dollars pour in to help rebuild the fire ravaged Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris, folks here in the U.S. have been inspired to donate to the rehabilitation of three historically Black churches in Louisiana destroyed in recent arson attacks.
The churches — Greater Union Baptist Church in Opelousas, Mount Pleasant Baptist Church in Opelousas, and St. Mary Baptist Church in Port Barre — were intentionally burned in a 10-day span, leaving worshipers in rural St. Landry Parish devastated and wondering how they would ever rebuild.
Pastor Freddie Jack, president of the Seventh District Missionary Baptist Association, told Louisiana TV station KTLA 10 last week that all three churches had insurance.
On Tuesday, the GoFundMe campaign the Seventh District Missionary Baptist Association launched last week, presumably to cover any shortfalls in rebuilding funds, had collected over $150,000 of its original $1.8 million goal, according to CNN. By Wednesday, the crowdfund skyrocketed to well over $1.8 million, and has continued to grow since.
“It’s a blessing,” the Rev. Gerald Toussaint, pastor of Mount Pleasant Baptist Church, told CNN of the spike in donations. “It’s going to help our community. What the devil meant for bad, God’s going to turn it into something good.”
The boost came after journalist Yashar Ali called on celebrities, supporters, politicians and thousands of others donate to the three Black churches in the wake of the Notre Dame fire. Billions of dollars have already been pledged to help rebuild the historic Parisian cathedral, but Ali made sure the churches here at home weren’t forgotten.
“The rebuild of Notre Dame will be well funded,” Ali tweeted to his 397,000 followers. “In the past month, three historically black churches in Louisiana were destroyed by a racist arsonist. [The suspect] has been charged with hate crimes, but these churches need your help. Please join me in donating.”
The tweet, which included a link to the GoFundMe page, has been shared nearly 64,000 times since Tuesday, inspiring folks across the country to give.
Retired New Orleans Saints tight end Benjamin Watson was also among those who pledged to help rebuild the churches and used his platform to encourage others to do the same. In the wake of the fires, the former pro-footballer reached out to the three pastors to see how he could be of help.
“Through sadness and shock they spoke of forgiveness for the arsonist and grace for tomorrow,” Watson told The Advocate of his meeting with the pastors. “Most importantly, they spoke of being overwhelmed by support from people of goodwill and all religions from around the country. And they were humbled by what God has already done through this series of events.”
The donations, which reached $1,947,649 as of Thursday, will be equally split among the three churches. The GoFundMe is also working with local and government leaders to ensure the funds are properly distributed, according to CNN.
The suspect accused in the fires, Holden Matthews, 21, has been charged with hate crimes, along with three counts of simple arson.