Arson Suspected in Arkansas Church Fire

Arson Suspected in Arkansas Church Fire

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Southside Assembly of God in Booneville, Arkansas, was burglarized and then evidently set on fire Wednesday, in what 80-year-old Pastor Manuel Mann is calling a total loss.

Booneville, a small town of about 3,800, is located approximately 40 miles southeast of Fort Smith, Arkansas, and has been home to Southside AG since Mann founded the church in 1983.

According to Mann, his wife, Betty, had just returned from a trip to the store when she noticed smoke coming from the church. She reported the fire and then hurried to move the car she had parked next to the church.

“Just as she moved the car, the whole side of the church blew out, sending glass and debris everywhere — it just missed her,” says Manuel Mann. “I’m so thankful she managed to get out of harm’s way and that no one was harmed or killed.”

Mann says he has been informed by police that three young men were arrested on Wednesday following the report of the fire. The young men had been reported entering a vacant house — police investigated and found items stolen from Southside Assembly.

“The fire is being investigated as arson,” Mann says. “It appears the gas valve in the church had been loosened . . . though I’m not sure what was used as an ignition source.”

Despite the loss of the church building, Mann claims Romans 8:28, “ . . . in all things God works for the good of those who love him . . . .”

“I know that good will come out of this,” Mann says. “I’ve already had a number of people come by with tears, telling me how the church had been a help to them and the community so many times.”

The church, which averages about 30 congregants, already has a place to meet this Sunday as the pastor of a United Methodist Church in the community made Mann a “very generous” offer — the use of their facilities, rent-free.

“All is well,” Mann says. “God will work it out to the good.”

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