South Mountain Chapel responds to vandalism

by Sarah Lebo

Boredom led two young men on a vandalism spree that ended in South Mountain Chapel (Shippensburg, Pa.) this past September. Police say the men stole a car and set it on fire before breaking into the chapel. It was 5:30 a.m. on a Wednesday morning when Dave Erisman, pastor of South Mountain Chapel, was alerted to the commotion going on at his church across the street.

“I woke up because our dog was growling at something outside,” explains 14-year-old Ellie Erisman, who was the first to catch on to what was happening. “I saw the men trying to open the church door and I thought they would just go away. When they kept trying to open it, I realized what they were doing.”

Ellie alerted her father, who in turn called the police. The family sat and waited, watching as the lights in different parts of the church showed where the men were inside.

“I could only imagine what kind of damage they were doing, but I didn't really consider going over because I didn’t know if they had weapons or what state of mind they were in,” says Dave Erisman.

By the time Ellie boarded the school bus later that morning, the street was lined with police cars. The officers chased the pair into a cornfield before arresting them. A court date is set for January 22.

When Dave went inside the church with an investigator at 10 a.m., he saw a layer of fine dust from two fire extinguishers that had been emptied all over the basement and the sanctuary. The intruders had overturned tables and shelves, damaged the photocopier and dehumidifier, and cleared out the refrigerators before spraying juice all over the walls.

“They tried to light a few matches on the carpet, but thankfully nothing ignited,” Dave relates. “I was really frustrated because of the senselessness of it all. There wasn’t anything of great value to steal.”
But when a local news station contacted Dave to cover the story, he knew that he had to replace his frustration with the hope he had in God’s plan for the situation.

“I knew the interview would be an opportunity to share the love and forgiveness of the gospel — even in these bad circumstances,” he says. “The TV station phoned me earlier that day, so I had a few hours to pray and think about what to say. I hope that it allowed people to see God working in a tough situation.”

After word of the incident got out, the church experienced an overwhelming response of support from community members, who arrived at the church to help with the massive clean-up.

“It was a great encouragement to see all the people come to help,” Dave shares. “The vandalism definitely has made us thankful for our church family and aware of the importance of connecting with our community in more tangible ways.”