Large marquee sign outside the First Baptist Church of Slidell, Texas, offers compassion to thieves. (AP)
A North Texas church which recently had $40,000 in property stolen has a message of mercy on its marquee for the thieves.
"To those who robbed us, we forgive you," reads the sign outside the First Baptist Church of Slidell in Wise County.
And there's good reason: Bobby Cates, the 34-year-old pastor of the humble church in unincorporated Slidell — population about 175 — recalls not too long ago when he was a teenage thief, but was able to escape that life when someone cared enough to forgive him and show him a better way to live.
"My sincere hope, no matter what happens — if they end up in jail, or if they come here to church, any scenario at all — my hope is to look them in the eye and say, 'I forgive you,'" Cates said.
Married and with two young children, Cates is grateful to everyone who helped him along the way, and to the people of the First Baptist Church of Slidell
who hired him when he was just 28.
The property stolen from the church includes sound equipment, two televisions, two computer monitors, a desktop computer, the pastor's personal laptop computer filled with his family photos, a storage drive also filled with irreplaceable photographs, and one of the church vans, which was later found, NBC 5 Dallas-Fort Worth
Cates said the experience reminded him of the stories of forgiveness taught in the Bible, according to NBC 5.
"I just grabbed the letters and put up the message," Cates said, adding he hopes his congregation, and the thieves, think about the concept of forgiveness when they read the sign. "To those who robbed us, we forgive you."
The church has turned the investigation over to the the Wise County Sheriff's Office to try to find the thieves. Only the van has been recovered.
Cates said Wednesday the thieves were probably locals because they knew what the church had and where it was. He hopes the thieves see the sign and return to church.
"It wouldn't surprise me if it was someone from the area. There's been an increase in the number of people who have made bad choices out of desperation. That's why we thought, let's help them as much as possible."
Since the news spread about the break-in and the stolen items, Cates has had calls from people all over offering to donate computers, flat-screen TVs, laptops, even full security systems. "Tons and tons of offers,'' he said.
But one call left his particularly humbled. A woman from Texas with a speech impediment called and offered him two computers. She then went on to apologize for her speech problem, saying it was due to her advanced brain cancer.
"Can you imagine that? Here she was, worried about our little church, when she's really sick, she could be dying. I couldn't believe the generosity," Cates said. He said the woman will be on the congregation's prayer list from now on.
The sheriff's office found a boot print on a discarded file folder, but Cates is uncertain about other clues. He said the sheriff told him it could be two or three weeks before he hears anything.
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