Church members flee from burning church

HOUSTON It happened at the Celestial Church of Christ on West Bellfort near the Southwest Freeway. White robes are now stained by smoke. A crucifix that was in the sanctuary is now covered in soot.

It was to be another overnight celebration at the church, where the congregation ushered out the old year and welcomed in the new through worship. Instead there was a fire.

"No one saw what happened. There was a fire from the altar, that's all," said church secretary Anthony Talabi. "They didn't even know how it got started and they made an attempt to put it out, but it got bigger and bigger and bigger."

The worshippers then made a decision to save what they could, including themselves. They rushed into the cold from a burning building in their bare feet. Among this Nigerian congregation, that is the custom when inside the church. One mother carried her two-month-old daughter to safety. The baby carrier left behind will have to be replaced.

"I just saw the light and we went outside and I called 911, called emergency," said congregation member Elizabeth Giwa.

Firefighters were able to put out the flames, but the damage to what had been an auto parts store converted some years ago into a church for Nigerian immigrants is extensive.

"I don't know what is gonna happen because this is just a painful thing," said Giwa. "The house of God is burned. I don't know what to say."

There is gratitude that no one was injured, but a feeling of loss at what was taken in a matter of minutes.

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