The Arsonist

Polly smiled while lighting the match, and then watched from the shadows as the gasoline ignited, causing the flame to race up the outside wall of the church.  It went over the window sill and through the window she had broken when she threw the half-gallon canning jar full of fuel through the window.

She knew what room it was because she had scouted the church earlier in the week. Polly had no doubt that the pastor’s office was also his library. Being full of books and paper, it would spread quickly.

“Serves them right! The hypocrites!” she giggled while cutting across the property. Sneaking down the alley, always keeping in the shadows, she cut between two houses and emerged on the next street over from the church.

Dressed in black, she was almost invisible. Jogging for three blocks, she found her bicycle in the clump of bushes where she had left it earlier. At two in the morning, there was very little traffic on the streets. Staying on the sidewalk, she raced away. After going six blocks she stopped and turned back towards the way she had come from and watched.

She could see a faint glow and in the distance, she heard sirens approaching. Satisfied, she quietly pedaled home. Putting her bike in the garage, she sat on the porch and listened. Sirens were coming from all directions and a fire truck raced by right in front of her.

Laughing, she went inside and went to bed. Lying there, she thought about what she had done.

“That makes four now. Four less to spread their lies. That’s all they do. Tell lies. I’m sick of it!”

Polly finally fell asleep. Or at least she tried. All she could think about was what had happened to her.

She had been invited to go to church with one of her classmates at school. Her parents had said yes and she was excited. She didn’t know anything about God and was curious. Sunday School class was taught by the assistant pastor. She remembered him watching her closely during the lesson. She didn’t think anything about it and had no inkling where it would lead. She was very naive for a sixth-grader.

She remembered him saying, “God loves you and so do I.”

She also remembered thinking, “Why does he love me? I don’t understand.”

At the close of class, he told her about Youth Night at church on Wednesday night.

“It starts at seven. There will be food, games, and a short lesson.

Polly went that Wednesday night. She had a good time playing charades, ate cookies and drank fruit punch, and then listened to the lesson. When it was over, she started down the church steps for home.

“Polly, wait up,” came a voice from behind her.

Turning, she saw that it was the assistant pastor.

“I want to show you something,” he said. “It’s in my car.”

“What is it?” she had asked.

“Something I think you will like,” he smiled.

He unlocked the car and got in. Rolling down the window, he said, “Get in.”

Polly went to the passenger side, opened the door, and got in. She thought everything would be all right. After all, he was a pastor.

The first inkling that something was wrong was when he locked the door.

“What is it you want me to see?”

“This,” he said while unzipping his pants. He began to giggle as he exposed himself.

Polly began to cry. She cowered against the door and tried to hide her eyes.

“Touch it!” he ordered.

Polly began screaming.

“Shut up and touch it!”

“I don’t want to!” she begged.

“Take it in your hand or else!”

“Or else what?”

“Or else I’ll find out where you live and I’ll burn your house down. I’ll kill you and all of your family.”

“No! Don’t do that! Please, don’t do that. I’ll do what you want!” she grimaced.

Terrified, she leaned over and did what he ordered. He groaned and then pushed her hand away.

“Go home!” he ordered. “If you tell anybody about this I will come in the middle of the night and burn you up like the piece of trash you are!”

Crying hysterically, she burst from his car and ran home. Racing through the door, she went straight to her bedroom. Throwing herself on her bed, she sobbed.

Her mother followed her into her room.

“Polly? What’s wrong? Why are you crying?”

Polly just stared at her. She knew she couldn’t tell her. She didn’t want to die. She sobbed herself to sleep.

Polly never set foot inside a church again. She was too afraid to. She also developed a fear of men and wasn’t comfortable around them. At family reunions, she steered clear of her uncles and cousins.

She became a loner. As she grew older she was shunned by her classmates. Matter of fact, most of them were afraid of her.

In high school, she went on one date. It turned out to be a disaster. The boy forced himself on her and very roughly groped her.  She got away from him and walked home. This incident threw her over the edge. Something snapped inside her mind and she relives her childhood all over again. The assistant pastor’s face kept popping into her mind.

After she graduated she found a job and rented a small house not far from the church.

She began watching the church, and by this time he was a senior pastor.

“Hypocrite!” she called him along with a few other names not appropriate for mixed company.

One day she decided to get revenge for what he had done to her.

“He loves me! Pervert! If that is God’s love then I want no part of it,” she grumbled.

In the middle of the night, she set fire to his church. Staying in the shadows, she went home and listened as emergency vehicles converged on the church.  The fire gutted the church and it was declared a total loss.

She had laughed and toasted the crime with a bottle of vodka. She slept like a baby that night.

She began hearing a voice in her head. Over and over it said, “Do it again. You won’t get caught. They are all a bunch of liars and hypocrites. God doesn’t love you. It’s all a lie.”

The next church was just as easy. It was an older, stick- frame building. It burned so fast that she almost didn’t get away because of how it illuminated the area.

The authorities put out a warning that an arsonist was burning churches. She accepted the challenge and two months later she torched another church. This time she was seen and almost didn’t get away.

She decided to lay low for a while. A year went by and the voice began talking to her again.

Now she was lying in bed, thinking about what she had done. Four churches in a year and a half she had burned. “Would there be more? She didn’t know why not. She reasoned the more the merrier.

She woke up to someone pounding on her door. Getting out of bed, she groggily went to the door. Opening it, she came face to face with two police officers.

“Polly Pinner?” one of them asked.

“Yes, can I help you?”

“You need to come with us.”

“Why?” she warily asked.

“They want to ask you some questions at the station.”

“Can I get dressed?"

“Yes, but hurry.”

At the station, they put her in an interrogation room. She sat there for what seemed like hours. Finally, a detective came in, sat down opposite her, and stared at her.

“Polly Pinner?”


“Where were you last night at approximately 1:30?”

“I was in bed. Why?”

“That’s strange. Your neighbor couldn’t sleep and was up getting something to eat. He said he saw you ride up on your bicycle. He watched as you put your bike in the garage. He said that you were dressed in black clothing. Curious, he opened the door and listened to you laughing when the fire truck went by. He said you rode in from the direction where the church that burned was. Would you explain this to me, please?”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” she answered.

“I think you do. Right now I have a squad searching your house. Will we find anything?”

Polly got very quiet. She knew her clothing was on the floor in the garage beside the bike.

“No answer? Let’s see what they find.”

He left the room and a couple of hours later he returned. He had a smug look on his face.

“We found your dark clothing beside your bike. The sleeve of your shirt reeks of gasoline and a book of matches was in your pants pocket. One had been torn out and was missing. Can you explain this?”

Polly just stared at him.

“Polly Pinner, I’m arresting you for arson.”

He read her her rights and locked her in a cell.

Settling back on the bunk, she smiled and thought to herself, “I did it! I may go to prison but there’s another church that won’t spread their lies.”

That afternoon, she heard footsteps coming down the cellblock aisle. She watched as a man stopped in front of her cell.

“Who are you?” she defiantly asked.

“I’m Randall Cross. I’m the pastor of the church you burned last night.”

“Go away! I don’t want you here!” she screamed while turning her back on him.

A couple of minutes passed and then he spoke, “May I ask why you did it?”

Polly ignored him.

“Please, I would really like to know.”


“Miss Pinner. I don’t know why you did it. But I want you to know that I forgive you.”

She couldn’t believe what she was hearing. She slowly turned and faced him.

“You forgive me? What kind of crap is that? How can you forgive me? I don’t understand.”

“Miss Pinner, God tells me that I must forgive you."

“I want nothing to do with you or your God!”

“May I ask why? Why are you so upset with God. He loves you.”

“I’ve heard that before! It’s a lie!”

“Why do you say that? Did something happen to you?”

Polly began to cry, “Go away.”

“Miss Pinner, will you talk to me? Will you tell me what happened?”

“No! I can’t!”

The pastor motioned for an officer to unlock the cell. He entered and approached her.

“Polly? It’s Polly, isn’t it?”

She nodded yes.

“Why are you so afraid? Has someone done something to you? Was it a member of the clergy?”

The look on her face told him all he needed to know.  He motioned for her to sit down beside him on the cot.

“Polly, I can help you if you will let me.”

She cringed away from him. He could tell she was terrified.

“Close your eyes and pretend I’m not here,” he said while taking her hands into his.

Startled, she began to pull away.

Lifting his face, he began to pray, “Father, I don’t know what happened but you do. I ask that you show her that she can trust me.”

He felt her body relax and she slumped against him.

“Polly, will you tell me?”

She nodded her head and began. With a trembling voice, she told him about the assistant pastor and what he had forced her to do.

“Oh, my Lord Jesus!” he gasped as she told him all the sordid details.

When she finished she began to cry.

“I know him. Did you burn his church?”

She nodded yes.

“Polly, I understand why you did it and I don’t condone it. But I do understand why. What he did was despicable.”

She just stared at him.

“Polly, I want you to know something. Believe it or not, God does love you. I mean He really loves you. Not like that pastor tried to portray. What he had was lust, not love. Do you believe me?”

“I want to. How do I know that you’re not like him?”

“Because I’m here. The Holy Spirit told me to come. If I was like him do you think I would be here? Do you think I would have said I forgive you?”

“Well, no, you probably wouldn’t.”

“Polly, are you sorry for what you did?”

“I think so,” she answered.

“There’s someone I’d like you to meet.”

“Who? I’ve heard that same offer before.”

“Someone who loves you very much.”

“Who loves me?”

“Polly, Jesus loves you. Would you like to meet Him?”

“Is He real?”

“Is He real? I can say beyond a shadow of a doubt that He is real.”

“Will He forgive me for what I have done?”

“All you have to do is ask Him.”

Polly went to her knees and began to pray what the pastor told her to pray. In that cell, Polly met Jesus. She gave her heart to Him and became His child.

The pastor took her into his arms and smiled, “Thank you, Lord, for sending me.”

“Polly, let me see what I can do to help you.”

“Why would you do that?” she asked.

“Because it’s the right thing to do. Let me talk to the detective.”

Later, Polly and the pastor met with the detective.

“I’m sorry for what happened to you,” said the detective. “But that was ten years ago and it’s your word against his.”

The pastor looked at her and nodded.

“It’s in God’s hands now. Be patient and see what He does.”

When her court hearing date arrived she stood before the judge.

“Young lady, what you did was wrong. It is a crime that in this society is unforgivable. What I find unbelievable is that the congregations you burned out have forgiven you. They have decided to not press charges. I have also been informed a senior pastor has resigned and has left town. You should be locked up for a long time. Under advisory, I am sentencing you to two years of community service. Do not come before me again!”

Polly was stunned. Outside the courtroom, the pastor was waiting for her.

”You did this, didn’t you?”

“The Lord and I did it. I talked to the other churches and told them what happened. They went to that pastor and demanded that he resign. His church was appalled. There was talk of pressing criminal charges against him. Wiser minds prevailed and he fled town. You have nothing to worry about from him. Insurance companies may sue you in order to reclaim the claims filed. That is another thing for the Lord to handle.”

“How can I ever thank you?” she asked.

“Come to church. Let people love you. Let God love you. That’s all I ask.”

“God does love me!”

“He always has and He always will.”

April 22, 2022