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A $1,000 Reward Offered For Return Of Stolen Sonora Church Historical Records

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Sonora, CA – Thieves must have got a surprise when they opened a safe stolen from an East Sonora church this week, as inside was nothing of monetary value but, instead, enormous historical value to the congregation.

It was sometime between 7 p.m. Sunday night and 8 a.m. on Monday that the break-in happened at The Journey Church on Mono Way, recounts Pastor Randy Ehle.

“Somebody got in through a back window. Jimmied the lock, cut through the screen and took the screen out, and was able to open up the window.”

The thieves stole a laptop, worth around $1,000, from the sound booth, and then a safe from the pastor’s office.

“Behind a couch in my office, we had a safe that was about a 20 inch by 20-inch cube. It’s a beast to carry,” describes Pastor Ehle. “They didn’t go back out the window they went through the back door that was found open. The thieves put the safe into our Waste Management trashcan and wheeled it down to a lower part of our parking lot where presumably they had something more than a bicycle to carry it off.”

The burglars also pried open a key box and took all but two of the keys, requiring the church to spend over $1,000 to have the building locks changed. While insurance will pay for those losses, Pastor Ehle says some of the contents in the safe are irreplaceable. He is referring to two hand-written, ledger style, hardbound books dating back to the beginning of the church. “The history of The Journey Church is part of the history of Sonora,” says Pastor Ehle. Below is a scan of the first page of one of the books.

First page of one of the two books taken from the Journey Church in Sonora
Courtesy: Pastor Randy Ehle

They are a recording of some of the 160-year-old history of the church, founded in 1857. The Journey Church was the first Baptist Church in Sonora and believed to be the second oldest church in the Mother Lode that has been in continuous existence, according to Pastor Ehle, who provided a brief history of the church here. Contained on the book’s pages are church meetings and offerings of its first half-century.

Hearing of the theft, Criminal Defense Attorney Charles B. Smith offered up a plan to possibly get the Gold-Rush era documents back.

“When we heard about this loss, our hearts were sick and we knew we had to help however we could,” stated Mary Smith, Charles’ wife, and legal assistant.

Smith’s plan is to offer a $1,000 reward for irreplaceable books. He has put up $500 of his own money and the church is matching that amount, thanks to a grant from the Sonora Area Foundation. Smith is also offering to be a confidential consultation for whomever returns the documents, under the protection of attorney-client privilege.

“More than likely, whoever lugged off that safe probably did not expect that the only things in it are a bunch of old documents,” surmises Pastor Ehle. “So, either whoever took it might be able to take advantage of the confidentiality, or somebody else could find these documents on the side of the road if the thieves ditched them.”

The reward will be paid upon return of the documents and verification by officials of The Journey Church. To arrange a consultation, call, or text Smith’s office cell phone at (650)-401-3661.

Pastor Ehle knows exactly what he will do if by some miracle they get the documents back, “One of the first things I’m going to do is talk to the historical society and get those books in the hand of the people who really need and want to know the history, so there not just sitting in a safe.”

Pastor Ehle also shares that all the pages will be scanned and saved on a computer, not just the first page. He adds, “My biggest prayer in looking for the return of the documents is that people in the community will know that people are praying, will hear that the documents are found, will connect the prayers to their return and will seek the God who answers prayer. Whether they seek him here through the Journey Church or any of the dozen or more other churches in the community that’s my hope.”