A Hempstead church known for its heartfelt second-chance ministry lost nearly all of its musical equipment to burglars early Friday -- one day before a planned gospel concert fundraiser.
The theft left leaders and congregants at Judea United Baptist Church shaken.
"We're really hurt," said church elder Joseph Collins, 43, of Glen Cove. "It's hard to believe someone would do this to a place of worship. Our music means so much to us."
The burglars made off with about $16,000 worth of instruments and audio gear, and also left a path of destruction: breaking down several doors, smashing a window and trashing the pastor's office, church leaders said.
Hempstead police are investigating the break-in, which happened between late Thursday night and 9:30 a.m. Friday.
Church officials believe the thieves entered through a basement door, then went room to room searching for valuables. At one point, they broke down a bathroom door and the door to the audio control room, where they carted off a new sound board worth at least $4,000.
They also smashed open the door to Pastor Lynnwood Deans' office, rifling through shelves and overturning furniture.
"It's painful," Deans said. "All we want to do is help people and yet someone hurt us."
From the main chapel stage, the burglars stole another sound board, two electric pianos worth $3,000 to $4,000 apiece, a pair of amplifiers and assorted audio equipment, he said.
Judea United Baptist, with a 70-member core congregation, was founded in Bayside, Queens, in 1978. The church moved to 83 Greenwich St. in Hempstead about 15 years ago.
Besides its rousing gospel music, the church has been praised for outreach efforts targeting gang members and drug addicts looking to turn their lives around, as well as helping at-risk youths, the hungry and the unemployed.
"This is a major setback for us," Deacon Charles Renfroe, 69, said of the burglary. "It hurts even more because we're a church that reaches out and helps people in the community. We feed people, we help people, we are here for them. So this impacts everyone."
No arrests had been made late Friday night, police said.
Deans suspects someone the church helped in the past may be responsible. "This is a violation of our house of worship," he said. "I take that to heart."
Church leaders vowed to host the long-planned Gospel Supper Club concert as scheduled -- from 3 to 6 p.m. Saturday. They were scrambling Friday night to line up borrowed pianos, amplifiers and sound boards.
About 200 people are expected to attend the show, which will feature several gospel singers and a comedian, Renfroe said. Tickets cost $30, but the proceeds -- previously earmarked for a new sign out front -- will instead help the church recover from the burglary while an insurance claim is pending.
"This is a tough day for us," Deans said. "But it won't deter us. The music will go on."