After an evangelical church under construction was burned down in the heavily Catholic town of El Quinche, church leaders have intensified their efforts to defuse tensions between religious groups.

"There are continual threats in the town," says missionary Kevin Mayfield, field director for the Saint Louis-based Berean Mission in Ecuador. "Many people are very agitated."

A large mob set fire to the Berean-related Evangelical Church of the Good Shepherd on March 2, causing an estimated $40,000 damage.

El Quinche is a Roman Catholic stronghold 25 miles northeast of the capital, Quito. A large basilica several blocks from the evangelical church is the site of a reported visit by the Virgin Mary and a popular destination for pilgrims seeking healing.

The burning led to an unprecedented statement by Ecuadorian Roman Catholic and Protestant church officials. "We lament and reject this violent act provoked by false religious motivations," leaders said. "It is not only against the commandment to love, but also against human rights and constitutional rights of freedom of worship recognized in the Ecuadorian constitution."

Despite being concerned about another attack, Mayfield is optimistic. He says several people have made professions of faith since the incident.

As soon as legal hurdles are cleared, the mission will start to rebuild the burned-out church building.

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