Malik Waliyani arrived at his store last week to find the registers damaged, items stolen and an undetermined amount of cash gone.
Waliyani, who bought the gas station and convenience store three months ago, was devastated.
Insurance probably wouldn’t cover all of his losses.
Then help arrived from an unexpected source.
A member of nearby Smoke Rise Baptist Church heard about the burglary on social media and rallied others in the congregation.
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So, after services on Sunday, dozens of members arrived by van, truck and car at the TruBuy BP station on Lilburn-Stone Mountain Road.
They filled up their tanks. They bought candy, soda and chips. One woman bought a candy bar then pushed her change back across the counter.
Jim and Carole Still of Stone Mountain spent $36 in gas and also bought a Diet Coke.
“He’s our neighbor and we came to help,” said Carole Still. Her husband said he drove around until the gas tank was nearly empty so he could fill up at Waliyani’s store.
“Amazing,” said Waliyani, an Ismaili Muslim who was born in India but has lived in Georgia for about a dozen years. “I couldn’t believe that I would be accepted so greatly by the neighbors and the community around me. They stood by me in my difficult time, and it gives me hope to rise again.”
This is the second time Waliyani has been victimized. In 2012, he was robbed at gunpoint while helping in his uncle’s Norcross store.
The Rev. Chris George, senior pastor of Smoke Rise, which has about 1,800 active members, said the business has been a convenient stop for church members.
The congregation wanted to do something “more than send cards and offer prayers.”
What if the church also offered support in a more tangible way?
“We wanted to be a congregation that is committed to being a good neighbor,” he said.
The burglary happened in the early morning hours of July 11. Masked thieves broke in through an emergency door. When Waliyani arrived at the store later that day, the area behind the counter was a mess. They knocked down the whole counter and ripped out the electrical connections.
“It seems like they knew exactly what to do and they didn’t want to spend any extra seconds (in the store),” he said.
For the past few days, Waliyani had to dig deep into his pockets to have cash on hand for business and to restock merchandise. Video of the incident has been turned over to police.
He is just thankful that it happened when no one was in the store.
He said another church has also offered to help his business.
Some people have offered to help Waliyani, who is married with a young child, with his mortgage and other expenses.
“Of course, I feel very wonderful,” he said. “This will keep me strong, God willing. My faith teaches me that we should build bridges. Even if we follow different religions, we are all human beings.”