By Richie Ramos

SONORA (CBS13) – Historic Gold Rush-era documents stolen from a Sonora church back in October have been returned.

Pastor Randy Ehle, of The Journey Church, said the documents – some of which document the beginnings of what is believed to be the second-oldest church in the area – showed evidence of sun and rain damage but were all mostly readable and intact.

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The documents included a scrapbook with old photos, news clippings and stories from the first 130 years of the church’s history, Ehle said.

Charles B. Smith, a criminal defense attorney, facilitated the return of the documents after a small bundle of documents were pushed under his office door last week with a note detailing how to contact the finder, Ehle said in a news release.

Prior to receiving the note, Smith had learned of the theft through social media and offered a $500 reward and the confidentiality of attorney-client privilege to whoever stole the documents from the church.

Ehle said he was contacted by Smith and was able to confirm the validity of the small bundle of the documents. Arrangements then began to retrieve the remaining stolen documents.

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“I have to confess,” Ehle said. “I had all but given up on ever seeing those historical records again. I think for me, this is another reminder that God answers prayer, and that he cares even about things that may not seem to have eternal significance. I always need that reminder.”

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A box of all the remaining documents was returned to the church on Friday.

Ehle said that although the full story of how the documents were found and returned cannot be told yet, Smith assured with confidence the $500 reward money would be put to good use.

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“I had a long conversation with him,” Mr. Smith said of the unnamed person who returned the documents. “He told me that in other circumstances he wouldn’t even have bothered with the reward, but with all that’s happening in our community now, the money would allow him to help some others.”