Drive by where Emmaus Mennonite Church used to be, and there’s a sign by the road — “The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away; Blessed be the name of the Lord.”


This story first appeared in the Jan. 23 edition of the Kansan.

Drive by where Emmaus Mennonite Church used to be, and there’s a sign by the road — “The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away; Blessed be the name of the Lord.”

The Lord took away Jan. 29, 2008, when the church’s then 85-year-old building burned to the ground.

“The old church burned so completely, there was nothing,” said Lester Busenitz, church member and now head of the church building committee. “I don’t think you could have found a five- foot section of two-by-four.”

Drive two miles south, and it can be seen how the Lord is giving. The foundation and plumbing work for a new church building is under way.

The new building, which will be more than 40,000 square feet, is being built by Fuqua Construction Inc.

The church has been meeting at Berean Academy for the last year, and will continue to meet at the Elbing school until construction of the new building is complete.

“To most of us, it’s not the building that keeps us together,” said member Twila Busenitz. “At first, meeting in a school was kind of difficult, the idea of not having our own building. But I think we have gotten used to being in a strange place and making do.”

Twila Busenitz is part of the church food committee and knows first hand some of the challenges that have come with the congregation not having a building of their own.

How to handle funerals, weddings and other events has been part of the challenge. Another large challenge came during the summer — Emmaus has always had a large summer Bible school program.

But those challenges have been met with help from the community. A Whitewater church offered their building, and Emmaus also made use of the middle school in Whitewater.

Kids were bussed in from Potwin, and according to church board member Richard Harder, the school was hardly big enough.

This summer nearly all the churches in Whitewater will cooperate for summer Bible school.

“We have really appreciated the community support,” Harder said. “It has brought us together. We will have a large Bible school next year. Teachers and staff from all of the churches will be a part of it. ... That wouldn’t have happened without the fire. This has brought the community together.”

The members of Emmaus have been counting their blessings in the face of last year’s tragedy — and not having a full-time minister on staff.

“The church didn’t burn, the building did,” Lester Busenitz said. “God has promised to build his church, and the gates of hell will not prevail against it. As we yield to him, the church will continue. It has been interesting as we have gone along as a church, and personally, seeing God at work.”

But make no mistake — the church will be changing.

Gone will be the old three-story building many grew up in. In its stead will be a one story building with a different sanctuary design, classrooms and fellowship hall.

It will be bigger —which is a needed change.

“We didn’t have enough room in the old building. We had a group of people that met in the basement and watched a closed-circuit television,” Hader said. “We were short on Sunday school rooms. We will have a building that more than meet our needs. We are oversizing a bit, it’s a building that we can grow into.”

It will be very different, and Lester Busentiz said that will be a good thing. He also said the planning process for a new building hasn’t been easy.

“Your ministries are limited by how your building is designed,” Lester Busenitz said. “You look at different options. The immediate response, some would like something just like the old one. That is pretty hard to do. The architecture of the old building would be hard to duplicate.”

Preparation of the site began near the end of 2008, with footings for the foundation now being added along with all of the under-the-floor plumbing and duct work.

No one knows exactly when the new place will be ready for the congregation to start having worship services — that’s up to the weather. Harder said to expect the process to take a year.

“We have a long haul, it’s hard to imagine but we have a ways to go,” Lester Busenitz added. “You come up against insurmountable things that loom in front of you and there is nothing that will move it — it looks like a big mountain. You give it to God and say ‘this is your project and if it’s going to fly, we need your leadership.’ Sometimes we don’t see the silver lining of something like this on this side of eternity.”

Despite the challenges, Lester Busenitz said there is hope for a bright future.

“With God there is (hope), with man alone there isn’t,” he said.