While college students from the Midwest headed for the sunny beaches of Florida for spring break last week, a group of students from Southeastern University headed north to Kewanee to help build a new church.
The seven-member team from Lakeland, Fla., spent a week at the Kewanee House of Prayer, a new congregation which now meets weekly in the former Furniture Country building in the 100 block of North Main Street.
The complex of three attached buildings, including the historic Redmen building, built in 1907 and at one time Kewanee’s largest fraternal lodge, was purchased at auction last January by pastor Jesus Bermudez and his wife Liz.
The move was a fulfillment of a dream the couple felt led to fulfill by their faith.
Since then, the smaller north storefront has since been made into a comfortable meeting room for worship services and a nursery. A second-floor apartment is now occupied and Bermudez said long-range goals are to convert the larger south building into a first-floor sanctuary and living quarters on the second floor. The middle Redmen building will be an area for meetings, gatherings and other activities.
The House of Prayer has had several locations in Kewanee, but the Bermudez’ were drawn to the current location by the possibilities they saw for their calling to serve the community’s spiritual and earthly needs.
Bermudez said one “sign” was the iconic, 8-foot-tall stone Indian chief statue mounted on the front of the Redmen building by its original occupants. Leading up to last year’s Super Bowl game between the Kansas City Chiefs and San Francisco 49ers, it was reported that Kansas City minister Bob Jones had predicted in the early 2000s that if the Chiefs ever won the Super Bowl there would be a revival in America, with God rallying his apostolic “chiefs” to spread the gospel.
Jones died in 2014 but his prophecy resurfaced before last year’s game.
“I’m a 49ers fan” said Bermudez with a smile, “and I had to think about it (the prophecy), but when we saw the statue of the Indian chief on the front of the building we had looked at buying, I thought it was a sign.”
So they purchased the property in January of 2020 and announced their plans to convert it into a “House of Prayer.”
The cleanup crew from SEU came to Kewanee by way of Calvary Church, an affiliate of the Assembly of God, in Naperville, Ill., Three years ago, a team from the church spent time in Kewanee remodeling the sanctuary of Encounter Church Assembly of God, 130 E. McClure St.
When SEU student Kevin Krienitz and his Florida teammates decided to spend spring break helping rather than partying, they chose Illinois. He contacted his grandmother, Wanda Burgund, the pastor in charge of missions projects at Calvary.
Going back to their previous connection, she reached out to Pastor Stephen McGough at Encounter and he put them in touch with Bermudez and the House of Prayer where he knew they could use such a team. The students and Burgund stayed in the house on the 40-acre farm on Osceola Road, east of Kewanee, which she and her husband Mark, also a pastor at Cavalry, purchased several years ago.
In addition to their home-away-from home, they have used it for retreats and other mission-related projects. Mrs. Burgund said they have enjoyed becoming part-time residents of the Kewanee community.
Krienitz, team co-leader with Hannah Johnston, said they all had to test negative for COVID-19 three days before they left Florida and took their temperatures every day while here. Masks were worn at all times and due to the small size of the group they were able to socially distance in the 34,000-square-feet of space. Their time was spent sweeping floors, painting walls and sorting through piles of items left in the buildings. Some items were sold, some donated to the Salvation Army, and the rest thrown away. Six of the students are from Florida. The seventh, Kailey Walck, lives in Sanborn, N.Y. With pandemic restrictions limiting things to do in Kewanee in their downtime, the students were able to experience some “local flavor,” including a socially distanced tour of Good’s Furniture; a visit to CoCo’s, the new coffee and cookies shop on West Third Street; and picked up popcorn-to-go from Bud Johnson at the Wanee Theater. They attended the weekly prayer meeting at their host church and helped sort clothing for an upcoming yard sale at Encounter Church. They also took notice of the Walldogs murals downtown and showed a keen interest in the story behind the statue of the Indian chief told by a local historian.
The team left for home Friday afternoon. A group from the Naperville church is here this week working on projects at The House of Prayer and a smaller project at Encounter Church. The Calvary team will be special guests at a Pizza and Worship Night for high school and college students at 7 p.m. Friday night at Encounter Church. The free event will include music and is open to the community.