We are at a little over six weeks until we begin celebrating our 75th anniversary as a church. As we invest time in looking back, my hope is that it will encourage us as we also move forward.
With that aim, I would like to share a letter that was found by our History Team from Koven Smith. He was the pastor who helped establish our church on May 12, 1944. The letter is dated February 12, 1971, and is the response to an inquiry about Kossuth's history up to that date. I trust you will enjoy the read as you get a taste of the early days of our church.
Dear Sister in Christ:
We were very glad to receive your letter and we hope that we will be able to answer some of the facts about the founding of Kossuth Street Church. We spent about 4 years at Americus Church (about 1940 to 1944). I was ordained November 12th 1940 at Riverside Baptist Church in Decatur, IL. I can’t remember exactly all the dates. This church was closed and we had to persuade a Mrs. Floyd to let us open it up. Mrs. Floyd (now dead) was a great help and a blessing to us. We had the joy of leading many souls to know Jesus Christ. Mr. Dexter took over after we left. We stayed at Americus about 4 years.
We felt the leading of the Lord to find a location in Lafayette. When riding around the city we saw a grocery store and a Tavern combined, that was for rent. We sat out in front of this building several nights and prayed about whether it was God’s will for us to try and start a church at this place. Finally one afternoon I visited the owner of the store, a Mr. Wertz, and tried to rent half of the building, as I did not think I could finance the project alone, but Mr. Wertz said that the whole building had to be rented together.
So I talked to a man who worked near me, by the name of Garrett Dunnewold and he said he would help me finance the rent and the expenses of opening up the store and turning it into a church. So we rented the building. The basement was littered with beer bottles and etc. The place surely needed cleaning. Mrs. Dunnewold and my wife, would take their lunch and go out to the building and work all morning, or until about 2 P.M. Then would put on clean clothes and go out into the neighborhood calling and telling folks around that a church was going to be started on the corner, and inviting them to come. This was a wonderful work by these two women.
We had some of the men of the Monon Shops help us build benches in the evenings. We bought a second hand piano and a pulpit at an auction sale. After several weeks we had a place to hold meetings, Sunday morning Sunday School and Preaching service. “Oh what spiritual joy filled our hearts”. The Lord was mighty in power, we were really filled with the Spirit of God. At first we chose the name of “The Berean Bapt. Church”. Souls were being saved and attendance was increasing. Then we voted to organize the Christians into a church. I think we had 12 members (Mrs. Nice check this with Jones or Herr). Mr. & Mrs. Werts (catholics) were regular in attendance and were later saved. We changed the name to “Kossuth St. Bapt. Church” and then united in fellowship with the General Association of Regular Baptists. Pastors of several G.A.R.B. churches and Dr. Ketchum attended the services when we united with the G.A.R.B.
One day, about two years later, Mr. Wertz came to the Pastor and said that 2 other church groups wanted to buy the property and he said he wanted to give us 1st choice. I told him I did not know whether we could raise the money but I asked him to give us a certain time limit (a couple of weeks I think).
The next Sunday morning it was announced to the congregation about buying. That Sunday night there was a check for $200 placed in the offering. The Pastor said that he would give $200 also. Then Mr. Dunnewold also said the same and several other Christian members did the same, and we raised the needed amount of cash as down payment.
The Holy Spirit was the mighty power in our little church. No one was getting any salary, all the collections were used to run the church and pay off the debt on the building. Souls were being saved and many wonderful Bible believing Christians united with the church. There was no ill feelings among the members; all had one purpose, “to serve the Lord” and God really blessed the church, adding many to our number. We were forced to build a baptistery in back of the church and many were baptized. We had been refused the use of the baptistery in one of the large churches. Several women who were in their “70’s” were baptized, not that water baptism had any saving power, but it was an answer of good conscience towards God. I am now 76 years old. The Lord has given me many Spiritual blessings in my Christian service, but the early years of the Kossuth St. Church were the greatest spiritual blessings in my life. He gave me some of the finest men that I ever worked with. But God had other men to come to do their part and I pray that He will continue to bless the Kossuth St. Bapt. Church.
Psm. 119:33 – “Order my steps in thy word and let not any iniquity have dominion over me”.
Psm. 92: 13 & 14 “Those that be planted in the house of the Lord shall flourish in the courts of our God; They shall be fat & flourishing”.
Eph. 1:6 – “wherein He hath made us accepted in the beloved.”
Signed: Koven J. Smith
I baptized 86 members of the Kossuth St. Church