MAPLETON, Iowa | Travis Kaufman, a native of Scottsbluff and western Nebraska his whole life, visited Mapleton, Iowa, for a relative's graduation ceremony in May 2013. Naturally, he was asked that weekend if he'd lead services at Faith Bible Church, a non-denominational church that didn't have a pastor.
It's the kind of request you get when you've been a youth pastor for more than a decade.
After the service, one of the church members asked Kaufman if he'd like an application to become pastor at Faith Bible.
Kaufman politely declined. "At that point, I was pretty certain I was supposed to be in Scottsbluff," said Kaufman, who served Monument Bible Church in the far western Nebraska city of 15,039 people.
The question, however, persisted in the back of Kaufman's mind. So did the vision of Faith Bible Church members working at that time to renovate Mapleton's old National Guard Armory, which had been vacated, into their new digs, replacing an old church site on Main Street. The little church was looking ahead, taking a leap of faith without a pastor.
"I went home and for a year God worked on my heart," Kaufman said. He visited with his wife, Evie, a native of Utah, about the possibility of one day moving to Iowa with their five young children. They didn't act on the notion, though. The application remained unsent.
In the summer of 2014, Travis Kaufman traveled again to Iowa, this time for the graduation of another relative in Greenfield, Iowa. Following the ceremony, Kaufman, who trekked solo this time, headed north for a swing through Mapleton. He was curious to see the progress the church was making on its new site in the 1949 Armory.
"I basically had a conversation between myself and the Lord," Kaufman recalled. "I said that if someone brought up the pastoral position in my short visit there, I'd take that as confirmation to proceed."
Someone asked, just seconds before Kaufman hopped in his car to leave town. "Have you thought about filling out that application?" a church member inquired.
Kaufman drove home, traversing 462 land miles and that many more in his head. He picked up the application and sent it. He and Evie and the family made a return trip, an 8.5-hour drive one way, and he conducted a Sunday worship service in October 2014. Faith Bible Church members then voted on his application.
"It was unanimous," Kaufman said. "And we were headed to Mapleton."
Two weeks ago, Kaufman, who started as pastor here in February 2015, led the congregation in an open house to formally dedicate the Armory as the new Faith Bible Church on Sioux Street. The old building, which barely had space for 60 church-goers, is now for sale. The new site, which features stained glass windows from the original church, can welcome 120 attendees in an expanse of 12,000 square feet. It might be the only church in Iowa that has an old ammunition vault.
"We weren't moving to Iowa to live out the retirement dream," Kaufman joked. "We felt connected here. I just felt like the Lord was moving me on to something different."
And so today, Travis Kaufman, 34, will join Evie and their five children in hosting a Thanksgiving meal for their family and relatives from Glenwood, Iowa. For one festive day, Travis will set aside the new church and his responsibilities. He'll idle the hammer he has used in bringing the old home he and Evie purchased up to date. He said he likes to see progress on their home, tangible makers easily seen, a contrast to ministerial outcomes, which aren't always readily evident.
"We do feel welcome here," he said. "The community, the church, they've been wonderful."
And so the Nebraska transplant gives thanks and passes the turkey. On Friday, he'll return to his Cornhusker roots, if only before a TV as Nebraska tackles Iowa in their annual football rivalry.
You can take a Husker out of Nebraska, I suppose, but you can't take the Nebraska out of a Husker.
"We love being here, even though it's in Iowa," he said with a laugh. "It is a must for us to dress in red come Friday."