In October of 2003, tragedy reached Candlewood Church with the death of Jordan Whitney, 15, son of Rodd and Melissa Whitney. As the family remembered the life of Jordan, they desired to continue Jordan’s legacy of having a tremendous loving heart for people and for the Lord, which led to the conversion of a one-story, 1,500-square-foot metal shed into a living memorial for Jordan. They envisioned a ministry center for Candlewood Church with the hope that its use would impact people’s lives, much like Jordan had during his time on this earth.
With a name in mind, “Jordan’s Place,” and an official dedication on Memorial Day 2004, work began the following months after the purchase. The shed needed much work to transform it into a year-round meeting place, but the church’s 125 members donated their time and resources to make the vision a reality. “I remember the many Saturdays I would come on my own to help with JP’s construction at the beginning,” Vao Yang, who was a member of the church’s college ministry, The Rock, recalled. Shane Unger, who is now one of Candlewood’s pastors, was also a young college student in 2003-2004 when he helped with the construction of Jordan’s Place, converting it into a place of worship and celebration. “It was the first service project I ever worked on with Candlewood,” he said. “I met Jordan Whitney only a few times over the weeks that I knew him, but it was evident that Jordan’s Place reflected his heart to be about and be for God’s people of Candlewood Church,” Shane added.
The development was also a source of healing. “Being able to work on the building on the weekends and evenings together with the saints was a bonding experience, and one that helped, I believe, many people from feelings of grief to joy and pride in seeing the building become what it did,” said Jacob Whitney, Jordan’s cousin.
As important as the transformation of the shed into Jordan’s Place was for Candlewood, its purpose was what touched Josie Nelson (Whitney). “Candlewood Church gave my family a special gift in naming the building after my brother, and I think of refuge when I think of Jordan’s Place. I was a little girl who had just lost her brother. I was broken and shaken, but Jordan’s Place represents to me what has happened in my life since then. Jordan’s Place started out as just the bare bones of a building. It needed a lot of work just like I did. The church banded around my family during this time and put their time and energy into us. The church loved us and cared for us, stepping up to meet vital roles in my family’s lives. Slowly but surely I have mended, and I am able to fulfill my daily role that God has given me, just like Jordan’s Place.”
Over the years, Jordan’s Place became to be simply known as “JP’s,” becoming a gathering spot for ministries, meetings, picnics, baptisms, prayer nights, retreats, fall festivals, classes, even bridal showers, rehearsal dinners, and weddings. The Rock, whose main mission field was the University of Nebraska at Omaha, would carpool for the 30-minute drive for special events such as appreciation nights, sleepovers, and dances. “It was the first spot of my beginning to hang out with The Rock on the comfy couches around the pool tables, and was always our go-to as the best place for all-night prayer meetings away from distractions,” said Sarah VanRaden.
With every gathering, JP’s was impacting people’s lives. Vao Yang remembers how significant the time and effort of the initial construction had been. “It was worth it because we have seen so many salvations through the functions that have taken place there,” he said. Nathan Hotz, who first came to Candlewood as a college student, thinks of JP’s as “a place as of healing, teaching, growing, and whether directly or indirectly, has affected everyone in our church.”
All one has to do is ask anyone in Candlewood about Jordan’s Place, and the memories run vividly through their minds. Many can share about the day they were baptized at JP’s. Others can remember the times of fellowship and laughter. “I enjoyed all the dancing we’ve done there,” said Dexter Nordhues, lightheartedly. Some can think back to the nights they spent in prayer there or got away alone to spend time with the Lord.
Simply, the more people spent time at JP’s, the more it grew on them. As Sarah VanRaden explained, “JP’s will always have a really special place in my heart. It has been the spot of so many different shared events and experiences with my Candlewood family. It has been the spot for long conversations, beautiful views of God’s sunset creations, the quiet place in the country to refocus, and the gathering place of believers where God is always good to remind me that I am not alone in living for Him. I’m so thankful for our family of believers, and how we have had the perfect place to gather together so often over the years.”
With a new chapter in Candlewood’s history with the purchase of a new building in Omaha, JP’s has been sold. We praise God for how He has used it as a place of refuge and encouragement for so many years, and we are thankful that God will continue to move in people’s lives in our new permanent location. While we will miss the frequent trips to Jordan’s Place, we remember that God’s church (and Jordan’s heart) was and is about people, not buildings, and we’re thankful that will never change.
“Those who sow with tears will reap with songs of joy.” – Psalm 126:5
“Yes, the LORD has done amazing things for us! What joy!” – Ps 126:3