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THE MIRACLE OF MANNHEIM
Rhein River Baptist Church 1985–2012
By Tom Lancaster
“Are you prepared to deal with the constant turnover of personnel in a military
church?” That was the question posed to us when Dottie and I were praying about going to
Germany to serve our U.S. military through a small church in Bobenheim-Roxheim, Germany. I
confidently said, “Yes,” not having any idea what that question really meant or how difficult the
reality of it would be. However, Dottie and I had perfect peace that God was calling us to serve
this little military church near our US base in the city of Mannheim, Germany. Rhein River
Baptist Church was getting ready to close if they did not get a pastor immediately, so we did what
we do not recommend to young missionaries to do today—we went woefully undersupported.
The little church had an apartment. With the money we had raised from selling all of our earthly
possessions, we had a little cushion to live on for a few months. On the first Sunday we arrived
in August 1992, there were approximately 20 people in attendance. Because of hard work and
God’s anointing, the church was averaging over 300 by the end of our first year. To say we were
packed like sardines is an understatement! Early on, we established what was to be the lifeline
of Rhein River Baptist Church: the preaching of the Gospel; the emphasizing of worldwide mis-
sions; and the constant training of soul winners, teachers, and workers. Those early days were
exciting as fired-up soldiers and families spread out each Saturday over our area bases to knock
on doors and pass out flyers for “Operation Saturation.” God rewarded our efforts and we saw a steady stream of soldiers, their families,
and even nationals come to know Christ as their Savior.
In our third year on the field, it became obvious that we had to have a larger building. We then contracted to occupy an old car garage
and showroom in the city of Mannheim, Germany. In the meantime, the difficult nature of a military ministry became a reality—within
90 days we lost approximately 150 soldiers and their families as an entire brigade was transferred to the States! Every Sunday night for
three months we had soldiers and their families lined up across the front of the church as we cried and sang “We’ll Never Say Goodbye
in Glory” and sent them on their way to a new duty station. We soon discovered that “NO!!,” humanly speaking, we were not prepared
to deal with the turnover of personnel in a military church. Dottie and I both told the Lord we must have His help if this were the way it
would be going forward. God did help us! We soon were able to see our turnovers, not as losses but as another way to send the Gospel
to the four corners of the earth through our wonderful military families.
There were some challenges in losing so many people so quickly, but we proceeded to move to our new building in Mannheim, Germa-
ny. Our new church building needed much work, but it was in a million dollar location—a stone’s throw from our largest military base
housing. For over 20 years, we continued our emphasis on preaching, missions, soul winning, teaching, and disciplining. Throughout
those 20 plus years and at various times, we were blessed to have an outstanding ministry team to help us serve those amazing soldiers
and their families in the Mannheim, Germany, area. God used His servants Larry and Phyllis Simensen, John and LeeEtta Hornbeck,
Chuck and Linda Truitt, and Mark and Julie Lancaster to help us in church planting, teaching, music, the Single’s Center, military con-
finement center, discipleship, and Faith Bible Institute. The church records show that over 1,500 decisions were made for Christ dur-
ing those 20 years. We saw over 40 people surrender to full-time Christian service as pastors, missionaries, and Christian educators.
God gave us two special ministries that we never planned for or expected to have when we went to the field. One was a ministry that God
laid on Dottie’s heart, the annual Euro-Wide Ladies’ Retreat, a ministry to military and missionary wives in Europe. A sister military
church joined hands with us to sponsor this annual retreat and for over 17 years, and still today, it was and is greatly used to strengthen
and refresh women. Dottie continues to hear from women today who say how the retreat blessed their lives. Another unexpected minis-
try was a ministry of encouragement to missionaries in Europe. In 1994 God allowed our church to be a help and an encouragement to a
missionary family serving in the Republic of Georgia. They had suffered great persecution and desperately needed a break. Our church
took them in, loved on them, and encouraged them, and they returned to their field refreshed. My thought was, “Why can’t we do this
for many missionary families serving in Europe?” Therefore, the annual Missionary Christmas Retreat was born. At our first retreat
we had approximately 70 missionaries who were within easy driving distance of our church. At the last retreat before our base closed,
we had over 300 missionaries and their families coming from a dozen different countries as far away as Russia. Through the sacrificial
giving of our people, we were able to give free lodging and meals to all the missionaries who came. On several occasions over the years,
a missionary couple would tell me that they had been discouraged to the point of leaving the field, but the retreat and interaction with
other missionaries had encouraged them to go on. God grew our people and increased their love for missions and missionaries as they
poured their hearts into helping with these special projects.
Perhaps one of the greatest “Miracles of Mannheim” was the missions program. For a little military church that rarely averaged over
200 members, God chose to allow us to support over 130 missionaries around the world. For the last several years before our base
closed, our missionary budget was well over $200,000 a year!
In August 2012 our base officially closed, and Dottie and I headed back to the States to begin a broader ministry to our US military
through BIMI. We left a little piece of our hearts at that old car garage and showroom, but the people whose lives were changed are all
over the world now. Every other year we gather for a Rhein River Reunion in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee. What a blessed time it is as we
remember Rhein River Baptist Church, THE MIRACLE OF MANNHEIM!