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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!
By Sammy Popwell
My wife, Joan, and I have been serving with Baptist International Missions, Inc. (BIMI), for over 30 years.
Before joining BIMI, I served in the Marine Corps for 20 years. We were sent to Okinawa, Japan, in 1976.
Maranatha Baptist Church is where I rededicated my life to the Lord. It was at Maranatha that our oldest
daughter was saved during Vacation Bible School in 1977. We were active in the bus ministry until we
rotated in June 1979, and we were assigned to Hawaii for a three-year tour.
God started dealing with me about being a missionary. In March 1980, I surrendered to do whatever
God wanted me to do. I retired from the Marine Corps in July 1985 and enrolled in Tennessee Temple
University as a missions major. Upon completing my studies, my wife and I were accepted as missionaries
with BIMI. We have served in churches in Mississippi, Puerto Rico, and Misawa, Japan. Due to my
health needs, we had to leave Misawa, Japan; however, we were given the opportunity to continue to serve
the Lord through the Assistance and Relief Missionary (ARM Personnel) ministry of BIMI.
In September 2016, Joan and I were asked to go to Maranatha Baptist Church in Okinawa, Japan. It was hard to believe that after
40 years I was going to get the privilege to serve in the ministry where the journey had begun so long ago! This was the highlight of
a 30-year path.
Maranatha Baptist Church has many areas of ministry in which to serve. Some are the Faith Bible Institute, Christian school, Singles
ministry, Music program, Outreach ministry, and Youth ministry. There are great opportunities for military families to get involved
What a blessing to see young men and women saved almost weekly! The church saw good growth through the Sunday school and
our outreach programs. We made many friends who will last a lifetime. Maranatha was a home away from home for many young
military people. We had families that would prepare home cooked meals on Sunday for the single and unaccompanied. It was such a
blessing to have lunch with these young men and women and to get to know where they were from and what their goals were for life.
It was amazing to see the level of commitment they had to our great country.
We had two church picnics where we had games, food, and a wonderful time. It was a time to get away from the daily routine of
working very long hours in rough conditions. The competition was fierce among the different services, but they were all one team
when it came to being a committed force.
Maranatha Baptist Church also had a great group of young teachers from the Philippines who taught at the International school.
Many of them had to leave their homes and families so they could provide for their children, and they would stay in Okinawa for
several years. These young people truly loved the Lord. Their commitment was “second to none.” If a new teacher would come, these
ladies would make sure they were saved. If not, they would work on them until they were saved!
It is our desire to be used of God by working with the U.S. Military under the ARM ministry of BIMI. We plan to stay busy promoting
missions through the local church, filling in for missionaries who need short-term furloughs, helping new missionaries get to the
field, and being used however we are needed.
We need to stay available. One never knows what opportunities God has for us.
Faith Baptist Church
Where Christ Is Preeminent
By Brandyn Knight
And he is before all things, and by him all things consist. And he is the head of the body, the church:
who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead; that in ALL THINGS he might have the preemi-
nence (Colossians 1:17–18 emphasis added).
God called my wife, Alicia, and me and our two children,
Dawsyn and Gavin, to military missions before we had ever heard of the small, yet rapidly
expanding town of Iwakuni, Japan. It is uncanny how the Lord works. As I meditate on the
verses above, I think of the burden that God deposited within my heart back in 2011 when
He called us to military missions. No matter where God called my family and no matter how
prominent or seemingly insignificant the work when others looked at that ministry, they
would see the hand of God and not the hands of the Knight family.
Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni is a base with a rapidly growing prominence in the Pacific
theater. Numerous marines and sailors arrive to meet the demands of such a place. With
them often come their families, who stay anywhere from 18 months to 3 years. No doubt
someone would look at the numbers, as I have many times, and think that a ministry like
Faith Baptist Church (FBC), planted in 1982, would be primed for a unique opportunity to
minister to so many lost and needy souls. One would be right. On paper, it just makes sense.
Yet, we have learned that before God can truly use a people, before we can truly see God do
a LASTING work in the hearts and lives of a multitude, He first desires to purify the vessels.
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