At first glance, the numbers don’t compute.
Before COVID-19, the small church in northern Indiana averaged 80 in worship attendance. Since restarting in-person meetings, that number is around 30 or 35, at the most. When the economy suffered, so did the church budget.
But Plymouth Baptist Church remained focused on its mission. It’s the mission highlighted at the 2016 North American Mission Board Send Luncheon which proclaimed that, whatever the situation, every church can be on a mission to impact the world for the gospel.
And it’s the mission that led Plymouth Baptist to collect $3,500 on three separate occasions to start and continue a movement for more than 1,000 evangelistic pastors on the other side of the world.
There was no mention of Pakistan when Pastor Clark Harless, his wife, Rachelle, and their daughter, Kennedy, joined NAMB President Kevin Ezell on stage in St Louis in 2016. The occasion centered around Plymouth’s outreach efforts through its Community Changers ministry. However, within a few months, that nation, where 97% claim to be Muslim, came to the church’s attention.
Executive pastor Doug Dieterly is a retired lawyer who served alongside his wife, Debra, as Baptist Collegiate Ministry directors at the University of Notre Dame for 15 years. He is also one of the two volunteer ministry staff at the church.
“In the late summer of 2016 we met for our Wednesday prayer service,” he said. “We had lost a lot of people due to the effects of the Great Recession but were also worried our church would start looking inward instead of ministering outward. We asked for God to help us find a place to minister in the world.”
A few weeks later Plymouth had a visitor on a Wednesday night named Adam. Walking into the sanctuary, Adam heard the church praying for an opportunity to minister on the other side of the world.
“He knew of a missionary in Pakistan who had to flee the country because the Taliban had condemned him to death,” Dieterly said. “We started praying for that missionary and that if the Lord wanted us to start a ministry in Pakistan, God would bring him to our church.”
The next step came when the missionary — a Pakistani native Plymouth Baptist came to refer to as “Paul” — asked Adam about churches in the Chicago area he could visit. When Paul arrived, he became interested in the “Experiencing God” literature being taught to church members. He and Dieterly developed a friendship based on commonalities – both men were lawyers as well as ministers.
Though “Experiencing God” has been printed in roughly 60 languages, Urdu, the official language of Pakistan, wasn’t one of them.
“Paul was authorized to translate it into Urdu and started doing so in May 2016,” Dieterly said. “He finished in March 2017 and was licensed to give those away.”
Around this time, Adam connected Dieterly with a Pakistani pastor and his daughter who wanted to be discipled. He did so through the “Experiencing God” curriculum via a Facebook messenger video every Saturday morning for 12 weeks.
The father and daughter asked if Dieterly could continue discipling them. Two weeks later, the pastor asked if Plymouth could provide the materials to train 15 pastors from nearby villages also asking for discipleship. The cost to do so would be $3,500.
The church prayed about it and held a garage sale in the parking lot.
“Afterwards we counted, and the money raised was $3,500, down to the penny,” Dieterly said. “It’s hard to believe but true. It was a huge confirmation from God.”
In order not to attract attention, the money was sent in separate amounts. Pakistani pastors responded with pictures of church members in discipleship.
The miracle repeated itself in 2019. For months the church had been trying to raise money to fund a second request but with no success.
Then an acquaintance of Harless’ wanted to help the church financially and gave — you guessed it — $3,500. Plymouth’s congregation chose to spend the donation on the Pakistan outreach.
A third request came for the materials available in Urdu. Two hundred pastors, it said, were ready to learn immediately. Again, Plymouth said they would do all they could.
That request came as Plymouth navigated the COVID-19 pandemic like any other church.
Last fall Dieterly was contacted by a reader of a Texas newsletter that had included a mention of Plymouth and its Pakistan outreach in a story. That individual had a family connection to the country and wanted to help, so they volunteered to donate $3,500.
Only recently has Plymouth started gathering together in person again. COVID-19 has kept the crowds down but so has the brutal winter.
“COVID-19 isn’t the only conditions Hoosiers are navigating,” Harless said. “We had around 8 inches of snow and ice, temperatures down to -4 degrees.”
One of Plymouth’s ministry partners in Pakistan estimates that more than 1,000 people have been instructed through “Experiencing God” and Bible studies since August 2019 alone. Harless credited the church’s focus on missions, regardless of location and circumstance.
“Our church has in any and every way possible tried to make sure there’s a voice for the gospel in our community,” he said. “It meant coming up with interesting ways to reach out and changing practices in order to meet the challenges of COVID-19. It’s been an amazing season of growth.
“This ministry is more than meeting on Sunday. Our people know that, but now they have seen it.”
EDITOR’S NOTE — This article was originally published by Baptist Press, news service of the Southern Baptist Convention. This article also appears in TAB News, a digital regional Baptist publication. For more information or to subscribe to the TAB News app, visit tabonline.org/TAB-News-app.