WEEK OF PRAYER: Church planting fire burning in S. Asia
SOUTH ASIA (BP) -- For Mitch Englehart*, it's a beautiful sight that's taking place in some very dirty water. The South Carolina native watches from the bank of a stagnant canal as six new believers are baptized outside a small village in the South Asian countryside. Dhanwan is one of them.
"I want to follow Jesus!" the young man says, explaining that he became a Christian following a miraculous healing through the prayers of a local pastor. That pastor, Lalbahadur, is a fifth-generation Christian whose faith can be traced back to Englehart's church planting network. It is mid-January, and Dhanwan shivers as he steps into the canal. Lalbahadur starts the baptism chain, first dunking Dhanwan, as each newly baptized believer baptizes the next. This is discipleship in action, Englehart says, and it's what's brought him to South Asia.
He and his wife Nellie*, from Texas, have spent the past nine years training church leaders like Lalbahadur. For Englehart, 47, that means travel -- and lots of it. On average, he spends 10 to 12 nights a month away from Nellie and their two children, Rachel* and Peyton*, as he disciples national believers. But he says the sacrifice is worthwhile; it's part of the commitment the Texas couple made when God called them as full-time Christian workers.
"When you look back at Paul and Jesus, you can almost spell 'disciple' T-I-M-E," Englehart says. "If we want to see God move in an area, then we need to invest between 60 and 90 days a year into these guys."
"These guys" are Englehart's two main church planting partners, Rakesh and Manoj. Between them, they've seen more than 1,200 new churches and 3,000-plus baptisms in the past five years. Trouble is, they work more than 500 miles apart.
Rakesh is six hours away by train; Manoj is much farther (14 hours by train), which is why Englehart opts to fly. The $140 ticket shaves travel time down to an hour. Both the partners' ministries center around rural villages, which means that after Englehart arrives in their respective cities, there's often hours of driving still ahead to get where they're going.
"One hundred dollars gets us a taxi or jeep to travel around for three days so we can go from village to village," Englehart says. The same amount buys about 35 Bibles, "so we can put the Word in people's hands."
All of these expenses -- from trains to taxis to Bibles -- represent just a few of the Engleharts' needs provided for by Southern Baptists' giving through the Cooperative Program and Lottie Moon Christmas Offering for International Missions.
"We can do so much more together than we can by ourselves, and that's the genius of Lottie Moon," Englehart says, speaking of the offering that supports him, his family and their ministry, as well as that of more than 4,800 other Southern Baptist workers overseas. "When we go home [to America], they call us heroes. But all of us are heroes because we couldn't do it without those folks who are praying and giving. They're our heroes."
The total number of believers in Englehart's church planting network alone tops 10,000, and there are dozens more Christian workers scattered throughout the region. Better still, Englehart says much of the growth is happening among unengaged, unreached people groups (UUPGs) who are hearing the Gospel for the first time. But there's still plenty of work to be done.
Englehart's team is busy developing a new wave of church planters focused on the area's least-reached districts -- many less than 0.1 percent Christian. Progress can sometimes seem painfully slow, but Englehart notes that's a small price to pay compared with that of the South Asian believers he's training.
He's awed by the sacrifices many are willing to make -- like walking nine miles in sweltering heat to attend a training event. "Who wouldn't want to be around a leader like that? It's from those guys I've learned how to give my life for the Gospel," Englehart says. "I've seen these guys suffer and the joy they have in doing it."
Englehart remembers when God first began pulling him toward full-time Christian work. A successful businessman chasing the American dream, he was first introduced to South Asians in Texas. Almost immediately, Englehart knew something was different. He was able to connect with them in a way he couldn't with his American friends -- especially when it came to sharing the Gospel.
With Americans, "it was like I was pushing a boulder up a hill," Englehart explains. "But when I sat with South Asian friends..., it was like chasing that boulder down a hill -- it was that easy."
And today, after helping train dozens of church planters, there's little doubt Englehart is exactly where God wants him to be. "I wish I could stretch my day into 36 hours, I wish I could have 45 days in a month -- that's how much I love what I do," he says.
"God is using these guys in mighty ways," Englehart adds with a grin. "There's already a fire burning. My role is to pour a little gasoline on that fire."
See some scenes from South Asia and hear Mitch Englehart share about the abundant harvest going on there: