FARGO, N.D. (BP)–In May 2003, God did an amazing thing through Temple Baptist Church, said Durward “Dude” Garrett, pastor of the Fargo, N.D., congregation for the past 17 years.
Temple was stop. No. 38 Sept. 27 on SBC President Bobby Welch’s bus tour of Southern Baptist churches across the nation, underscoring the cause of evangelism in kicking off “The Everyone Can Kingdom Challenge for Evangelism” campaign which has the goal of “Witness, Win and Baptize … ONE MILLION!” in one year.
More than 200 food boxes, each weighing 70 pounds, were shipped to Iraq in May 2003, with the local coordination handled by Temple member James Sabot, a longtime community resident and area marketing consultant. The food boxes were distributed in Iraq by Southern Baptist volunteers last fall.
“We got flour from the North Dakota State Mill in Grand Forks, beans from North Harvest Bean Growers Association and lots of products from grocery wholesalers,” Garrett said. “We even used one of their warehouses to pack the boxes.”
The project reflects the missions DNA of Temple Baptist, the pastor said. The church was started in 1958 by a physician in the Air Force who prayed to be sent to a place where Southern Baptist work was not strong. Today, the church has become a multicultural congregation, with attendees who speak Chinese, Vietnamese, Cambodian, Tagalog, Spanish and English.
“We are greatly blessed to have an associate pastor of missions, Lon Cockerill,” Garrett said. “Lon was a pastor on a North Dakota Indian reservation for many years and now his passion for missions has led us to be even more on mission than ever before.”
Cockerill recently expanded the church’s outreach to include Japanese people in the Fargo and nearby Moorhead, Minn., areas. A missionary from Japan was on hand to give his testimony in the initial phase of the new ministry.
Temple is a Global Priority Network church, according to the SBC’s International Mission Board, giving focused prayer to an unreached people group from Cambodia, the Khmer Krom.
“We have a family with connections to our church who is Khmer Krom, so we feel that may be the people group God wants us to target,” Garrett said. “Right now we pray for them. One day, I expect we’ll do more.”
About 75 people attend Temple’s Sunday morning worship, the pastor said. The church is at the northern, college end of the city of 130,000 people. It was the site for a Southern Baptist Disaster Relief feeding unit during the 1997 flooding of the Red River that borders Minnesota and the Dakotas.
“Collegiate ministry is one area we want to do more in,” Garrett said. “As an association [South Valley Baptist Association], we’ve brought in summer and semester missionaries, but with little long-term success. We try to make inroads on campus, but our best success has been the students God has brought to our church.”
A Chinese Fellowship at North Dakota State University in Fargo uses Temple’s building for its weekly meetings. That has resulted in ongoing connections with students from the People’s Republic of China.
“It is exciting to discuss the Bible with students who have never read it before and who have never met a Christian before coming to our university,” Garrett said.
For more than 25 years, a Spanish-language mission has used Temple’s building. That work, led by lay pastor Pablo Guajardo, ministered to migrant workers who came to work in sugar beet fields. In recent years the migrant population has diminished as the crop’s importance in the area has diminished, but the mission continues to provide weekly worship in Spanish.
The Fargo/Moorhead metro area is the fastest-growing in North Dakota, but Southern Baptist church growth has been slow, the pastor said. Three new churches have been planted in the last 14 years. One is doing well in a building they acquired a year ago. A second church plant did not survive. And a third is still struggling to gain a foothold.
Baptists, especially Southern Baptists, are a religious minority in the strongly Lutheran and Catholic area. This makes outreach a challenge, Garrett said.
“Church growth is a tough challenge,” he reflected. “Sometimes I feel this is a difficult place to serve. We often say goodbye to young adults and families who move to the area, start coming to our church and get their lives on track spiritually. Then they move on to build their careers elsewhere.
“We must keep a Kingdom mindset, or discouragement can sideline our ministry,” the pastor said.
Garrett sees himself as an equipper and Bible teacher. He tries to be a “stable force in a sea of change,” he said.
He sees Temple Baptist as a place where people can be honest before God, see Jesus as Lord and learn to follow Him wherever He leads. “We try to be a healthy spiritual family where people can be involved and don’t have to be afraid of who they are or what they can become.”