RIDGECREST — Everyone in the room knew the woman underneath the veil.
They saw her pull it over her head and twist it around until it fit properly. Though her face did not show, her voice did not change and the movement of her hands as she spoke reminded the audience it was still the same person underneath the veil. Yet, somehow forgetting that came easy.
As Bobbye Rankin told the story of a Muslim woman thrown into a dark room by herself, with no light at all and only the rats scurrying over her feet for company, one could not help but envision this scenario as it unfolded: The judge ordering the Christian woman into the cold room beneath his office because she refused to stop telling people about Jesus. The woman singing a song about Jesus saving her, and how she would not fear, and those words floating up to the office above. The judge asking the woman to come to his house and sing her song to his daughters, so they would not be afraid at night.
Rankin’s gift of narration made this woman’s story come to life, almost as if the Muslim woman stood on stage telling the story herself. The woman Rankin spoke about knew the power of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Rankin also knows of this power. Yet, so many women who wear the veil as Rankin did on this day have never heard about the gospel.
Through real-life testimonies and a message from the biblical book of Esther, Rankin encouraged women attending Refreshed, a Sept. 11-12 women’s prayer evangelism conference at LifeWay Ridgecrest Conference Center, to be bold in their witness for Jesus Christ and to be intentional about growing in the grace and knowledge of their Savior. Rankin, along with Mary Kassian, award-winning author and internationally renowned speaker, and Beth Evans, women’s Bible study teacher at Providence Baptist Church in Raleigh, N.C., gave the keynote addresses. The conference also included worship led by Cindy Johnson, focused prayer times, testimonies and breakout sessions featuring leaders such as Jaye Martin, director of women’s programs at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary; Denise O’Donoghue, director of women’s life at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary; and Alicia Wong, North American Mission Board missionary for evangelism for women.
Rankin and her husband Jerry served as missionaries in Indonesia for more than two decades before Jerry was named president of the International Mission Board in 1993. He just announced his retirement from that post, effective next year.
During her keynote and breakout session, Rankin shared from her heart stories that have stayed with her through the years, such as the story of a woman in Indonesia who could not read but came to a women’s Bible study because Rankin invited her. The woman’s belly was so large it looked like a pregnant belly, yet it wasn’t; it had always been like that. This woman received Jesus Christ as her personal Lord and Savior and Rankin told how one day the woman found herself, a new believer, sitting at home and wanting to pray but having no idea what to say. So for hours she just cried out, “Jesus. Jesus. Jesus.” The next day everyone wanted to know what happened to the woman’s stomach. “God touched me,” she said.
Rankin told of going through a village in Indonesia and asking if people knew Jesus. Their reply: “No, I don’t believe He lives in this village. Go to the next village. You might find Him there.” She told of a woman physically beaten by a family member because she read the Bible. That family member tossed the Bible into a fire. Yet, later that same night, this family member had a dream and in it was that Bible in the flames — made whole. The man went outside and looked and sure enough, there was the restored Bible. The man and woman are now believers in Jesus Christ.
As Rankin shared, her countenance told the story of what was going on in her own heart: compassion for a lost world, awe of an almighty God and humility that God would allow her the blessing of serving Him. She is a woman who knows how to enjoy life and can laugh at herself, telling the story of how her rural Mississippi accent is often mistaken for a voice from the Carolinas.
Growing up in Girls in Action (GAs), “God began to capture my heart for the people of the world,” Rankin said. She still remembers as a 10-year-old learning that “countless people” had never heard of Jesus Christ. “We could count everybody from my community. It’s honk and wave,” she said. The idea that so many people, too many to count, grope in darkness every day because they do not know the Savior, made a lasting impression on her young, tender heart.
That little girl in GAs had no idea she would one day travel overseas with her husband, 10-month-old and 2-year-old to reach the people of Indonesia. The Rankins expected their journey to be the book of Acts all over again. Rankin made that statement and joined the audience in laughing about it, but the mood quickly turned serious as she described how their time in Indonesia began. They both got sick with an infection and boils over their bodies.
Thanksgiving eve, they noticed a boil on the forehead of their 2-year-old and left immediately for the hospital, and while at the hospital Rankin learned she needed an operation. A month later, around Christmastime, the Rankins got fevers that lasted 10 days. The day after Christmas, Rankin’s father died in a car accident and her mother was in critical condition. As she sat with her mother at the hospital, “I couldn’t say a word because His divine presence was right in that room,” she said.
Her missionary journey did not begin as she envisioned, but Rankin “learned more about what it means to worship the Lord” during that time. After sharing from her personal struggles and triumph, Rankin walked through the Book of Esther. Rankin recounted the story of Esther with an enthusiasm that even women who knew the story by heart could not help but get excited about hearing once more. And not just hearing the story, but learning how God created Esther just as she was and ordained her for a purpose.
Rankin showed from Scripture how Esther was submissive, aware of her purpose, obedient to her purpose and passionate about who God called her to be and what He called her to do. “Are you at the passion point of what God has called you to do?” Rankin asked. For Rankin, the answer to that question seems to be a resounding yes.
(EDITOR’S NOTE — Lilley is research/communications coordinator for the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina. Editor’s note: Jerry Rankin, president of the International Mission Board, announced his plans for retirement in July 2010 to a meeting of IMB trustees Sept. 16 in Jacksonville, Fla.)