Rankin: 40-years of gospel mission
Alan James, Baptist Press
July 30, 2010

Rankin: 40-years of gospel mission

Rankin: 40-years of gospel mission
Alan James, Baptist Press
July 30, 2010

RICHMOND, Va. — It was

12-year-old Zachary Rankin’s first overseas mission trip.

Though he had spent five years in Thailand as a child of missionaries, he had

never been to the jungles of Peru — and neither had his grandfather, Jerry

Rankin, president of the International Mission Board (IMB). In 2008, the two

traveled about five hours by dugout canoe down river to spend a few days in a

remote village with the IMB’s Xtreme Team missionaries who worked among a

remote tribe known as the Yaminahua. They bathed in the river, slept in

hammocks and ate monkey with the villagers.

The trip marked the potential beginning of a child’s commitment to missions. It

also marked the sun setting on a 40-year career — 17 as IMB president — focused

on helping take the gospel to every tribe, tongue and nation.

After going on two more mission trips since then — one in July to Haiti — the

younger Rankin, now 15, said he plans to continue where his grandfather left


“(Missions) runs in my blood,” Zachary said. “(My grandfather) has been a huge

influence on my life. I want to finish what he started.”

Missions does seem to run in the Rankins’ blood. Zachary’s parents, Russ and

Angela, served in Thailand with their three children. The Rankins’ daughter

(name withheld for security reasons) continues to serve overseas.

File photo

Within the International Mission Board, President Jerry Rankin, pictured with his wife, Bobbye, is known to place importance on knowing and remembering the names of people he meets.

Wisdom, focus, consistency and a commitment to the Lord’s work are a few of the

words that longtime friend and IMB Executive Vice President Clyde Meador used

to describe Rankin — particularly the word consistency.

Meador recalls a conversation the two men had a few months before Rankin was

tapped in 1993 as president of what was then the Foreign Mission Board. The

organization would change its name to the International Mission Board in 1997.

“We were in a car, and I asked him, ‘What will you do if you’re president?’”

Meador recalled. “He said, ‘That will never happen.’”

After much pressing by Meador, Rankin shared a list of things he’d do if he

were elected president — but he prefaced it again with, “That will never


The list included unifying the organization’s focus, streamlining decision

making, restoring a sense of ownership to field staff and better equipping

missionaries to do their jobs.

“Most of the things he said are what he has done,” Meador said.

Rankin and his wife, Bobbye, were appointed to East Java, Indonesia, in 1970.

The couple and their two children spent the first few years on the field

enduring rejection to the gospel, spiritual warfare and illness.

The Rankins eventually saw progress in Indonesia before moving through the ranks

to associate area director for South and Southeast Asia and to director for

Southern Asia and Pacific in 1987.

Rebekah Naylor, a retired medical missionary who served with the IMB for more

than 30 years, reflected on her longtime friendship with the Rankins. Naylor

served at Bangalore (India) Baptist Hospital during Rankin’s years as area

director in the late ’80s and early ’90s.

She fondly remembers the encouragement and support both Rankins gave her while

she was on the field — including thoughtful notes from Bobbye.

“They were not just nice little notes that said, ‘I’m praying for you,’ but

they were very personal, specific notes,” Naylor said. “The notes made me feel

that she really was praying, concerned and involved.”

Naylor recalls Rankin’s commitment to missions and steady leadership.

“He is definitely a person of prayer,” she said. “His faith was evident in all

parts of what he did … his relationships, vision and every aspect of his

life,” she added. “He is a person of vision and is able to communicate that.”

Rankin’s daughter said she’s always admired his ability to handle difficult

decisions — and occasional criticism that comes with being the president of an


“Things that would crush or overwhelm the average person just seem to roll off

his back because he keeps such an eternal perspective,” she wrote in an e-mail.

“He has a remarkable ability to focus on the Lord.

“He can balance more things in his head than anyone else I know.”

Remaining accountable for his leadership is something Rankin has worked hard to

maintain. He recently shared with staff that during his years as president he

annually met with a small circle of friends — mostly pastors — for a time of

accountability. Each one in the group could call him at any time to check on

his attitude, relationships and personal discipline, he said.

One called after important meetings to check his attitude, Rankin said.

“He asks if I am harboring bitterness or resentment toward anyone or if there

is a strained relationship I need to clear up,” Rankin said.

Another called “out of the blue” to make sure he’s spending time with his

family. “They always ask about my quiet time to be sure I am not neglecting my

time with the Lord,” he added.

Rankin’s son, Russ, noted that his father sees accountability and time with the

Lord as absolute necessities.

“He puts a lot of weight into that,” he said. “A

time of being on his face before the Lord and seeking the Lord’s direction.”

Russ added that his son, Zachary, wasn’t the only one affected by that trip he

and his grandfather took to the Amazon Basin two years ago.

For Russ, the trip was just another example of why he’s grown to respect and

admire his father.

“They end up in dugout canoes down the Amazon and having to eat monkey,” he said.

“That’s what my 67-year-old dad takes his grandson on, and I’m like, ‘That is


“It changed my son’s life, and that’s the kind of guy he is,” he said. “There’s

no starched shirt and frills when it comes to that.”

(EDITOR’S NOTE — James is a writer for the International Mission Board.)

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