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.
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.)