By Shannon Baker, BCM/D National Correspondent
RICHMOND, Va.—When he asked for a light supper, Jerry Rankin was surprised to see just that: light bulbs and strings of colorful Christmas lights bountifully displayed on the dinner table.
With a sense of humor that quickly matched those of his hosts, the president of the International Mission Board (IMB) replied, “Oh my! I asked for a light supper, and you have way too much food on this table!”
Such was a fond memory recalled by Rankin and former missionaries, Freddy and Gayla Parker, at Rankin’s retirement banquet held during IMB’s July 20-21 board meeting in Richmond, Va.
The Parkers, who served in the Philippines as IMB missionaries for nearly 14 years, now serve as missionaries for the Baptist Convention of Maryland/Delaware in the areas of WMU, men’s ministry and partnership missions. Gayla attended Rankin’s special gathering on behalf of National WMU, who gave a donation of $15,000 to the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering in Rankin’s honor.
Rankin, who began his retirement on Aug. 1 after serving 23 years on the mission field and 17 years as IMB president, and his wife, Bobbye, were like “adoptive parents” to the Parkers.
Before the Parkers arrived on the mission field, the Rankins served as church-planting missionaries and later as regional leaders in what was then called the Southeast Asia and Oceania region.
While headquartered in Singapore, Rankin implemented a significant meeting with first-term missionaries, which included the Parkers, halfway through their term to see how well they were progressing in their new culture. These meetings also provided a forum for missionaries to discuss the IMB culture and healthcare-related issues, as well as receive training on conflict management and mission innovations.
“This meeting really helped us get over the hump of our first term,” Gayla explained, pointing out that it was Rankin’s nurturing personality that led to such meetings.
It was during this time that Rankin began developing what eventually became known as New Directions, a strategy that focused less on individual countries and more on getting the Gospel to all the people groups of the world.
For the Parkers, for instance, that meant the different people groups in the Philippines—some in Luzon, which was very urban, and others in Mindanao, which was very rural—would have separate strategies rather than a one-size-fits-all approach to their work.
But it was the way that Rankin led the change that impressed Gayla the most.
“Jerry brought in Henry Blackaby [author of the best-selling, “Experiencing God”] for a weekend of prayer so that people throughout the entire Philippine mission could take time out to hear from God before any changes were made,” she explained.
“Jerry gave us a lot of time to seek the Lord about our mission’s future,” she said, adding that the transition went very well.
Beyond the organizational leadership, Rankin also personally assisted the Parkers in many of their challenges while in the Philippines, including Freddy being caught in an ambush; the eruption of Mt. Pinatubo volcano; two earthquakes over seven on the Reichter Scale; several significant illnesses, including Typhoid and Dengi fever; and a coup attempt.
“Jerry was great to get us help when we needed it. He even had an emergency evacuation plan in place,” shared Gayla, noting that it was the Rankins’ personal approachability that made a difference for their missions endeavors.
Even after Rankin was named IMB President, the Parkers’ children still referred to the Rankins as “Uncle Jerry” and “Aunt Bobbye.”
Despite IMB’s enormous growth during Rankin’s tenure as president—from nearly 4,000 missionaries and more than 2,000 new churches in 142 countries in 1993 to more than 5,500 missionaries and nearly 27,000 new churches and 101 newly engaged people groups for a total of 1,190 engaged people groups in 2008—they maintained a very personal connection with the missionary families.
“Bobbye always remembered how many children we had, where they were in their lives, and what crises we had to endure,” Gayla explained, adding that whenever Bobbye saw them, she followed up on earlier conversations over which she had prayed.
When Rankin had to make the hard calls, Bobbye made it easier because of her special touch, Gayla added. The couple truly had a heart for God and for those who did not know Him.
“I have seen Jerry weep many times over the lostness in the world. He was really interested in making sure that the IMB did all they could to reach people,” Gayla added.
In addition to shifting the strategic focus from countries to people groups, Rankin also led the IMB to embrace mission volunteerism through Missions Service Corps, self-funded missionaries who serve for two years or more; the 2+2 Program, for seminary students interested in serving in international missions; and other missionary programs.
“Jerry has worked really heard at increasing the number of volunteers who engage people groups. It was a way for a lot of people to get touched without tapping into the IMB missions budget,” Gayla said.
Reflecting on the enormous impact the Rankins have had on world missions, Gayla noted, “In a world where people move when things get difficult, it’s a real commentary on the Rankins’ lives that they were willing to not give up and chose to stick it out for 40 years of ministry.”
Noting that Rankin often faced criticism as he led 5,000-plus missionaries on a salary less than most pastors get, she continued, “Jerry could not have accomplished all he had if he had not stuck it out through the good times and the bad times. For those of us who are following in ministry, this is a good lesson to learn—to stick it out and see God’s greatest work be accomplished through the longevity.”