The good folks over at SBCImpact have asked me to write for them from time to time which I consider an honor. I wrote this for them a couple of weeks ago and since I have been slow to post anything new here I will repost this for the benefit of those who did not see it on SBC Impact. I have several good stories to tell and hopefully will get time to write them down soon. In the meantime here is my tribute to Dr. Jerry Rankin who recently announced his plans for retirement as my boss.
Dr. Jerry Rankin has announced that he is retiring as the President of the International Mission Board as of July of 2010. I will tell you right up front that I am a big fan of Dr. Rankin. I was a pastor in West Virginia when Dr. Parks resigned. I was very concerned that the mission that Southern Baptists were on was going to be sidelined. We needed a peacemaker who could come in and assure everyone that the then FMB was going to be both conservative and effective. From the first vote there was controversy, but I believed then and have believed ever since that Jerry Rankin was the man God had for this position for this time.
Now, history according to Strider is a little different than history according to… well, everyone else. So, here is a part of the story you may not have heard that defines what I love about the Rankins. Keith Parks had a passionate vision to get to the unreached of the world. Missiologists had talked for a century or more about the need to get the Gospel where it had never been heard before but done little. Dr. Parks worked hard to realign our resources to get where we had never been before. But he was a bull in a china shop and the constant fighting with Trustees and everyone else made him less effective than he should have been. Maybe that is not fair, I am not his judge. I just know that when Dr. Rankin took over the FMB was split into two odd shaped entities. Traditional mission stations still flourished in a few dozen countries- though the vast majority of our resources were in Brazil, Kenya, and Nigeria. Then there was CSI. Cooperative Services International was developed by Brit Towery to reach into Communist China. It was appropriated against his will to become what was then described as the ‘humanitarian arm of the Southern Baptist Convention.’ CSI became a platform to get Christian workers to all kinds of countries that would not allow traditional missionaries with traditional missionary visas to go. It was new and it was exciting and it grew like crazy under the leadership of some of the most remarkable men of faith I have ever known. Within a few years it had three regions spanning the length of the 10/40 window. It had a linear organizational structure and it moved fast and efficiently when opportunities arose to get personnel into formerly ‘closed’ countries.
There were lots of problems with all of this but the relavant one to list here is that Dr. Rankin hated it. CSI was like an estranged relative in the FMB family. Its personnel were all ultra security conscious, some early Strategy Coordinators would not even tell the home office where they were because they believed they would compromise their security. They were probably right! The fight was on. I was appointed CSI by the way, and I still love the ethos that we had- and in some places still have. In 1997 Dr. Rankin instituted New Directions. When we first got word of this we thought our work was finished. CSI was disolved. We would be platformless in the middle of hostile territory. As we read and reread the e-mails the truth began to dawn on us however. CSI didn’t disappear, it took over! The ethos and linear structure of CSI was placed on the whole new IMB. I didn’t understand it at first but later came to a startling conclusion. Dr. Rankin hated CSI and had constant conflict with its Regional Leader but when it came time to reorganize he did what he always did. He got on his knees and asked God what He wanted. I am sure no one was more surprised at the answer than Jerry. He had wanted to reorganize to get rid of an administrative and relational irritant but heard God say much more than he bargained for. But when Jerry Rankin hears from God he moves in faith to do it regardless of the price to be paid by himself or anyone else. He swallowed his pride and reorganized. It could have been done better. No one- least of all Dr. Rankin- denies that. One problem was that while Dr. Rankin swallowed his pride the Regional Leader of CSI could not reconcile with him and work with him. If he had taken the VP slot offered him everything would have been different but it didn’t happen that way.
Dr. Jerry Rankin is a man of prayer, a man of passion for God and His glory, a man of humility and grace. When 9/11/2001 shook America he took a lot of phone calls some loudly demanding that we remove our personnel from those ‘dangerous places.’ Some insisted that Dr. Rankin not allow their loved ones to serve in those dangerous Muslim countries. He replied that that is where his own daughter was serving! He walks his talk. Dr. Rankin has now walked us through another reorganization which streamlines our support process. Through it all he never shies away from conflict, he never sways from what God is calling him to do, and he never fails to be exceedingly gracious as he does it. I am very proud to serve with this man and his wife who deserves her own post or three written about her. As long as Southern Baptist produce men and women of God like this I want to be known as a Southern Baptist.
Thank you Dr. Rankin, for your service, your example, and your perseverance. You are welcome here in Middle Earth anytime.