Whenever I hear Proverbs 31:10-31 read, I immediately think of Bobbye Rankin. Part of this is because she is a living picture of a Proverbs 31 woman and another part of this is because she once said to me in passing that she loves the second part of Proverbs 31:25, “…and she smiles at the future.”
I think this verse is a good summary of my dear friend who celebrates another year of life today. Over the past three and a half years I have had the humble privilege of getting to know this “retired” missionary who is still very active in mentoring younger sisters in Christ in the Word of God, serving the Lord faithfully alongside her husband, and passionate about sharing the Gospel of Jesus Christ wherever she goes.
Bobbye is affectionately known as “Babushka” among North Carolina Baptist staff that traveled with her to Moldova for a teaching trip in March 2011. Babushka is Russian for “grandmother” and it is how she referred to herself when she spoke to the ladies at various spots across that Eastern European country following Pam Blume and myself. Our entire team respected her so much we didn’t want to call her Bobbye, and she didn’t like it when we called her “Mrs. Rankin,” so Babushka stuck.
And for the last three and a half years I have been so thankful to come to know my Babushka not only as a co-laborer in Christ, but also as a prayer warrior, mentor, advisor and friend. She has challenged me in study and memorization of God’s Word. I have listened as she has spoken to groups of women and quoted lengthy passages of the Psalms, the Gospels and Paul’s letters. Many times as she has prayed over me it has just been the Word of God. Any one that knows her knows that she has a heart for the Lord and unwavering trust in Him.
The Babushka’s heart for the Lord came at a young age as she prayed to receive Christ and responded in obedience to His call to missions as a ten-year-old in a small Mississippi-town. She began as a student at Mississippi College and met her future husband and life partner or almost 50 years, Jerry, during her freshman year. Both of them felt God’s call on their lives as missionaries and after seminary, with their two small children in tow, began serving in Indonesia. Their time in Indonesia was hard. Ministry was difficult in the largest Muslim country in the world and physical attacks on their health and the health of their children made things even more difficult.
However, they knew that the Lord had called them to service and they persevered. Eventually they would serve as missionaries in India, Thailand, Singapore and Malaysia and Dr. Rankin would serve as the president of the International Mission Board (IMB, SBC) for 17 years until his retirement in the summer of 2010.
There are two things that have always impressed me about the Babushka. The first is her deep love for the Lord and His Gospel transforming the lives of people. I have always believed when you travel with people you see who they really are simply because you are in close proximity for a long time. The times I have traveled with the Babushka she has befriended people of all ages and nationalities in the airports and other places and been faithful to share the Gospel and be a witness. She is always mindful that she is a witness for the Lord no matter the circumstances.
The second thing that impresses me about the Babushka is her sincere love for and interest in people. I remember May 2012 on another mission trip to Moldova. On one occasion we were at an orphanage. The children – who were very small and some who were in their teens – flocked to the Babushka. When appropriate, she would pick up the children and hug them and tell them how special they were and how much God loved them. For the older children she made sure to hug each of them and tell them God loved them and had a plan for their lives. Later in the week during that same trip, we visited a Moldovan prison for women. Some women were incarcerated for murder and some were serving time for lesser crimes. After having the opportunity to speak to all the women gathered, our group was able to meet with the few women who were Christians and in the prison. We heard the testimonies of several and sang “Amazing Grace” in Russian, Romanian, Ukranian, English and Indonesian. I will never forget leaving the prison. As we were walking down a long set of outdoor steps, I heard sobs. I looked to my right and there was the Babushka next to me crying. I remember she said, “I need a hug,” put her arm around me and continued to cry. Her heart was broken for these ladies that were in the prison who were trying to live for Christ in dark circumstances. I have always remembered that incident because it is a true picture of the heart of this lady and the love of Christ that flows from her.
And, I appreciate the great sense of humor of the Babushka. She has the unique ability to make people feel at ease and can break the tension of any situation with laughter. Many of my favorite memories of time with her are laced with things that make me smile and laugh in remembrance.
As I have encountered other women’s ministry leaders and missionaries, Bobbye’s godly reputation always precedes her as she is respected and admired by many. Her heart is to glorify the Lord and continue to serve until she sees Him face-to-face.
For me, I am thankful this day for the life of my sweet friend and the investment that she has made in my life. She is a leading lady as she has led by example and followed the Lord in obedience not only in service, but also in faithfully sharing the Gospel.
Happy Birthday, Babushka! I am thankful for you…and for teaching me to smile at the future!
*Photos courtesy of the Rankin family