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1999 NCC News Archives

The Rev. Larry D. Tankersley, Southern Asia Expert, Dies

Sept. 16, 1999, INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. -- The Rev. Larry Dean Tankersley, 64, Director of the Southern Asia Office for the National Council of Churches/Church World Service and Witness since March 1994, an ordained minister in the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) and an expert on Southern Asia and especially Indonesia, died here last night (Wednesday night, Sept. 15) following a four-month battle with cancer.

The Rev. Tankersley had just concluded his service with the NCC/CWSW in New York City, taking disability leave in anticipation of retirement next year. He and his wife, Betty, had just moved to Indianapolis from Englewood, N.J., to be close to their children and grandchildren.

His colleagues point to the poignancy of the Rev. Tankersley dying at the same time as thousands of people, including church leaders, are being killed or forced to flee in East Timor. The Rev. Tankersley had long pressed the case of the East Timorese people and was responsible for taking many delegations of church leaders to East Timor to educate them about the situation, most recently in 1998.

"I think of him as I watch the stories about East Timor and Indonesia and how committed he was to the people," said the Rev. Dr. Joan B. Campbell, NCC General Secretary. "Right up to the end of his life, he was calling me about East Timor and Indonesia. His concern was rooted outside himself and in the people he loved and cared about and in the mission he was called to serve.

"He’s a Disciple," said Dr. Campbell, also an ordained Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) minister. "He grew up understanding unity and carried that out in the international realm. He lived life to its fullest. Larry died fully active with us. In human terms, he goes too young. He was a good, strong colleague and we’ll miss him."

Dr. Campbell also expressed appreciation for Betty Tankersley’s ecumenical ministry. While Larry Tankersley was CWS Country Director in Indonesia (1991-94), Betty Tankersley served on contract as Communications Consultant to the General Secretary of the Communion of Churches in Indonesia. She currently is Program Associate in the Southern Asia Office of the United Church of Christ/Christian Church (Disciples of Christ).

"The struggle of the people in East Timor for self-determination was the issue closest to Larry’s heart," said the Dr. Rodney Page, CWSW Executive Director and NCC Deputy General Secretary. "How ironic for him to pass on at this time of great turmoil in East Timor."

The Rev. Tankersley also was responsible for initiating a comprehensive food-for-work program in Indonesia to alleviate the suffering wrought by drought, forest fires and economic and political turmoil. The $2.5 million program has already provided 37,000 families with food, seeds and tools. In exchange, recipients repair irrigation canals, roads and bridges and build water conservation systems, all contributing to long-term food security.

As NCC/CWS Southern Asia Director, the Rev. Tankersley administered a program that encompassed emergency relief, human development and refugee assistance work in Afghanistan, Pakistan, India, Sri Lanka, Burma, Thailand, Cambodia, Laos, Vietnam, Bangladesh, Nepal and Indonesia.

At his farewell party Aug. 24 at NCC/CWSW offices, many letters of appreciation were read from colleagues around the world. Among them, I.P. Joseph of the National Council of Churches of India wrote, "You have been a close ecumenical companion to the members of the NCCI family and the church in India. You understood the pains and the struggles of the people of India and shared their burden with them. You were always ready with the implementation of acts of solidarity with the poor."

"Under the Rev. Tankersley, the NCC/CWS Southern Asia Program grew into the largest theater of operation of Church World Service and Witness," said Dr. Page. "Under his leadership, thousands in Southern Asia were fed, the homeless housed, the refugee welcomed, the sick cared for and all whose way is hard assisted. His advocacy for peace and justice, his compassion and hope will continue to live in the lives of those he served and in the causes he championed."

Born July 21, 1935, in Auburn, Nebraska, the Rev. Tankersley graduated high school in Leavenworth, Kansas, then graduated from Phillips University, Enid, Okla., with a B.A. in Philosophy and Bible, in 1957. He earned his Bachelor of Divinity Degree from Brite Divinity School of Texas Christian University in Fort Worth, Texas, in 1962.

He completed additional studies at San Anselmo Presbyterian Theological Seminary in San Anselmo, Calif.; in Southeast Asia Studies at Cornell University, and of the Indonesian language at Sataya Wacana University in Salatiga, Indonesia.

He was ordained a Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) minister at The Christian Church (Disciples) in Leavenworth, Kansas, in 1957. As a student, he served the Christian Church, Sharon, Kansas; Belmont Avenue Christian Church, Kansas City, Mo.; Central Christian Church, Frisco, Texas, and Northwest Christian Church, Arlington, Texas, all Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) congregations.

He counseled and directed various camps and conferences for youth and college age persons, and was Minister to Students of the First Christian Church in Emporia, Kansas. He served on the Religious Council at Emporia State Teachers College and was active in the Inter-Seminary Movement while at Brite.

After graduating from Brite he served pastorates in Community Christian Church, Richardson, Texas (also serving as the Secretary and Vice President of the Ministerial Alliance in Richardson); and in Corpus Christi First Christian Church; the Kingwood Christian Church in Houston, Texas, and the First Christian Church in Fullerton, Calif. (all Disciples congregations). In 1972 he served Miami Dade Christian Church in Miami, Florida.

He and his wife Betty served as missionaries with the United Christian Missionary Society in Medan, North Sumatra, from 1967-70. Mr. Tankersley then taught Religion and English at the Christian University of Indonesia in Djakarta through the Indonesian Council of Churches and the Division of Overseas Ministries of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) until 1972. As assistant rector for student affairs, he was pastor to university students in Indonesia from 1968 to 1972.

In 1972, Mr. Tankersley was appointed administrator of the Week of Compassion for the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in Indianapolis, Ind., where he served for 20 years. The Week of Compassion is the denomination’s relief and development fund.

In 1991, Larry returned with his wife, Betty, for a second term in Indonesia as a development consultant to the Communion of Churches in Indonesia and Country Representative for Church World Service. He became NCC/CWSW Southern Asia Director in the New York City offices in March 1994. The Tankersleys were active at The Riverside Church in New York City.

He is survived by Betty Turpin Tankersley, his wife of 45 years (they were married December 18, 1954, in Leavenworth Christian Church, Leavenworth, Kansas, their home church), three children, Larry Stephen, of Oklahoma City, Okla.., Mark Charles of Penngrove, Calif., and Angela Marie Smith, of Indianapolis, and four grandchildren

Larry and Betty Tankersley were charter members of Geist Christian Church in Indianapolis.

Contributions may be made to the Week of Compassion, Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), P.O. Box 1986, Indianapolis, IN 46206.

A memorial service is tentatively planned for Thursday, Sept. 23, in Indianapolis.


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