WOODWORTH, La. – Friends and family from around the nation paid tribute to David Hankins, the Louisiana Baptist Convention's outgoing executive director, during a retirement dinner Thursday, April 11.
"Our hearts are full of gratitude – gratitude to God for the blessings of this life," Hankins told the crowd gathered at the state convention's Tall Timbers Baptist Conference Center in Woodworth. "I would be the most ungrateful person in the earth to have one complaint or one gripe about what has happened in my existence. God is so good – a great expression of that is you all.
"From the first to the last, I know it's been good for us, every bit of it. I'd do it all over again," he said, adding, "I trust it's been good for the people we work with, our staff and our friends and our pastors and our convention and our denomination."
Hankins, who officially retires June 30 from the Louisiana convention post he has held since February 2005, previously served a pair of Texas Baptist churches from 1971-1985 before becoming pastor of Trinity Baptist Church in Lake Charles in 1985.
Upon leaving Trinity in 1996, Hankins became vice president for convention policy with the Southern Baptist Convention's Executive Committee and was named vice president for the Cooperative Program in 1998 to expand Southern Baptists' involvement in supporting world missions and ministry.
David and Patty Hankins, members of Philadelphia Baptist Church in Alexandria, have been married since 1969 and have three grown sons – Andy, Eric and Adam.
Patty Hankins told the attendees she was brought to tears as she reflected on how much she loves all those in attendance.
"I love you," she said. "What's more important than that is Jesus loves you, and I'm so proud to have served with you, alongside of you. God bless you in all the great days ahead, in your life and for the convention, for how you affect our world and our culture that need you so much. I love you and God bless you."
Throughout the evening, friends from around the Louisiana convention and SBC as well as members of the state and federal governments honored Hankins with video tributes, gifts and statements of appreciation.
Waylon Bailey, pastor of First Baptist Church in Covington and president of the LBC Executive Board, said the setting of the celebration – the Georgia Barnette Conference Center – was a testament to Hankins' lasting legacy among Louisiana Baptists.
Hankins initiated construction of the facility, named after Louisiana's first elected and paid Woman's Missionary Union executive director/treasurer in order to have a place for large assemblies.
"Just the very fact that we're in this building, to me, is a way of saying to Dr. Hankins that we appreciate his ministry and leadership through the years," Bailey said. "What a great place for us to meet."
Philip Robertson, pastor of the Philadelphia Baptist Church (Hankins' home congregation) with campuses in Deville and Alexandria, voiced a prayer of thanksgiving.
"You gave us an incredible gift when you sent Dr. Hankins and 'Miss' Patty to Louisiana," Robertson said in his prayer. "We are so grateful for how You have worked through them to minister; to serve; to preach; to pray; to share the gospel; and to touch so many lives. Lord, only You know how many people over these past 14 years have been saved and been born again into Your Kingdom because of Dr. Hankins' fingerprints through the ministries that he has led and worked and labored with and in and through."
LBC President Eddie Wren presented Hankins with a certificate of special congressional recognition on behalf of U.S. Rep. Ralph Abraham, a member of Alto Baptist Church.
Wren, pastor of the First Baptist Church in Rayville, said Hankins served as a mentor to him and countless others. He added that Deuteronomy 31:6 epitomizes Hankins' ministry and life.
"The reason that we can stand today and say that he is a man of integrity, that he is a man of boldness, that he is a man of principle, is because he believes that verse," Wren said. "He believes the Lord is with him wherever he goes. And he serves Him. And so he can stand and he can be bold and he can oppose something that's wrong and not worry what anyone else thinks. And I'm so grateful for it."
Wren also presented, as a gift from the LBC Executive Board, the title of the business car Hankins has used to travel the state in his LBC ministry.
Louisiana Sen. Gerald Long, state Senate president pro tempore, announced passage of Senate Resolution 3, recognizing Hankins' contributions to "the success of the state of Louisiana" and "the strength of our communities," and shared a proclamation from Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards describing Hankins as "a beacon of hope" in the state and lauded him for his "exceptional leadership as the Executive Director of the Executive Board of the Louisiana Baptist Convention."
D. August Boto, executive vice president and general counsel for the SBC Executive Committee and most recently interim president of the national entity, said Hankins and his wife have been close friends to him and his wife Cindy.
"You are and you have been and have always been an iconic and legendary leader in Southern Baptist life," Boto said. "You have been a faithful and patriarchal family man. You have been a loyal and a true pastor and a great friend. And you've been a very fruitful servant of God. Dr. Hankins, your life has been a model of persistence, consistency, decisiveness, principle and undaunted leadership. To sum it all up, you are truly, truly unforgettable and in the very best way."
Louisiana College President Rick Brewer announced the school will present Hankins with an honorary doctorate during commencement ceremonies May 4 at the Rapides Parish Coliseum in Alexandria.
Dale Lingenfelter, the Louisiana convention's business and information services director, recounted that Hankins had been serving as executive director for less than a year when Hurricane Katrina made landfall in Louisiana in August 2005, and how he saw, up close, Hankins' keen sense of leadership during the months that followed.
"I learned that he loved and was concerned about our churches, no matter how big, no matter how small," Lingenfelter said. "I learned how concerned he was for our pastors, their staff and their congregations. I learned how concerned he was for our staff as we were spread thin trying to meet all the many, many needs out there, and, of his concern for seizing every opportunity to share the gospel.
"And I learned he could rally the troops," Lingenfelter said, adding, "and that, he did."
Hankins was the same man behind closed doors "as he was behind your pulpits, pastors, all across the state," Lingenfelter said. "It didn't matter in our discussions whether I was talking to him about the cutest little thing my grandson had just done or whether we were talking about the biggest financial decisions we would make that year, he listened with the same great interest. He always had a wise thoughtful response and I appreciated that about him."
Eric Hankins, Hankins' son and pastor of First Baptist Church in Fairhope, Ala., shared a story of the integrity his dad displayed after losing the election for LBC president in 1993. In the moments following the defeat, he said he looked toward his dad and thought about how he had handled himself with integrity, in this situation and in life, and was overcome at that moment with a longing to be that same kind of man.
"It really became a prayer – Lord, help me to be just like him, a man of integrity," he said. "And together we've watched, haven't we, some through these 14 years of ministry, some longer into the days back at Trinity, and we've watched, Dad, and we've seen your integrity, and it's stood the test of time. And we've been blessed. Congratulations. I love you and I'm going to do my very best along with my brothers and my family and the generation coming behind to take what you've handed to us and to hand it to as many people as we possibly can."
Steve Horn, pastor of the First Baptist Church in Lafayette and the LBC presidential search committee nominee to succeed Hankins as executive director, closed the evening with prayer.
"All of us who are here tonight certainly join together in great thanksgiving to you, O God, for allowing our lives to intersect at whatever moment it has been and whatever season of life it has been for all of us to intersect this life with Dr. David and Mrs. Patty Hankins," he said. "We give You thanks, O God, for indeed the relationship has been good, and we are thankful for Dr. Hankins' ministry to us. We are thankful for all of the good things that have been said tonight and know them to be true, and so we give thanks for his leadership. We give thanks for his theological conviction. We give thanks, O God, for his faithfulness to endure and to run the race that You, O God, have set before him. We are thankful for a lifetime of ministry of faithfulness unto You."
Written by Baptist Press, the official news service of the Southern Baptist Convention.