Editor’s note: In August 2020, EFM President Dr Stephen Gibson sat down for a chat with Reverend Leonard Sankey. Leonard and Janet Sankey have been an integral part of Evangelistic Faith Missions. They were missionaries in Central America, and Leonard later served as interim president at the EFM home office.
Stephen Gibson: I’m talking with Brother Leonard Sankey, who has a long history with EFM in a variety of ministries. Brother, tell us where you served with EFM. What fields?
Leonard Sankey: Well, in 1962, my wife and I were accepted by the EFM board, and we went to Guatemala in November of 1962 and served there for one term. After a year furlough in the States, we came back to Guatemala and served ten more months in that country. And then we moved from Guatemala to Honduras. We spent a little over three years in San Pedro Sula, Honduras. And after a year’s furlough in the States, we came back to Guatemala City and served there for two more years. So, that covered a period of about 13 years.
Gibson: Tell us a little bit about what led you to the mission field. How did you become a missionary?
Sankey: Well, Brother Gibson, I think much of it goes back to my home church, a little Wesleyan Methodist Church in Pennsylvania. The heart throb of that church was missions, and the heart throb of the Wesleyan Methodist denomination was missions.
One of the things that I look back on and remember is the missionary songs that we sang; the missionary songs were so compelling. I think of one we used to sing often. It’s kind of a sorrowful song… He was not willing that any should perish. Jesus, enthroned in the glory above… and how he heard our pitiful cry and came to save us… That kind of compelling song evidently found its way into my heart. A little lady in that local church by the name of Evelyn Uber had object lessons on missions for the kids—every month for fifty years! All the kids had to go up front, and then she did this object lesson. And there was something about her burden, and her desire, and her enthusiasm—actually, she could be quite funny—but those early lessons wove their way into my heart. And so, I think that even more influential perhaps than God’s Bible School were those early years, where the singing, and the praying, and the passion of missions were woven into the fabric of my heart and my mind.
When I went to God’s Bible School in 1954, the missionary interest there—because, after all, it was God’s Bible School and College and Missionary Training Home—the passion of missions there kind of whetted what was already there and matured it. So… I would say those are the earliest beginnings of why I ended up in missions.
And then in 1962, we were at GBS for an Interchurch Holiness Convention (IHC). Glen Reiff and his wife Nell were back from Guatemala—they had been my classmates there at GBS. And Glen started talking to me about going to Guatemala as a missionary. He talked so much, and he put so much pressure on, that finally I said, “Glen, you’re going to have to stop…. If I go to Guatemala, I’m going to go because God calls me, not because you want me to.” So he laughingly backed off. So, it was there at GBS that my missionary interest matured.
I noted in one of the old annuals that I had been president of the missionary club, the Pan-American Club for three years. I also remember that a graduate of GBS, who was serving with another mission in Honduras or Guatemala at the time, came and tried to help me learn to sing “How Great Thou Art” in Spanish…. It was pitiful. I hope they don’t have any recordings of that…. But that was part of the early training.
And so going back to Glen Reiff and how he put some pressure on me… That May, 1962, after IHC, we went to visit friends in West Virginia. Janet and I were already pastoring in Clarksburg, West Virginia, and we went down to Oak Hill to visit friends who had been students with us at GBS.
On the way back home to Clarksburg that night, driving on US-19 through West Virginia, the Lord sat down between Janet and I. And the Lord said, “I want you to go to Guatemala.” And when I was sure in my heart that I was hearing correctly, I turned to my wife and I said, “Janet, I believe that God wants us to go to Guatemala.” Tears spilled out of her eyes, and she said, “I know.” So, I assumed that Jesus sat down in between the two of us and told me and told her at the same time, so that we had that assurance that indeed that’s what God wanted us to do. And in that, she also received a promise from the Lord, from the Book of Revelation, which says, “I have set before thee an open door, and no man can shut it.”
And so, on that basis, sensing the call of God, having the promise of God, I called Victor Glenn at the EFM headquarters in Bedford, Indiana. I called him and told him what had happened, and he said, “Well, I’ll send you an application, and you’ll have to appear before the board.” In a few days, I received a letter back. And he said, Brother Sankey, I called the board members. They all know you, and we have accepted you as a missionary for Guatemala… without ever going to see the board. As far as I can remember, we never filled out an application.
So, we resigned our pastorate in Clarksburg, West Virginia, and began immediately our service with Evangelistic Faith Missions. That would have been in June of 1962 that we began our service with EFM.
Gibson: How long had you pastored?
Sankey: I just pastored one year. And that I pastored at all was kind of surprising. I had graduated in 1960 from GBS. I remember my classmates asking me, “Well, Sankey, what are you going to do next?” I said, “I don’t know, but I know I’m not going to be a pastor, and I know I’m not going to be a missionary.” A year later, I was pastoring, and two years later, we were on our way to the mission field. It’s a wonderful thing, just to put everything into the Lord’s hands.
Gibson: That’s for sure. His call comes as an interruption of our plans a lot of times.
Sankey: One day my wife, Janet, went up front to sing with her family. While she was gone, I picked up her Bible. I opened the front flap. On the first white page she had written, “Make all your plans subject to smash.”
I have to tell you, that’s been a principle. Lots and lots of things that I thought were going to happen—that I even thought I should do—ended up being “smashed.” But it’s not a destructive smash when it’s in the Lord’s hands. Amen.