In memoriam: Missionary emeritus Dora Dunkley Harbin, 86

Dora Dunkley Harbin, 1935-2021
IMB Photo

Dora Dunkley Harbin, an International Mission Board missionary emeritus who shared the gospel in Brazil, died Nov. 6, 2021. She was 86.

Harbin was born on Oct. 22, 1935, in McLaurin, Mississippi, to the late James Edgar Dunkley Sr. and Jessie Agnes Chandler Dunkley and grew up in Beaumont, Mississippi. Dora received the bachelor’s degree from William Carey College (now University), Hattiesburg, Mississippi, and graduated from the Mather School of Nursing, Southern Baptist Hospital (now Ochsner Baptist Medical Center), New Orleans. She worked as lab technician in the Mississippi State Milk Laboratory, clinical instructor for the Mather School of Nursing, head nurse on a medical unit at Southern Baptist Hospital and held other nursing positions at Bailey Memorial Hospital in Clinton, South Carolina, and Methodist Hospital of Hattiesburg.

She met her husband, seminary student Lonnie Byron Harbin, while in nursing school. The two were married on June 12, 1960, and began serving the LORD together.

Dora wrote when seeking missionary appointment that hearing missionaries speak in her church when she was young led her to be interested in missions and consider the possibility that God might use her in missions. During her first year in college, she wrote, she felt God calling her to serve as a nurse in international missions.

After their marriage, she and Byron felt led to consider missionary service, but various factors led them to wait. Finally, they became convinced that the Lord was leading them toward missions. The International Mission Board appointed them missionaries to Brazil in 1969.

In 1970, the couple and their three children, Trish, Debbie and Chris, moved to Brazil to serve as missionaries in Sao Paulo and Recife. According to her family, Dora taught basic health in various churches in Brazil. She helped Brazilians receive proper health care and served as a nurse to missionary families. She wrote and coordinated human needs projects, ranging from $30,000 to $1.25 million. She received scrolls of honor from the International Mission Board, the Brazilian Baptist Convention and the Sao Paulo State Convention. Because of her service to the people of Brazil, a dental clinic and a building on the Brazilian Baptist Children’s Home campus were named in her honor.

Since returning to the United States, Dora had been involved with Christian Women’s Job Corps, helping to establish certification for National Christian Women’s Job Corps at Main Street Baptist Church in Hattiesburg. She also was a regional director with Advocates for Freedom to combat human trafficking. She and Byron were members of Main Street Baptist Church, where she has served as a Sunday School teacher, choir member and on the missions committee. In May 2019 she and Byron moved into Provision Living Assisted Living Facility, where she served on the Residence Council.

Dora is survived by her husband of 61 years, Lonnie Byron Harbin of Hattiesburg; her children, Patricia Sanderford of Hattiesburg, Deborah Harbin Ingram (Clyde) of Hattiesburg, and Christopher Byron Harbin (Karen) of Wingate North Carolina; five grandchildren; a great-grandson; and her sister, Linda Dunkley Byrd (DeVon).

A celebration of life was held Nov. 9, 2021, at Main Street Baptist Church.

Donations in her memory may be made to the Lottie Moon Offering, IMB, 3806 Monument Avenue, Richmond, VA 23230, or online at Generosity Resource Center – IMB Generosity

Read an obituary here.

Read by tribute by her son, Christopher B. Harbin.