In memoriam: Missionary emeritus Lonnie Byron Harbin, 88

Lonnie Byron Harbin, 1933-2022. IMB Photo

Lonnie “Byron” Harbin, an International Mission Board missionary emeritus who shared the gospel in Brazil, passed away on Aug. 29, 2022, in Hattiesburg, Mississippi. He was 88. 

Byron was born Oct. 18, 1933, in Tuscaloosa County, Alabama, to the late Lonnie Elmer Harbin and Maude Belle Harbin. Byron was the first in his family to graduate from high school. He graduated from West Bainbridge High School in West Bainbridge, Georgia, and received the Bachelor of Arts from Mercer University in Macon, Georgia, and the Bachelor of Divinity and the Doctor of Theology from New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary in New Orleans, Louisiana. 

Byron met Dora Ann Dunkley on a blind date, and they married on June 12, 1960. 

Before serving with the IMB, Byron served as the pastor at Brinson Baptist Church in Brinson, Georgia, and later served as pastor of Dinan Baptist Church in Tylertown, Mississippi. Byron was a professor at North Greenville Junior College (now North Greenville University) in Tigerville, South Carolina. Byron also served as interim pastor at Gowensville Baptist Church in Landrum, South Carolina, and First Baptist Church in Joanna, South Carolina.  

Byron’s interest in missions began as a 13-year-old when he heard a missionary speak at a Vacation Bible School. During his years at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary and North Greenville University, the Lord continued to confirm his calling to missions service. Byron and Dora delayed pursuing missions service to care for the financial needs of Byron’s parents. After attending a missions conference, the Harbins committed to pursuing missionary appointment, but they had to delay because their church sanctuary burned down. 

In 1969, the Harbins were appointed for missionary service by the Foreign Mission Board (now International Mission Board) to serve in south Brazil, where they served as theological educators.  

After studying Portuguese, Byron taught Hebrew and Old Testament in São Paulo and Recife, Brazil. He helped design a master’s degree program in theological education and authored a textbook in Portuguese on the Holy Spirit in the Bible, church and history. Byron also worked to meet the needs of churches in Brazil. 

During their home assignments, Byron taught at Carson-Newman College, Houston Baptist University and Mississippi College.  

When he retired, Byron taught at William Carey College and the University of Southern Mississippi, both located in Hattiesburg. Byron also served in a ministry to senior adults and was a missionary fellowship leader.  

Byron was preceded in death by his wife, Dora Ann Dunkley Harbin, and his sons-in-law, Stephen “Steve” Bozeman of Hattiesburg, and Joseph “Joey” Sanderford of Brandon, Mississippi. 

He is survived by his three children, Patricia “Trish” Sanderford of Hattiesburg, Deborah “Debbie” Harbin Ingram (Clyde) of Hattiesburg, and Christopher “Chris” Byron Harbin (Karen) of Wingate, North Carolina; five grandchildren; and one great-grandchild. 

A visitation and service were held on Sept. 2, 2022, at Main Street Baptist Church in Hattiesburg, Mississippi.  

Read obituary here.