In memoriam: Missionary emeritus Harold Lewis Blankenship, 99

Harold Lewis Blankenship, 1923-2022. IMB Photo

Harold Lewis Blankenship, an International Mission Board missionary emeritus who shared the gospel in Libya and Morocco, died Nov. 12, 2022. He was 99.  

Harold was born Jan. 18, 1923, in Flag Pond, Tennessee, to the late Horace and Mary Blankenship. He graduated from Unicoi County High School in Erwin, Tennessee, and he received a diploma from Coyne Electrical and Radio School in Chicago, Illinois, the Bachelor of Science degree from Carson-Newman College in Jefferson, Tennessee, and the Bachelor of Divinity from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas.  

As a 17-year-old, Harold enlisted in the Navy. After completing his service, he first attended Mars Hill College in Mars Hill, North Carolina, before transferring to Coyne Electrical and Radio School, and then Clemson College in Clemson, South Carolina, before transferring to Carson-Newman.  

In his letter seeking missionary appointment, Harold wrote that at both Mars Hill and Carson-Newman spiritual awakenings broke out on campus. During the summers, Harold worked at the Baptist camps in Ridgecrest, North Carolina, and he was involved in the Baptist Student Union  

While studying at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, Harold met Dorothy Amos. The couple married in 1955.  

After graduation, Harold pastored Unicoi Baptist Church. He later served as minister of youth and recreation at Brainerd Baptist Church in Chattanooga, Tennessee. In 1963, he accepted the call to pastor First Baptist Church Hickory, in Hickory, North Carolina.  

Harold committed his life to Christ when he was nine years old at a revival meeting. The Blankenships initially felt called to missions in the northwest of the U.S., however; while serving as the pastor in Hickory, Harold and Dorothy felt the Lord calling them to international missions.  

In 1965, the Foreign Mission Board (now the International Mission Board) appointed Harold and Dorothy as missionaries to Libya. The Blakenships were the first IMB missionaries to serve in Libya. 

Harold served as the pastor of First Baptist Church Tripoli, in Tripoli, Libya, and the chaplain of an international fellowship in the city of Marsa Brega. The church was started by U.S. oil company employees and military personnel three years prior to the couple’s arrival. Harold and Dorothy served families and individuals working in international oil companies, the American Embassy, U.S. Air Force and other expatriates. 

In their early years of service, the Blankenships wrote in their newsletters of the high and continually growing attendance at church on Sunday, Bible studies during the week and Vacation Bible School during the summer. In one letter, they shared of a revival that led to decisions of faith, and others recommitted their lives to Christ.  

In the spring of 1972, they baptized 10 members of their congregation and nine who attended a Chinese-speaking congregation. Most of their newsletters contained mention of more baptisms.  

The Blankenships wrote in a 1977 newsletter about a church service fraught with distractions. But, when it came time for the invitation, five children came forward to make professions of faith. 

“The question came, ‘Can decisions like these in man’s imperfection really make a difference in eternal matters?’ And the answer was, ‘Yes. They do.’ God blesses His Word and indeed he had already gained the victory – and won the hour’s battle,” Harold and Dorothy wrote.  

In 1981, the U.S. government urged the Blankenships to leave due to unstable conditions. The couple relocated to Tangier, Morocco, in 1982, where they served eight years before retiring after 25 years of service. 

Harold is preceded in death by Dorothy, his wife of 61 years, and his daughter, Mary Virginia “Ginny” Blankenship Smitherman. 

He is survived by his sons, Dan and Franklin Blankenship.