In memoriam: Missionary emeritus Jim Ragland, 1924-2023

Jim Ragland, 1924-2023
IMB Photo

Jim Ragland, an International Mission Board missionary emeritus who shared the gospel in Lebanon, died Sept. 24, 2023. He was 99.

Jim was born in Ada, Oklahoma, in 1924 to James Jordan and Zelda Keithley Ragland. He graduated from Maud High School in Maud, Oklahoma, received the Bachelor of Science from Oklahoma A&M in Stillwater, Oklahoma, and the Bachelor of Divinity from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas.

He served in World War II as a B-17 navigator, in the 388th Bomb Group during the final months of Hitler’s Reich. After the war, he returned to Oklahoma A&M and spent his nights and weekends as an itinerant evangelist and later, during his seminary years, as a country preacher in west Texas, his obituary reported.

On May 31, 1948, he married Leola Kelley.

In 1953, the Foreign Mission Board (now International Mission Board) appointed Jim and Leola missionaries to Beirut, Lebanon.

“Most of the next four decades were lived in Beirut, Lebanon, where he was father, husband, missionary, ad hoc diplomat, hostage rescuer, and headmaster of Beirut Baptist School, a school still thriving today,” his obituary describes.

He served in Beirut during the Suez Canal crisis, in 1958 when United States Marines stormed the beaches of Beirut, in 1967 when thousands of other Americans evacuated, during the 1973 Yom Kippur war, in 1982 when Israel invaded Lebanon, and through the darkest moments of a 15-year civil war. In 1987, he was forced to leave the country. He and other missionaries relocated to the island of Cyprus, where he worked until retirement.

“He made his family’s lives a magical adventure they will never forget,” his obituary said. “He was a testament to endurance and survival and fitness and will be remembered for his fierce devotion to Beirut Baptist School, and for his efforts to save every soul he met.”

He was preceded in death by his wife of almost 70 years, Leola Lee Ragland.

He is survived by his children James Ragland of Pearland, Texas, Rebecca Cherry of Springfield, Missouri, John Ragland of Hot Springs, Arkansas, Steve Ragland of Leonard, Texas; nephew Joel Engle of Keller, Texas; six grandchildren; and many great-grandchildren, grand-nieces and grand-nephews.

A memorial graveside service was held Nov. 10, at DFW National Cemetery, Dallas, Texas.

Read an obituary here.