Mom wants her son's remains after church camp "martyrdom"


The Sacramento Bee/July, 1987
By Nancy Weaver

It's been about 10 months since Brad Rankin of Sacramento was buried in a grave in Africa, near the religious outpost he helped build in Malawi. Stricken with malaria, the 29-year-old convert died two days before he was to return home.

But his death has not ended his family's struggle to deal with his...beliefs as a member of the Aggressive Christianity Missions Training Corps.

Family members say they don't want his death used as propaganda for the group, also known as Free Love Ministries or his grave to be a monument to beliefs they view as hateful.

The ministry planned his funeral and buried him in the city of Zomba. A member of the American Consulate said it was a well-attended funeral. The head of the ministry told the family that the training camp will be named in his honor.

But none of that matters to his family. They've spent much of the past year trying to get his body exhumed and brought back to Sacramento for burial. "I want him home," said his mother, Wanda, as her eyes filled with tears.

Now arrangements are being made through the U.S. Department of State to have Rankin's body exhumed and brought home. Most of the details have been worked out, but the family still is arranging to pay the $2000 fee.

For two years before his death, Rankin was a member of the militaristic church with an estimated 25 to 50 believers living in a barracks at 23rd and X streets in Sacramento.

The members wear uniforms and are given military rank in their spiritual warfare against the devil and everyday demons they define to include pride, homosexuality and Rock 'N' Roll music.

The Rankins and other families say the church has turned their children against them because they don't share the same beliefs. Several parents picketed the church in March.

Jim and Lila Green, brigadier generals who lead the ministry, failed to respond to a request from The Bee for an interview.

Wanda Rankin said she also has lost a daughter, Jacque Johnson, to the ministry. She said Johnson, who joined the group a couple of years before her brother won't have anything to do with the family. She said the family has had only one glimpse of her since February.

The ministry's publication called Battle Cry contained a special tribute to Rankin after his death on June 18,1986. The cover showed a drawing of a soldier playing a bugle and written underneath, "Soldiers Die in Battle!"

"We buried Lt. Rankin on the land where the training center is being built. As the work there is in its foundation stages, there he lies as the living foundation on which God's work there will grow, the foundation of laying down our lives for the purposes of Christ," a captain said.

The Rankins don't want anyone else following their son's example. They don't want Brad Rankin's death to be used to attract others to the church.

"They (church leaders) want him there as a martyr," said Karen Brashear, another sister. "All we want is to get him home, bury him and get on with our lives. We haven't been able to do that."

The family said they never agreed to have him buried in Africa. Rankin's mother didn't even know he was sick when her daughter called to say he was dead.

Wanda Rankin said Jacque Johnson hurried her to make a decision on the disposition of Rankin's body. She said she thought at first that her son would want to be buried there. But, before she made a decision, she said, the ministry buried her son.

The grief has not been suffered and forgotten. "Ours is still pending," said Rankin's mother.

At first, Rankin's family was not too disturbed by his newfound brand of Christianity.

Three years ago, he had a problem with alcohol and had been arrested twice for drinking and driving.

In his testimony in a Battle Cry issue, Rankin described his lifestyle. "I was so wound up with drugs, alcohol, Rock and Roll music and women that I thought that's what life was all about, to have a good time and make the best of it here on earth."

Rankin had the "demons" of alcohol pulled from him and he became a "true Christian," according to his co-religionists.

"I'd always sit down and listen to him," said his mother. "He was talking about Satan. He was always talking about the devil."

Brashear, who attended a service with their mother, said, "Nothing was love. Nothing was forgiveness. Everything was sad, the end of the world coming."

A year ago, a judge in Contra Costa County refused one ministry member's request for a restraining order against his parents, who were trying to contact him.

Alberto Muniz complained to the judge about his parents' "unwanted, unsolicited harassment."

His parents said their attempts to contact him were prompted by "legitimate concern and love for their son."

To see more documents/articles regarding this group/organization/subject click here.