MARCO ISLAND — Take a 12-year-old boy with a heart for Jesus, mix in a little superhero and vanilla extract and you get Ben Sprankle a soon to be missionary to Madagascar, the land of lemurs and vanilla beans.
Sprankle gave his heart to Jesus when he was 12 years old. Shortly thereafter he felt called to be a missionary to Africa. Missionaries were his heroes and his childhood dream will soon come true when he leaves on Oct. 1 with his wife Erin and four children Andrew 13, Katherine 11, Ashley 7 and Caden 3 for Madagascar where they will minister to the Masikoros, an unreached people group.
Sprankle served as associate pastor at the Family Church from September 2003 to September 2011 when he left to serve as campus pastor at the newly acquired Naples campus on SR 951. He left in December 2012 to pursue his dream.
His plan was to reconnect with family in Ohio, finish his education and to be accepted as a missionary by the International Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Church. He completed his master of arts in Christian studies from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in May and in spite of a few set backs, such as his 7-year-old daughter’s inability to pronounce her “r’s”, the family was accepted by the IMB. Not only can she pronounce her r’s she can now roll them better than anyone in the family, which is essential to speaking Malagasy, the national language of Madagascar.
They flew to Arkansas in May for the IMB commissioning service. They were commissioned along with 56 other missionaries in a spirit-filled service. The IMB leadership surrounded them in prayer and sent them off to be Christ’s heart, hands and voice to everyone they meet.
Ben and Erin were high school sweethearts who attended the same college. They stepped forward in college to join a team with IMB to go on a short-term mission trip to Kenya and Tanzania where they were smitten by the continent, her people and the IMB.
The couple married and looked forward to serving in Africa. But that was not to be. Actually, the last thing they wanted to do was to serve in the states and certainly not in Ohio and Florida. However, they served with love and gusto for 14 years. Some may recognize Ben from Marco’s annual beach sunrise service where he shared his tenor voice in 2007 and 2010. If you have kids who attended any of the high-energy vacation Bible schools during his tenure at the Family Church you will remember him as the VBS worship leader.
Those who know Ben describe him as energetic, genuine, authentic and most definitely sold out for Jesus.
The Sprankles returned to Marco Island to spend the last week in June reconnecting with the folks at the Family Church. Ben preached at the morning service on June 23; both he and Erin shared their dream of serving the lost in Africa. That evening the church hosted a fellowship fest in their honor. The fest began and ended with prayer. The church staff and deacons laid hands on and prayed for the couple. They prayed for their travel, health and transition to the field and most importantly that the hearts of the Masikoro people would be open to the gospel.
“It’s a bittersweet celebration to launch the Sprankle family to Madagascar,” said Pastor Terry Hoskins. “They were a spiritual blessing here and they will be a spiritual blessing wherever they go. The love of the Lord truly shines through them.”
The weather in Madagascar is similar to Marco but the seasons are reversed. The island country is about the size of Texas and is the fourth largest island. The family will have running water and electricity most times. There are only a few main roads.
As you read this, the family is in Virginia for eight weeks of training. They will learn to cook over an open fire, as well as, basic medical, mechanical and survival skills. The whole family will also learn how to handle themselves in challenging situations.
They leave for Madagascar on Oct. 1 and they will arrive in Tulear, Madagascar on Oct. 3. They had to purge most of their stuff, as cargo space is limited. However, among the items going will be camping gear and a heavy-duty winch.
The family who only camped once the nine years they lived on Marco will frequently camp in Madagascar. But first they will spend six to eight months learning Malagasy and the people’s customs before they minister to the Masikoros. They will work with other missionaries already there. “There’s no lone rangers in Madagascar,” said Sprankle. “It’s a team; we all work together.”
The Masikoros are farmers living in small villages, growing rice, beans, cotton, maize and manioc. They also raise cattle. The Sprankles shared that currently locusts plague the Masikoro’s fields and cattle rustling is a problem. The newly commissioned missionaries will travel by jeep, whether permitting, to tell the people about Jesus. The winch will be used when they get stuck in the mud. At first the whole family will travel to the villages to get acquainted. Having the children along is an icebreaker. When it floods they will travel by helicopter.
“These people who don’t know God can’t worship him unless someone is sent,” said Sprankle
To learn more about the Sprankles and follow their journey go to http://sprankles2mada.blogspot.com/.
Kathleen Tuttle, a Marco Island resident since 1987, has written articles for various nonprofits for more than 25 years. She is a community volunteer, former science teacher and microbiologist. Kathleen can be contacted at email@example.com.