A pioneer in advocating and sharing stories of God working around the world died Jan. 8, 2024. Leland Franklin Webb, 91, was a writer and editor at the International Mission Board (IMB) for 32 years.
While his name may not sound familiar to some, Webb helped change the face of modern Christian media. He helped usher in the era of popular techniques to tell the stories of IMB missionaries and their ministry. His most noted work was as editor of The Commission magazine, an IMB publication—despite several interruptions—published from 1849-2008. Webb served as editor for 15 years and as a writer/photographer for the 17 previous years.
Webb had a vision to use compelling photography with on-the-scene coverage by writers to bring real missions into the home of Southern Baptists. Mary Jane Welch worked under Webb and remembered this new look was back when Life and other magazines surged in popularity. It was also a time when modes of communication and travel became more convenient.
“Leland brought a contemporary shift with the use of professional photos and writing that breathed life into the details and anecdotes of missions,” said Welch, who eventually became editor of the magazine from 1995-2008. “He envisioned a magazine that would bring international missions alive for a contemporary audience and built a team that could make it happen. It was a fresh take on the day-to-day life of missionaries.”
In a 2008 interview, Webb said the idea at the time was for artisans to bring the professional quality of their work together, and their primary goal was to portray the rich and varied story of missions with honesty and passion. The photos and stories did more than show accountability of how Cooperative Program and Lottie Moon Christmas Offering® funds were spent. The powerful media spurred on a generation of Southern Baptists to delve deeper, as their concern and knowledge for missions heightened.
“Because of TC (The Commission magazine), many advocates of missions bowed their heads in prayer and reached into pocket or purse to give extra dollars,” Webb said in the 2008 interview.
According to Webb’s 1993 research, the stories and photos also played a part in many seeking missionary service. Close to 46 percent of career missionaries said The Commission magazine gave them an avenue to explore this calling, sometimes even igniting a passion for a specific people group or area of the world. For Dan and Carol Hylden, The Commission magazine was definitely part of their missions calling.
“While living in Alaska, we were feeling called to ‘foreign’ missions in 1982,” Carol remembered. “We looked through The Commission magazine and found a contact number (for the IMB). We are now emeriti after 33 years with the IMB.”
Paul Chitwood, IMB president, remembered Webb as someone who always helped inspire Southern Baptists to know about their mission work around the world.
“The Commission magazine was a great tool for motivating and inspiring Southern Baptists,” Chitwood said. “In his role as editor, Leland Webb always helped ensure that was the case. His contributions to the IMB and to the Kingdom are remembered with deep gratitude.”
Through the years, The Commission magazine garnered national awards alongside National Geographic, Newsweek and Life. These honors, however, did not encapsulate Webb or his contributions to Kingdom work. To him, stories of missionaries and local believers around the world served as a testament of how God continually works through his people.
Webb traveled as a reporter and photographer to more than 35 countries. He also wrote two mission study books, “How in this World” and “Cultivating for Tomorrow.”
A native of McAlester, Webb graduated from Oklahoma Baptist University and Southwestern Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas. He served as a supply preacher on top of his full-time job and spoke in hundreds of churches in Oklahoma, Texas and Virginia, including a few revivals.
He was an active member of Henrico, Va., Lakeside, since 1964, where he served as a trustee, deacon, assistant moderator and, for the last 40 years, as teacher of a men’s Sunday Bible class.
After retiring from the IMB in 1995, Webb learned to play saxophones and became a member of several area bands. He also contributed 3,100 hours as a volunteer for Henrico County Police Division.
His wife, Geneva, passed away Aug. 30, 2021, three days after their 67th anniversary. He is survived by two children: Kathryn Bradley of Durham, N.C.; and husband Curt; and Charles F. Webb and wife Jennifer, of Wappingers Falls, N.Y.; seven grandchildren: Anastasia Butcher and husband Jonathan, of Raleigh, N.C.; Laina Jose and husband Nik, of Jackson, Tenn.; Isaac Webb, of Ivins, Utah; Jewel Webb, of New York, N.Y.; Martha Kelly and husband Jimmy, of Louisville, Ky.; David Bradley and wife Ashley Kelley, of Durham, N.C.; and Liana Bradley, of Boulder, Colo.; and six great-grandchildren: Josiah, Lydia, Micah, and Ezra Butcher, Nasya Jose, and Hudson Kelly.