Co-worker shares memories of slain ministry leader

By October 17, 2012

USA (MNN) — Imagine receiving a call saying your friend of 16 years has just been killed. If you've ever gotten a call like this, you might fit the shoes of Wycliffe Bible Translators COO Russ Hersman.

"At first it was just disbelief, like 'this can't really be happening,'" Hersman recalled. "But then the calls started getting followed by more calls, and it was obvious that it actually was true."

An unforeseen Florida tragedy claimed the life of Forrest W. Flaniken, 53, on Sunday afternoon. He was riding his bicycle in the designated bike lane when an 18-year-old under the influence of drugs struck the ministry leader with his car. Flaniken left behind a wife, three sons, and a daughter-in-law.

It was Flaniken's strong desire for health that put him on the road with driver Anthony Michael Moffa.

"He was…an absolute enthusiast about exercise," said Hersman, mentioning Flaniken's success as a triathlete. "He was just always running or riding or swimming to keep in shape."

Family, the Word of God, and music rounded out Flaniken's other life passions.

"He just loved his three boys and cherished his wife, Kristen," Hersman stated. "You could not have a conversation with Forrest without talking about family."

While Flaniken was effectively providing for his family with a successful career in manufacturing, it was his love for God's Word that drew him to a career of 20+ years with Wycliffe.

"When he learned that he could use his skills as a manager and administrator to help the progress of Bible translation around the world, his passion just took over and said, 'That's what I want to do,'" explained Hersman.

Most recently, Flaniken served as Wycliffe's senior vice president and chief financial officer, as well as chairman of the board of the Wycliffe Foundation. He previously served in the positions of controller and vice president of operations. In 1999, Flaniken oversaw the transfer of Wycliffe headquarters from Huntington Beach, Calif., to Orlando, Fla.

"When you move a headquarters, that's a big thing! But he had the skills to do that," Hersman said. "A lot of people thought of Forrest as kind of a numbers/finance guy, but he was so much more.

"He could dig into the most complex issue and get to the core of what was really important."

Outside of his work at Wycliffe, Flaniken was active in his local church. He also served eight years as an adjunct professor at Palm Beach Atlantic University's Orlando campus, and coached little league baseball.

Flaniken is survived by his wife, Kristen, and sons Forrest III ("Chipper"), Nelson, and Spencer, and a daughter-in-law, Kristen. Ask God to comfort each member of Flaniken's family.

"They're feeling the sense of loss," said Hersman. "Pray for them as they process this.

"To have suddenly lost a loving father and husband that way…their faith is so secure, but their lives have been rocked."

The ministry of Wycliffe USA was also rocked by Sunday's tragedy. Pray for them as they try to accommodate for their loss. They now have to fill three positions left vacant by Flaniken: senior VP, CFO, and Chairman of the Board of the Wycliffe Foundation.

"Pray that we'll find the right person–or people–to fill his considerably large shoes," Hersman requested.

A memorial service for Forrest Flaniken will be held at Aloma Church in Winter Park (1815 State Road 436, Winter Park, Florida 32792) on Saturday, October 20 at 2:00 p.m. There will be plenty of room for anyone who would like to attend. In lieu of flowers, the family is requesting gifts be made to the Forrest Flaniken Memorial Fund at Wycliffe USA.

Click here to share a message of encouragement on the Wycliffe USA Facebook wall.

"The family, as well as the Wycliffe family, feels the presence of the Lord being shared with us through the body of Christ globally," noted Hersman.

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