In my life, I feel fortunate to have had many influential people offering me much needed guidance, which helped mold and shape me into the person I am today. These people have ranged from relatives, dignitaries, coaches, players, teachers, friends, and business geniuses. I count it a blessing to have had these people as major influencers in my life.
But of the many influential people who have crossed paths with me, my most influential hero is Mrs. Frances Kilcrease. Mrs. Frances was my childhood Sunday School teacher at Promise Land Missionary Baptist Church, located five miles north of Hamburg, Arkansas.
To describe Mrs. Frances, I started by writing a list of the adjectives that came to my mind. I immediately filled an entire page. After careful consideration, I chose three words that best describe her. They are teacher, leader, and icon.
Flannel graph is the first word that comes to mind when thinking of Mrs. Frances as a teacher. Mrs. Frances had a unique way of taking an ornery, fidgety, short attention spanned little boy, who wanted to be outside playing, not trapped in a boring Sunday School class, and capture his innermost imagination. She made me imagine I was standing right there with the wise men and the angels, admiring little baby Jesus in the manger. I could sense the magic of the moment while smelling the aroma of the manger scene. She transported me to the dry soil of the parted Red Sea with Moses, a similar scene we ironically shared later in real life. She allowed me to board the ark with Noah and those animals, while teaching me to build my house on a solid rock, not sand, so when the floods came, my house would not go “splat.” But when she told my favorite story of David slaying Goliath with a slingshot…..well, it was simply overwhelming! I could not wait for church to conclude so I could take my sling shot and slay something. The immediate lesson went unlearned, even though it did ultimately have a lasting impression. After unsuccessfully attempting to slay every bird in Promise Land, I quickly realized, I was no David.
Later in life, I had the once in a lifetime opportunity to see Michelangelo’s sculptured masterpiece of David, in Florence, Italy. Standing there with people from all over the world, red, yellow, black, and white, all of us looking up in silent awe of this magnificent work of art, my mind wandered back to Mrs. Frances’ flannel graph story of David and my failing miserably at slaying those Promise Land birds. Not lost on me, however, were the many Goliaths in my life I had overcome or slayed, because of the faith Mrs. Frances helped plant in my heart. After they were slayed, she taught me to forgive them and set them free.
Mrs. Frances’ adult Sunday School classes were unique. I looked forward to attending them when I came home to visit because I never left her class without learning something. However, I always dreaded having to read a scripture and, in her tradition, explain that verse to the class. Nobody could explain a verse of scripture with the same intensity and intelligence of Mrs. Frances. One Sunday, proving once again that God has a sense of humor, I got lucky and my assigned verse to read had tons of notes written in the side column from an earlier Bible study I had attended. Here was my chance to impress my hero! I read my verse and proceeded to proudly sound intelligent and explain the verse to the class. When I finished, Mrs. Frances never missed a beat. She went straight into her interpretation of the verse, and yes, once again her explanation was deeper, stronger, and delivered with more passion than mine!
Of all the great qualities Mrs. Frances possessed as a teacher, one stands out over the rest. This was her passion to teach others. She had the amazing ability to make me feel as if I was the most important person in the class and she was teaching only me. We had many Sundays where only two or three kids were in attendance. It would have been so easy for her to move us up to a class that was older or to one that was younger. Not Mrs. Frances! She taught us with the same passion whether we had two or twenty two in the class.
In my lifetime, I have lived in three different states, been a member of six different churches and met thousands of wonderful Christian role models. I had the honor of being in the Sunday School class taught by the legendary motivational speaker, Zig Ziglar. He was a fantastic teacher. But as great a teacher as he was, he truly was the second-best teacher I have ever had, second only to Mrs. Frances.
As a leader, Mrs. Frances is even more impressive. One incident always stands out in my mind for her brave leadership. On Wednesday evenings, our church doors were always open whether it was rain, shine, sleet, or snow. One Wednesday evening, a flash flood occurred while the preacher was delivering the service. One man from the community came into the service, interrupted the preacher, and announced that the Promise Land road was flooding and if we wanted to make it home safely, we had better head home immediately. The preacher said a brief prayer of safety and dismissed us.
As we began our one-mile journey home, in our 4-5 car caravan with only women and children, just prior to crossing the two bridges we had crossed safely hundreds of times before, the road began to disappear. The rain continued to pour, while the muddy waters of Haley Creek breached the banks of the Promise Land Road, an event I never witnessed before nor have I since. What should we do? There was no way home. Sure, we could try other routes, but they surely were in a similar if not worst predicament.
What is happening? Then I see this incredibly brave woman get out of her car, with a stick and flashlight in her hand, and she began walking through the rushing water, leading us to safety! One misstep and she would be swept away. A few more inches of flooding and all of us could have been history.
I was as scared as I had ever been in my life. I believe Mrs. Frances knew she was safe in the guiding arms of a higher power. I immediately flashed back to the flannel graph story about Moses’ trust in God as he guided the children of Israel through the parted waters of the Red Sea. Mrs. Frances always brought out the point that the land Moses walked on wasn’t even muddy; it was completely dry because Moses kept his eyes on God and kept his faith in him. I believe Mrs. Frances, the leader, never doubted once her God would deliver us safely to the other side of that rushing water.
“The rains came down and the floods came up,” as one song we sang in her class states. We all made it home safely that night to our homes built on the Solid Rock. All our homes became more solid that night after giving thanks for our safety and a dry roof over our heads.
In college, this might surprise you, but I was no angel. I knew the difference between right and wrong, but I went through a period of, let’s just say, sowing my wild oats. Every time I came home while I was in college, without fail, Mrs. Frances cornered me and ask, “Ronnie, are you living your life for the Lord?” or “are you active and involved in the Lords Church?” My elusiveness in seeing her eyeball to eyeball was usually in direct correlation to the answers to those questions. Nevertheless, whether I resisted temptation or gave into it, Mrs. Frances’ influence was ever present with me.
Long before the phrase “What would Jesus do” or “WWJD” became popular, many times while struggling to find my solid footing, especially in college, I used the phrase, “WWMFD” or “what would Mrs. Frances do?”
The word ICON wasn’t used much in our vocabulary until computer desktops came around and now even the youngest computer user knows it means a symbol that represents an app. If one clicks on an ICON, then they get what is behind that app; nothing more, nothing less.
For some people, if one clicks on their ICON, you do not know what you will get. Sometimes, you may get more than you ask for; in others, far less.
I’ve always thought Mrs. Frances represented the ultimate faith ICON. If you want the true human version of faith, then click on Mrs. Frances’ ICON. What you see is what you get; a truly faithful woman.
In Hebrews chapter eleven, the chapter best known as God’s honor role, seventeen people are honored by the extraordinary faith they exhibited during trying times. I believe if God revised his Bible today, Mrs. Frances, the ICON, would be one of the modern seventeen honored because of her faith.
There have been many, many influential people in my life. However, none have inspired me as much as Mrs. Frances Kilcrease, my hero.