Monday, March 4, 2024

On This Date: March 4, 1956 (Turning Point in My Family's History)

 Today, March 4, 2024, marks the 68th anniversary of a significant event in my personal family history. On that date, March 4,1956, my father acknowledged and accepted God’s call to become a preacher. He was almost 30. I was almost 9, the oldest of four (later to become five). And, yes, I remember it well.

His decision on that date was even more dramatic against the backdrop of his life to that point: he had started drinking in high school, and after entering the Army Air Corps in World War II, had become an alcoholic.

Our family in 1954, before Daddy's decision

 I remember with sadness (and still some tears) those early days of my childhood with an alcoholic father. But I also remember the day, shortly after February 29,1956, when he came into the kitchen and said to his three daughters and baby son, “How would you kids like to have a preacher for a daddy?” A preacher’s kid? Are you kidding? No longer the embarrassing taunts from neighbors’ kids about how they were not allowed to play with us because of our father’s condition (often passed out)? “Yes! I would love it!," I remember answering. 

I never complained about, and was always thankful for, being a “preacher’s kid.” I had been something else, and I knew the miracle that had happened in our lives.

 Daddy had made the choice to turn his life over to God, a poignant story I’ll save for another time, a few days before March 4 (on February 29, 1956). At that time, he had promised God that if He would take away from him the desire to drink, he would do anything God asked. Daddy didn’t expect God’s response: God asked for his service in the ministry.

 Here is an excerpt from “My Life Story”:


March 4, 1956

Daddy surrendered to the ministry at the First Baptist Church, West Helena, Arkansas, where Mother and we four children had attended regularly. Shortly thereafter Daddy preached his first sermon. I can remember seeing him come into the front yard that morning, having returned from preaching his first sermon. It was the happiest I had seen him. I think he knew that he COULD do what God was asking him to do.

[Added March 4, 2011: Email from Mother to Janene, Keith and me: It was 55 years ago today (on a Sunday night) that he went with us to church, & when Bro. [Wilson] Deese gave the invitation, he went forward and announced that he was surrendering to God’s call to be a preacher!!

When I asked for more detail, Mother wrote: When I looked up, as Daddy came back from talking to Bro. Deese [at the front of the church, during the “invitation,”], I saw that he was crying.  The thought came to me that I couldn't remember any other time seeing Daddy cry. Bro. Deese told the audience that "Red Wilson is coming tonight saying that he feels that the Lord is calling him to preach".

In the next couple of days, Bro. Deese came to our house and sat down and talked with Daddy for quite awhile.  I think Bro. Deese talked to Daddy that day about going to college.



Our family in Summer 1956

 So, Daddy and Mother, and we four kids moved to Arkadelphia, Arkansas, later that same year, for Daddy to attend Ouachita Baptist College, to prepare for ministry. He began preaching wherever he could find the opportunity, and became pastor of his first church while still in college, in August 1956.  Daddy graduated from college in three years, with a major in New Testament Greek and straight A’s on his transcript.

Jessieville Baptist Church, Jessieville, Arkansas, 1958


From Daddy comes my love of learning

My two sisters and I began singing, first in two-part harmony and then shortly thereafter in three-part harmony, and we sang “special music” a lot of times when Daddy preached. Thus began the important role of music in our lives, that continues to this day, in my siblings and our children and grandchildren.

Other than how my young little life changed dramatically on March 4, 1956, how was that date a turning point in my personal history? It was because Daddy followed God’s call to be a preacher that, when he finished college, he began looking for a church to pastor in Missouri, where he could continue his studies at a seminary (Midwestern). The church that called Daddy to be their pastor was Pleasant Hill Baptist Church, Jefferson City, Missouri.

Pleasant Hill Baptist Church, Jefferson City, MO, 1959

In that little church there was a wonderful family named Ford. They had four children as well: three boys and a girl. Daddy’s first day as pastor there was June 28, 1959. That evening, after church, I staked my territory (remember, I had two sisters). “The oldest Ford boy is mine,” I said. That was the day I met and fell in love with that stinkin’ cute Russell Ford (he was 14; I was 12). My sister Janene is 15 months younger than I. She later fell in love with another of the Ford boys, David, and they got married three years after we did.

The love of my life, 1960

So, because Daddy turned his life over to God, accepted God’s call to be a preacher, followed God’s call to college, to his first pastorate, and then to Pleasant Hill Baptist Church in Missouri, I met the man God had ordained for me. And because of that, we have had a wonderful marriage for 58 years so far, two wonderful children (Mark and Sharida), and our four wonderful grandchildren (Tory and Conner, Alyssa and Dawson), wonderful spouses for my children and grandchildren, and three incredibly awesome great-grandchildren.

But beyond that, I am overwhelmed with thoughts of how my children have influenced so many lives for God’s kingdom, including our son who is a pastor and church-planter, our grandson who is a pastor, our missionary granddaughter, our daughter who has a ministry as a high school counselor in a public school and works with young girls in a ministry program as well.

And what about Daddy, after that turning-point day? The first thing I remember was that he no longer wanted to be called “Red Wilson.” He said he wanted a different name, to go with his new identity. After that, he was known by his actual name, R.V. Wilson. He went on to pastor four small churches, all while he was also an educator (teacher, principal, and eventually Director of Teacher Certification for Missouri). 

So, he may have been your pastor, or your teacher, or your principal, or he may have signed your teaching certificate (he was all of that to me). For several years, he had a significant leadership role in Alcoholics Anonymous. Think of all those areas of influence just in his own personal life, based on that turning-point decision.

And how will the story continue? Only God knows. There are other stories through experiences of my siblings (my brother Keith and my sister Janene and her husband David) and their ministries, and prayerfully, through experiences of my husband and myself. 

The story continues through everyone whose lives have been positively affected by anyone in my family since Daddy’s decision in 1956—and their stories are ongoing, too… I know there are SO many people, and so, the story is never-ending.

That’s why I say March 4,1956, was a turning point in my family’s history.

Even though we cannot know all the ways the story will continue through the generations, the origin of the story will never change.

I am a thankful child of God—a thankful daughter, sister, wife, mother, grandmother and great-grandmother. 

I’m thankful that God called Daddy. 

I’m thankful that Daddy was willing to answer (even though he was not educated and far from a public speaker--God equipped him and he became a sought-after speaker at public events). 

I’m thankful that God allowed me to personally witness the awesome miracle of a changed life. 

And I’m thankful that the changed life positively impacted history from his time forward. 

That’s the way it works.

One thing about growing older, you know: you have the special perspective of looking back and actually seeing how God “works all things together for good.”

God performed a miracle in my family. He did that. He is still the same God. But it has always been true that it comes down to a personal and individual choice. Daddy “chose wisely.”

And what about you? Are you making decisions with your life today that will affect generations to come (infinitely)? The answer is yes, you are. The deeper question to ponder is whether your decisions today will leave a positive or a negative legacy.

Romans 8:28: “And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose.”


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