My life changed dramatically when I was 17 years old. It was January of 1981. Ever since I was a child I wanted to be a preacher. My preacher in Luling, Louisiana at the Barton Avenue Church of Christ at the time was Dallas Lockhart. He told me that he received a paper in the mail from a place called Magnolia Bible College. He didn’t know much about it but thought I might be interested since it was a good bit closer to home than the other college I was considering. My dad and I visited the college which was located in Kosciusko, Mississippi (right in the center of the Magnolia State).
The first person I remember meeting was Bobby Anderson, who warmly welcomed us. The second person I remember meeting was Paul Franks, who worked for the college. His dad, Alfred Lavern “A.L.” Franks, was the editor of the Magnolia Messenger.
I graduated mid-term from Hahnville High School and had been accepted to attend Magnolia Bible College in Kosciusko, MS. When I walked on to that campus in 1981 my life would be different because of the cast of characters that became a part of my daily life for the next four years. Also because of what I would learn, the path it set before me, and the lifelong friendships developed there. You probably have similar sentiments about the college you attended.
So in the DNA of my young adulthood development is the Franks family. Brother Al forever had a smile on his face, a warm word of encouragement, an inquisitive spirit, and a passion for spreading the gospel in the state of Mississippi. Though a Louisianan by birth (Deridder, LA), his home in Mississippi was firmly placed in his heart. In those four years there weren’t many days that I didn’t encounter a Franks. Paul took me to his home for lunch on occasion, and I was blessed by the hospitality of his sweet wife Glenda. One could often bump into Al and his precious wife June around town or as they came to the office to edit the next issue of the Magnolia Messenger.
Al Franks edited The Magnolia Messenger for 41 years. It is an iconic publication that uniquely reflects Al’s vision of the church of Christ in Mississippi. He and June traveled extensively throughout the state interviewing ministers and elders and leaders of all kinds. They reported on the minister changes, singings, gospel meetings, mission works, significant deaths, the building of new church buildings, and anything else that was of interest to the church of Christ family. The Magnolia Messenger has a Bible quiz on the back page and hundreds of people fill it out and send it in. Each month Al would give a Dickson Bible to one of those people. Of course he would post their picture – he was so interested in everyone’s life. Interspersed between news items and ads were regular features and articles on Bible subjects. In every issue Al wrote about something that was on his heart. If you disagreed with him, you could never say it was because he was unkind or mean spirited. June always wrote a column directed at Christian women, but I’ve received many blessings out of that column over the years. Paul always had some interesting report as well. Pictures of the Franks’ grandchildren were sprinkled throughout the issues. There is a lot of love in that family. So, the Magnolia Messenger is like a time capsule, a piece of Americana, a Christian Saturday Evening Post or like a Christmas letter with news from all over. It used to look like a newspaper (“Mississippi’s Good News Newspaper”) but these days it looks like a magazine. Beautifully done.
Al took on itinerant positions with churches who were struggling to find preachers and often would be located in a small city with a small church for many months helping them grow. Mississippi churches of Christ in Yazoo City and Forest and Crystal Springs (and probably other places too) have Al and June to thank for helping them get through lean months to catch their breath and renew their efforts.
The Magnolia Messenger, then, is the portal through which I found my way to Kosciusko. From the college I ended up preaching in Ruleville, Mississippi. In Ruleville I met this beautiful woman named Margaret Willingham. We both ended up in Cleveland, Mississippi where we became husband and wife. If the Magnolia Messenger didn’t exist, many of the key events of my life would have been quite different. I don’t know if I ever expressed my gratitude to Al.
And now I’ve waited too late.
Al passed away this week unexpectedly. A friend told me that he preached at the South Huntington Church of Christ in Kosciusko (where he served in the past as their preacher, and many years as an elder) last Sunday. He talked about looking forward to going to heaven. How appropriate. Al was a great preacher who spoke with conviction and determination to convict the heart. I wonder if that sermon was recorded?
In saying goodbye to Brother Al, our tears are for us. I do not question that he has found a place with Jesus and knows the kind of joy we can only imagine. We pray for his wife of 63 years, June. They were inseparable partners in life and ministry and publishing. We pray for his children and grandchildren and all of their families. It’s a big family. They will support and love one another through this loss.
Thank you, God, for the way you worked through Al Franks. His influence will live on throughout Mississippi and beyond. We look forward to a great reunion day. Until then, give us hope and determination to continue to spread the Good News of Jesus Christ. Amen.