The Influence of Jean, Jane, and Shirley

This past Sunday, our church hosted “Heartland Sunday.”

For years, Bible Baptist Church has dedicated one Sunday as “Heartland Sunday,” and the singing groups from Heartland Baptist Bible College in Oklahoma City come to sing for us. Typically, a total of three groups come: one ladies trio, one men’s quartet, and one mixed group. Our church supports the college, financially and in other ways, and this Sunday offers a glimpse into what our investment means for us.

Sunday morning I sat in my usual spot, enjoying the music. As I listened to Hannah, Katie, and Marielle from the group “Assurance” sing and give their testimonies, I was reminded of my own musical heritage. And not because I grew up traveling or because I knew how they felt on the stage. Their singing reminded me of another tie to my musical roots.

***

It was May 2009, and my dad and I were attending the 50th reunion celebration of his graduating class from Baptist Bible College in Springfield, Missouri.

Mom had not felt like coming due to our busy schedule, so this trip was turning out to be a special dad and daughter time. We spent a lot of time driving (no surprise there). After some difficulty, we found old Route 66. I watched miles and miles of open fields flying by, the tall grasses swaying in the breeze, the rocky hills jutting up to the sky.  I loved hearing Dad’s memories about a time in his life before his marriage to Mom, before any of my siblings and I existed. Pre-traveling days. Pre-CDs. Pre-any of that.

As I sat at a special banquet honoring the Class of 1959, I listened carefully to the testimonies from Dad’s classmates.

One lady caught my attention. Her name was Shirley and she had been a member of a ladies trio that used to sing when Dad was attending Baptist Bible College in the late 1950s. Their names were Jean Thompson, Jane Smith, and Shirley Jayne.

Often, Dad would talk about this trio of girls, how their clear voices and tight harmony impressed him. Later, he trained my three oldest sisters to sing in much the same way.

I remember a friend of my dad telling my siblings and me that Dad once mentioned a desire to have a family that would play and sing. And now I was meeting Shirley, a lady who had had a big influence on the way my dad trained us. I was catching a glimpse of the past and how it had shaped our family’s musical heritage.

***

The ladies trio from Heartland Baptist Bible College shared many of the same characteristics with the 1950s trio from Baptist Bible College. Clear voices. Tight harmony. Sweet spirits that shone through the message of the songs.

HBBC Assurance with Jess

Left to right: Katie Smith (tenor), Marielle Serrano (alto), me (fan), Shalyse Hughes (pianist), and Hannah McKenzie (soprano). Photo credit: Rigo Mendez.

I thought of all the ways my dad had been influenced by music during his youth, and even into his twenties–from his uncles who played the banjo and accordion to a ladies trio at a Bible college. I marveled at the way God had allowed his dream to come to pass, the dream of having a singing family.

I shared this story with the “Assurance” trio. I tried to explain the influence that Jean, Jane, and Shirley had had on my family, but I am afraid I did not do it justice.

***

In May, two of my sisters and I will have the opportunity to minister in song at Lighthouse Baptist Church in Grand Prairie, Texas. I am sure we–Joanna, Monica, and I–will require much practice after so much time apart, but I feel blessed to have the chance to sing together once again.

The “Assurance” trio may not realize the influence they had on me or the influence they will have on church members across the United States, but the sound of three voices blending in harmony can touch hearts and lives.

They may not know, but I know. My family’s ministry is the evidence of the influence of Jean, Jane, and Shirley.

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