Childhood fire doesn't scar student's faith
January 5 2001 by Irma Duke , Campbell Divinity School

Childhood fire doesn't scar student's faith | Friday, Jan. 5, 2001

Friday, Jan. 5, 2001

Childhood fire doesn't scar student's faith

By Irma Duke Campbell Divinity School BUIES CREEK - Forty-four years after he was burned beyond recognition, Frank Hensley is still asking why. But the Campbell University Divinity School student's questioning is not why that happened to him, but why God chose to use him and how he can glorify God. And he would rather talk about his spiritual journey than his pain and struggles. He says if his scars get in the way of a person seeing God in his life, his witness has failed.

Hensley was burned on Feb. 22, 1957, in a fire at his elementary school in Mt. Airy. The school burned to the ground.

Hensley was the last person to leave his fourth-grade classroom because he wanted to get his brother's jean jacket hanging in the back. As he entered the hallway, he was overcome by the smoke and intense heat.

When he came to, he tried to open the door of another classroom, but it exploded when he edged it open, throwing him back across the hall and into a wall, where once again he passed out.

He remembers waking up out in the schoolyard and running toward home. "God had to be the one that carried me outside," he says. A high school student corralled him and other injured students and led them toward the adjacent high school where emergency workers loaded him in an ambulance. Five badly burned students, including Hensley, were taken to a clinic in nearby Dobson. It wasn't until he was there in a room alone that he saw himself in a mirror and then saw a "figure dressed in white who said, 'You will be all right.'"

With third-degree burns over 75 percent of his body, the 10-year-old faced eight months of treatment at Baptist Hospital in Winston-Salem, three weeks of that in a coma, and dozens of surgeries. He had skin grafts all over his body. When he had no more skin to graft, his father volunteered to donate skin from his thighs to his ankles on both of his legs in order to provide what his son needed.

Hensley remembers his own pain, but tears come to his eyes when he talks about what his parents went through.

"The pain and itching that my father experienced had to be almost unbearable," he says as he wipes away tears.

During his hospital stay, his mother only missed visiting one day. She and another burned child's parent wore out a car, so the community purchased another for them.

When Hensley first came home from the hospital, he wanted to die. His sister screamed in shock when she saw him the first time. Others stared at him. He felt helpless.

He was able to wear street clothes but he couldn't buckle his belt or tie his shoes. A banner welcomed him home, but he didn't want to be there. If his 52-pound body had had the strength to pull the trigger on his father's gun, he says he would have done it.

Just days later, he said, the Lord turned him around. "God said you can't do that. You've got to do something about your life."

On his 11th birthday, just 10 days out of the hospital, Hensley joined the Boy Scouts. He passed every requirement for Eagle Scout except the swimming merit badge.

At age 12, he started going door-to-door selling Fuller Brushes with an older gentleman. In high school, he was a member of the Student Council, the Spanish Club and the Key Club. He also drove a school bus for two years and worked at a service station. He was determined to be all that God wanted him to be.

"I had to get myself out in public."

During this time, life still wasn't easy.

He endured blood transfusions.

He had a tube in his throat for four years to help with breathing.

He and his family created therapy machines for stretching his elbows and fingers, which had drawn up in the healing process.

He put together model cars with intricate details such as spark plugs to push his fine motor skills.

His surgeries continued four or five times a year until after his freshman year in college when he refused to have anymore. The doctors had done all that they could do to help him functionally.

"At least, I never had to worry about 'zits,'" he says with a chuckle.

After graduating from Campbell University with a degree in business administration, Hensley married his high school sweetheart whom he met on his school bus route. They moved to Salisbury where she completed her nursing degree. He worked nine years in vocational rehabilitation.

While in Salisbury and starting to raise their family of two girls and two boys, the Hensleys attended Stallings Memorial Baptist Church. That is where they became involved in preschool work. One day, the pastor "sat me down and told me that we were going to Ridgecrest (Conference Center) for training, and we did," Hensley said.

There was some sense of a calling at that time, and the couple accepted volunteer positions as co-directors of the church's pre-school program.

But Hensley turned aside any other sense of calling. His fear was always that people would see his scars, not the work of God in his life. He held a variety of secular jobs, all the while realizing "God was continuing to work on me."

Frank Hensley is pictured with children in the pre-school department at Green Street Baptist Church in High Point.
In 1980, the family moved to High Point for Hensley to manage a tire store. They began attending Green Street Baptist Church and, again, were drawn into a pre-school department. Under Hensley's direction, the department grew from 80 to 350 preschoolers and from 12 to 45 teachers.

Still he sensed the tugs. And "every time I tried to run, something was there to put the skids on it."

Hensley finally decided to put the calling to rest, returning to his alma mater, which now had established a divinity school. Surely, he thought, such a visit would negate any calling he might have heard. But every question was answered and every objection dismissed.

He gave up and "decided to make something of myself."

Hensley will graduate from Campbell's divinity school in May. For the past year, he's been working full-time as interim minister of education at Green Street Church and attending classes full time.

The 54-year-old admits he probably should have been in ministry 20 to 30 years ago. But that nagging fear of what others would see always got him.

He remembers as a 12-year-old boy catching himself staring at a person in a wheelchair.

"I've got to help them look past my scars and see Christ in me," he says.

Part of the reason that he says he resisted the ministry so long was that "the devil constantly made me question my motives. Did I just want to draw attention to myself?"

He believes he will have failed Christ if all people see is Frank Hensley.

Today, however, "One of my passions in life is putting people at ease with me."

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1/5/2001 12:00:00 AM by Irma Duke , Campbell Divinity School | with 0 comments
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