One day a few years before my father, Rev. Ernest Franklin Shields passed away, I was prompted to take my new laptop over to his house and have him share his life story in his own words. I was so grateful I took the time to do this. When he died in June of 2005, I added the last pieces of his story.
I’ve written many things about Dad. He was my hero in every sense of the word, but nothing I write could express his life as well as the truth of how he lived it. He’d never tell you this fact, but nearly every person who came through the line the day of his funeral and visitations told me the same thing. “I never heard your dad say a bad word about anyone.”
I could truthfully answer, “Neither did I.” He modeled grace for us every single day. As a man who spoke in many different churches throughout the district, he knew a lot about what was going on in every church. But it was mainly pastors, who shook my hand and told me, “I knew when I told your dad something it stayed with him and never went any farther.”
He was a confidant, an encourager, an uplifter, a prayer warrior, a man who knew his Bible forwards and backwards. He lived the words of his favorite hymn, “I’m using my Bible for a roadmap.” As you read his story here, you’ll understand the importance of him doing this. He didn’t have good, consistent role models. He grew up in various homes of relatives and friends. His father, though a hard worker, was an alcoholic who had six children and worked as a hired hand for various local farmers.
One time I asked Dad how he learned to be such a good father. He thought awhile and then said, “Whatever I did right I learned from my heavenly Father and the book He left to guide me.”
Here’s his life story pretty much in his own words. Although I shared this at his funeral 14 years ago, I don’t think I’ve shared it my website. It’s past time to do that.
I was born in a migrant farmworkers’ shack near Lincoln, CA, amidst the fragrant scent of orange trees in the height of the picking season. It was shortly after I was born that my parents loaded me and their other two sons, Bill and Junior, then two and four, into an old truck and headed back home to Missouri.
So, as soon as I was born and it was all right for Mom to travel, we traveled back to Missouri where my parents were from. My father was a good worker, so it was easy for him to get a job as a hired hand for one of the farmers near Fayette, where he grew up. We had lots of Dad’s relatives all around the area and so we settled in there.
Most of the houses we lived in were one-room log cabins with dirt floors. The houses would be on a farm where Dad worked.
My mother tried as best she could to be a good mother. She only had a fourth grade education and by the time she and Dad stopped having children there were six of us to feed. Mom always grew a garden with as many vegetables and she could.
When we had ammunition, my brothers and I went hunting for rabbits and squirrels. In the winter, we’d help Grandpa butcher some hogs and we’d have meat for awhile. We didn’t have a refrigerator or any way to keep the meat cold, so we could only keep it cold as long as it was cold outside, otherwise it would spoil.
In the summer, there were mulberries, blackberries, and wild cherries. We’d pick them and mom would can them. She’d also go out in the spring when the grass started getting green and find polk salad greens. She knew exactly what to pick that tasted good. Sometimes in the winter, that’s all we would have to eat, canned wild cherries.
Dad was always moving from farm to farm to find work at places that a house where we could stay. If we stayed in a place long enough, we’d get an old setting hen and a rooster and start having some eggs. We’d maybe even be there long enough to raise some chickens to eat. But most of the time, we were just really hungry.
On My Own At Three
When I was about three years old, I went to live with my Aunt and Uncle. We had to plough with horse drawn ploughs. One night it was customary they have neighborhood dances. They’d push the furniture back against the walls and have someone come in and play the piano, guitar, banjo, old-time musicians and then they’d have a dance and libation along with it.
They had a dance one night at their house and something happened and they got in a brawl. I was sleeping on a cot in another room and my aunt came in and got me and woke me up real quick and said, “Come on we have to leave right away.”
She got me by the hand and we started out walking to Grandpa and Grandma Shields’ house. Minnie was young and black-headed. I think her husband got mad and jealous because she was talking to another man. They got in a fight. She was concerned for my welfare and so we started walking. She was dragging me in and out of ditches.
It seemed like a long way and we finally got to Grandpa and Grandma’s. My aunt finally made up with her husband and they got back together, but I didn’t go back to live there. They were young and were going to start their own family.
Annie, Jesus and Cowboy Boots
I went to live with Annie Daughtery next. She was a neighbor who lived several miles away. Her husband was dead, but she had a grown son who worked the small farm and lived with her. She had had another son who died. I guess he had been about my age when he died because she still had some of his things there. She didn’t mind me wearing his clothes.
She had a pair of black and white cowboy boots that were just my size. She told me I could wear them while I was there but I couldn’t have them because they had been her son’s. She had a special attachment to those boots, but so did I. I had never had anything like the boots and I really liked them.
Annie went to church and took me to church. Sometimes we’d pick up my brother, Bill, who was living with a nearby neighbor, and take him to church with us. I remember one Sunday when I was about nine, she took me and Bill to church. They had an altar call and she took us to the altar and she told me I needed to go to the altar. I didn’t refuse her.
We knelt at the altar and prayed and the Lord saved me. She was the one who led me to the Lord. I think Bill accepted Jesus, too, but there wasn’t any great manifestation in his life. He didn’t show any interest in spiritual things until years later after he was grown and had grandchildren.
Both Bill and I were baptized with others in the creek near Mt. Olivet Baptist Church. I went to church as often as I could after that. While I was at Annie’s, we went every Sunday. Even after I left there, I went if I could find a way to get there on Sundays.
Annie also had a Shetland Pony that I could ride while I was there. I liked riding, but the pony was a bit stubborn. He’d turn and bite me while I was riding him. He had a habit of stalling and not wanting to go any further. That’s when he’d turn and bite me.
One day, I was running him down a hill. I had my legs wrapped around his front legs and he was really going fast. Somehow he was going so fast and I couldn’t get him to stop. I fell off, but my legs were still wrapped around his front legs. One of his hooves caught me under the chin. I still have a scar from that.
It was shortly after that I decided to leave Annie’s. I wanted to take those boots with me, but she wouldn’t hear of it. We had quite a row about it and I left without the boots.
I went back to Loretta and Robert Griffin’s house when I was about 11. I had been there one time before when I was younger and stayed several months. This time I stayed until I was 15. I did a lot of the chores. I mainly chopped wood, because I really enjoyed doing that. Of course, I did whatever Loretta told me to do.
One day, I was out hunting. I had set a trap down in a hole and I could tell something was in the trap. Well, I messed with it a bunch until I found out exactly what was in the hole. It was a skunk! He sprayed me good before I could shoot him, but I still wanted the skin because it was worth a little bit.
So, I took the skunk back to the house to show Loretta. Needless to say, it was not something she wanted to ever lay her eyes on. She told me I couldn’t come in the house and to wait outside. Then she handed me fresh clothes out the door while holding her nose. She told me to go to the smokehouse, strip down naked, scrub myself until I got the stink out and put on the new clothes. She told me to burn the stinking ones. Well, I did what she said but I don’t think I got that stink out for days later. Anyway I never went hunting for skunks after that.
Loretta and Bob’s was a great place to live. I stayed there for quite a few years. I graduated from eighth grade and decided I wanted to go into the Army. The way I saw it, there was nothing to do except work as a farmer and I didn’t want to do that. I wanted to find a job I could make some money at and the Army was the only way I knew for a country bumpkin with no money to live.
Army Bound At 15
I was only 15, but I thought I could get into the Army. I had a little money saved and so I bought a bus ticket to St. Louis. Once at the Army Base, they lined us all up and then went down the line looking us over. They stopped where I was and said, “You don’t look 17.” I lied and told them I was.
My mom had already signed for me to get in the service. They took my blood pressure and it was too high, probably because I was so stressed about lying about my age. They put all of us up in the barracks for the night. I didn’t care much for the lodging.
The next day, they separated us into two groups and lined us up again. I was sent over to the right side and the other group to the left. By this time, I was praying I didn’t get in the Army. Sure enough, I didn’t. They sent my whole group home and told us to come back when we were older.
I went back home and worked for another year at odd jobs. My mother was always telling us that we had an uncle in “sunny California”. She would always say that. Cecil Garl was, in fact, a former uncle. He had been married to one of Dad’s sisters, but they had gotten a divorce years ago. For some reason, he and my parents still kept in touch. He wrote and told my mom that we should come on out to “sunny California” and that there were jobs out there.
I saved up my money and bought a bus ticket to where he lived. It seemed to take forever to get there. I rode on the bus for days. When I arrived, all I knew was my uncle’s name and that he worked on the railroad. I found the railroad and asked some of the workers.
They told me Cecil worked in a shack down the line a few miles. I walked down there and introduced myself to a man I had never met before who really wasn’t even related to me. He invited me to spend the night in the shack with him. The next day we went to his house.
He had a daughter, Barbara, who was the same age as me. We were both 16. In most situations it would not be wisdom to allow a 16-year-old boy to live with you when you have a 16-year-old daughter, but they were very strict and kept us very much apart. That was fine with me. I liked Barbara as a friend, but that was it.
Baptism In Holy Spirit
The Garls attended an Assembly of God church and, of course, I went with them. They had an active Christ Ambassadors (CAs) group. This was an onfire group of Pentecostal young people and I loved it. For the first time, I was a group of kids who loved Jesus and actively expressed their faith in their daily lives. I learned a lot about the scriptures while there.
I also experienced the baptism in the Holy Spirit, which seemed to give me the ability to read and understand the Scriptures in a whole new way. My eyes were opened to more of the things of the Spirit. I felt a leaning toward the ministry, but was not sure how I, a fairly uneducated kid, could ever be able to be a pastor, but God knew.
Off to the Marines
After I had been in California about a year, God stirred up in me that old desire to go into the service. So, I went home to get my mother’s signature and went to the Marine recruiter. This time, I was accepted.
When I signed up I had to put down what I was interested in, so I put the chaplaincy. I ended up being a chaplain’s assistant and somewhere along the way, felt called into the ministry. I had the desire to use my G.I. Bill and go to Bible College after the service. I didn’t know how that would be possible because I had only gone to the eighth grade. Once again, God knew how to make it happen.
Meeting Future Wife
Boot camp was really hard. At the end of that, I got a 30-day leave. I went home to Missouri. It was shortly before my 19th birthday. My oldest brother, Junior, was dating a girl named Betty. Betty had a friend named Donna. I knew who she was.
She had a red coat and every time I went to town on Saturday, I’d look for her red coat. I’d never really dated anyone before. I didn’t really know what a date was. But, that didn’t mean I didn’t have natural desires.
Junior and Betty set us up on a double date to go roller skating. We dated all through that leave. After that, we wrote to each other all summer and into the fall. She was real good writer. She had pretty black hair and was very slim and trim. She was a Baptist and a Christian, so I figured we had a lot in common. She figured the same thing.
Looking back, I realize she didn’t know a thing about a Pentecostal church. She just figured it couldn’t be that much different from what she already knew.
I came home on leave again in October. Donna and I had pretty much decided we wanted to get married. Donna wanted to elope. She really didn’t like crowds that much and didn’t want to be the center of attention at a wedding. We went to tell her parents.
Her father owned a very large farm, unusual in those days when most people survived on small acreages. He had 530 acres, a large two-story farm house, several barns and out buildings and another two-story house down the ridge where his hired hand lived. By my standards, he was a rich farmer.
Instead of just running away, we went and told her mother and father what we were planning to do. They weren’t very happy about our plans, but they finally gave us their blessing and $100 for the trip to North Carolina.
We took a bus to North Carolina. The trip didn’t seem long at all. We were young and in love. Once there, we immediately went to the chaplain and got married, spending the night in the base guest house. After that, we began our married life together which would span more than 40 years, three children and six grandchildren.
School and Family
When I got out of the service we moved to Waxahachie, Tex., where I enrolled in Southwestern Bible College, now Southwestern Assembly of God College and Seminary. We lived in a tiny trailer, one of those silver Airstream trailer that people take on camping trips today.
Donna got pregnant and we decided to go home for the summer to her folks house. Teresa was born in Fayette on Aug. 5. After that, we went back to Texas where I went to school for several years and worked odd jobs. We had a great group of friends there. Donna missed her family and we decided to transfer to Central Bible Institute in Springfield. I went the last year of school there and a month before graduation, our son, Randy was born on April 6.
After graduation, we moved to Jefferson City where I got a job at the Missouri State Prison. I had to sit in a guard tower with a gun trained on the area below. You couldn’t listen to music or anything else. You just had to sit there and watch. I worked the night shift and it was really difficult to stay awake. We were members of First Assembly in Jefferson City and made great friends there. I preached some, but didn’t get many opportunities.
Columbia and Preaching
Eventually, we moved to Columbia and I got a job at a furniture store. Donna’s parents helped us buy a house on Spencer Street. I lucked into a job at the University of Columbia as a steamfitter. When the foreman job came open, I was the only one with a bachelor’s degree and so they made me foreman. I’m not sure what a degree in biblical studies had to do with being a steamfitter foreman, but I was blessed with the job because it was an increase in pay.
Several years later, our daughter, Renee, was born on Nov. 12, my mother’s birthday. In Columbia, we were members of First Assembly of God Church with Bro. and Sister Charles Parker. Bro. Parker was a great help to me in my ministry, recommending me to various churches around.
I did a lot of fill-in preaching for churches like First Assembly of God in Fayette, Centralia, Mexico and Clark. I also preached a lot at Glad Tidings Assembly of God in Moberly. When Highland Park Assembly of God started in Columbia, I became the interim pastor when the church was still in a house on Worley Street.
Donna became sick while we were at First Assembly. She needed quite a bit of counseling and was in and out of hospitals in the area. We had church friends and, of course, family who helped me with the kids. It was a difficult time because Donna was scared of crowds and didn’t want to leave the house.
She didn’t want to go to church and didn’t want me to leave her so on Sundays, I sent the kids across the street to Bethany Baptist church. As a result, both Teresa and Randy became active members of that church.
I knew the pastor there, Freddy Rippeto. He was a good man and even though it wasn’t my denomination of choice, I knew they preached Jesus as Lord and in the end, that is all that matters anyway. So, I let them keep going there even when Donna got some better and could go back to church. Renee, however, went with me to church. She was only a baby when Donna got sick.
For about 10 years, Donna didn’t want to go many places. She didn’t want to go to church very often. At one point she had gotten really bad and didn’t even want to go to the grocery store or any place outside of the house.
God Healed Her
One day a friend of hers from Jefferson City called and said that God had told her to call Donna and invite her to a Full Gospel Businessmen’s Fellowship meeting that evening. Donna agreed to go. The man talked about emotional healing and said God showed him that there were three people there that night that needed healing and asked them to stand.
Donna and two others stood. He told Donna that he was going to heal her, but that it would not be an instant healing. He told her that she must fit her life into what the Bible says rather than fitting the Bible into how she wanted her life to be. After that, she got much better.
I began preaching again at local churches. When Highland Park Assembly of God started in Columbia, I became the interim pastor when the church was still in a house on Worley Street.
More Ups and Downs
My children grew up and married. In 1984, Donna and I were blessed with our first two grandchildren. We had prayed for them because our children had been married awhile and we wanted to be grandparents. Finally, we got two in one years. Then about one every year for the next four years. Altogether we wound up with six grandchildren and they were the apples of our eyes.
I started preaching at the Sturgeon Gospel Tabernacle in about 1981. They called me to pastor there. I served there for nine years until 1990. Donna got sick again and I resigned to take care of her. This time, even though it began as an emotional illness, we found it actually was a physical sickness.
After resigning the church in Sturgeon, we began attending Christian Chapel because it was where Donna felt most comfortable. Then we discovered that she had cancer. She died in 1992 and was one of the most difficult times in my life until then.
I retired from the University after almost 35 years of working there. I had done this prior to Donna’s passing and while I was still at the Sturgeon church. The job was sometimes tiring, but it was a blessing because it provided well for my family and provided a retirement income.
After Donna died, I lived alone for five years. I enjoyed studying the Bible and being with my children and grandchildren. I also taught Sunday School and did rest home services. I always enjoyed working with my hands and so I helped build several churches in Missouri and Texas.
In 1995, God brought a wonderful woman into my life. I had noticed Diane Norvel at church. She was one of the women who did the overheads. I knew she had been my wife’s nurse. I guess she had noticed me as well. Her husband had passed away and by God’s providence we began talking and discovered a mutual interest in one another. I think we actually fell in love over the telephone.
After about two dates, we decided we wanted to get married, but we weren’t sure what our children would think. She had a daughter who was married and had three sons. Of course I had three children and six grandchildren.
We made the decision to get married in the fall of 1995 but decided to wait until February, 1996 to give some time for our kids to adjust to the idea. We were married on Feb. 10, 1996 at Christian Chapel. It was a beautiful wedding. I loved Diane with all my heart.
We did many things together. We went on a missions trip to South Africa. We took a trip to the Holy Land. We attended several Benny Hinn Crusades and went to Gaither concerts. We also taught a Bible study in our home where we saw the Holy Spirit fall in great power.
Toward the end of my time here on earth, we took in two quadripelgic individuals who need total care. My precious wife, Dianne, did this so that she could stay home and take care of me.
I hated to leave my earthly home, but I’m rejoicing today with the saints above. Most of all, I’m here with my heavenly father and I’ll tell you, it is glorious up here. Words cannot describe what it’s like.
Stay close to Jesus and I’ll be waiting here for you when you come.