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high pockets

by T.R. Scott

HIGH POCKETS HANDS HIS HAT in south Alabama and at 75 years old drives 35 miles three times a week to preach at First FWB Church in Blakely, Georgia. He and Mrs. High Pockets occupy a 1,900 square-foot brick home three mailboxes inside the Dothan city limits, a home with 28 years remaining on a 30-year-mortgage.

 “I thought it was time I started settling down,” High Pockets says with a grin, “so, June and I decided to buy this house.” The mortgage company may not sleep well knowing one of its customers will be 105 before the mortgage is paid off, but Fred “High Pockets” Hersey thinks it’s a great idea.

The Foreigner

Fred spent 42 years with the Foreign Missions Board (now International Missions) as a missionary to Japan and does not wear shoes in his home. He found the Japanese language and culture difficult, but the no-shoes custom stuck with him. Six pairs of shoes and boots line the screened back porch.

High Pocket’s lanky 6’-3” frame towered over most Japanese in the 1950s, and many showed up at the new church he started just to hear the tall foreigner speak their language. Fred felt like the Pied Piper walking down the street with 10 or 15 children trailing after him crying “Foreigner! Foreigner!”

“When we arrived in Japan, one-third of the people had some form of tuberculosis because of poor diet,” he says. “As their diet improved, the Japanese grew taller.”

Small Paul’s Surprise

Fred and Evelyn Hersey had no idea when they began their Japanese ministry that youngest son Paul would become a concert pianist by age 14 and perform with the Tokyo Symphony. But Paul did his mom and dad one better.

He became so proficient in the Japanese language that he now serves as a translator for the U.S. State Department, and often can be seen standing near the President of the United States and/or the Japanese Prime Minister when the powerful leaders meet.

A No-Account Missionary

High Pockets chuckles, his good humor barely held in check, “I was a no-account missionary. None of us had individual accounts in those days; people just gave to missions. That’s why deputation was short.”

Converted at 16, Fred began preaching at 21 in 1954. He’s a real puzzle for his wife and family. The walls and tables of his home bristle with huge, multi-piece Japanese puzzles and Norman Rockwell photo puzzles, all assembled by High Pockets and his sizzling, non-stop mind. Nine hats pepper one wall of his back porch; a dozen caps droop from a wooden rack.

After he left Bob Jones University, Fred made one of the most important decisions of his life. He enrolled at Free Will Baptist Bible College for one semester in 1954 where he met Evelyn and courted her furiously, marrying her a few months later.

They landed in a Japan with a visible U.S. military presence. Many Japanese could not shake bitter feelings about the war, especially the atomic blasts. “My language teacher lost his entire family in the Hiroshima atomic blast,” Fred says.

High Pockets went right to work reaching Japanese with the gospel. “My first convert, won in 1958, is still active and is the oldest Free Will Baptist in Japan,” Fred declares. “Noboru Hanzawa is 72. I conducted his wedding ceremony.”

Evelyn’s Endowment Fund

Fred and Evelyn were married 39 years before she died in 1993 after a five-year bout with cancer. She never took pain medications nor experienced negative reactions to chemotherapy like others.

Fred’s older brother (Herman Hersey) encouraged him to establish an endowment with the FWB Foundation in Evelyn’s memory to help fund Japanese missions. The Evelyn Hersey Memorial Endowment Fund has been in place 12 years and benefits Free Will Baptist work in Japan by making semi-annual contributions. Japanese Christians as well as Americans contribute to the fund.

 “The endowment concept is an untapped resource,” Fred says. “This fund could underwrite mission projects. It’s probably the best gift a person can make, because it keeps on giving year after year.”

Making History

Two years after Evelyn’s death, High Pockets married long-time friend (June Wilkinson), widow of Free Will Baptist missionary Sam Wilkinson. They had more in common than they first thought. Both couples had twice applied to serve as missionaries to India, but were rejected. Sam and June went south to serve 20 years in Brazil, while Fred and Evelyn headed for the Land of the Rising Sun.

 “We are Free Will Baptist history,” Fred says. “June typed the first Digest of Reports for the National Association when she worked in the first headquarters building at 3801 Richland Avenue.”

Fred says, “If I could do it over again, I would keep a journal, because so many details slip away.” Fortunately, June did keep a 20-year journal, sort of. Her mother kept two decades of weekly letters that June sent from Brazil.

Fred and June Hersey continue to make Free Will Baptist history. June wears hard-soled shoes in the house in case bare-footed High Pockets forgets who is in charge.

T.R. Scott is a free-lance writer from Nashville, TN. A journalist for more than 35 years, his articles are featured often in ONE Magazine.

©2005 ONE Magazine, National Association of Free Will Baptists