Jesse Eugene Fonville
The Life of Jesse E. Fonville
Jesse Eugene Fonville and his twin brother, James, were born in Seymour, Texas on February 2, 1926 to R.B. Fonville and Louetta McKinney Fonville. They had four older brother and sisters; and the family later had four more younger siblings. The family worked hard on a farm outside Seymour, and Jesse was baptized in 1939 by E.L. Barnett.
Jesse graduated from Seymour High School and soon afterwards joined the Navy. He served as a communications specialist and saw duty in several WWII Pacific conflicts.
At the end of the war, Jesse returned to Texas. He attended Abilene Christian College; then worked some in Abilene, as a policeman. While working for an oil company in west Texas, Jesse preached for two years for the church at Christoval before moving to Pecos to join his twin brother in the operation of a music store and radio repair shop.
On November 3, 1956, Jesse married Naomi Reagan and they worshipped with the Pecos Church of Christ. He also preached for a small congregation, Mentone, nearby for three years, until the family began making plans to go to Thailand as missionaries.
The couple was blessed with two young sons—Alan and Doug—and the family arrived in Bangkok, Thailand in February, 1962, sponsored by the Pecos Church of Christ. The Fonvilles studied the language, and worked and worshipped with several other missionary families along with Thai and Chinese brethren in Bangkok. They later moved and worked in Chonburi, Thailand, south of Bangkok and nearer the Malaysian border. In Chonburi, the Fonville family was often the source of curiosity, being the only “foreigners” in that area, where many had never even seen a foreigner.
Alan and Doug were home-schooled there in their English studies, but they did not lack for Thai playmates and friends.
In Chonburi, Jesse taught and introduced the Bible and Bible study at some eight Thai schools.
The “Vietnam build-up” had begun and, with the help of Christian military brethren, Jesse received permission to fly on U.S. Army aircraft to visit five army bases in Thailand. There he met with members of the church and also arranged a retreat in Bangkok, with military personnel being granted leave for a week. This was in addition to his ongoing work with the Thais.
As the result of mission efforts of some in America, the Bangkok church also became “mission-minded” and helped develop and support Thai preachers to work in northern provinces of Thailand, as well as Bangkok. Bible correspondence courses in the Thai language were also used effectively throughout the country.
In 1968, Jesse held a gospel meeting in Wynnum, Australia, where long-time national preacher Colin Smith, lived and worked. Before leaving for the States, Jesse held gospel meetings in the Thai language for both the Bangkok and northern Chiengmai congregations of the church.
The Fonvilles returned to the States for six months in 1965-66 and worked with the Fulton, Mississippi Church of Christ, which sponsored their work for another several years in Thailand. While in the States waiting to return to Thailand, Jesse enjoyed his work with Cecil May, Jr., who was the preacher for the Fulton, Mississippi church.
During those months, Jesse was invited to speak on several lectureships and workshops dealing with World Evangelism. Some included Austin, Texas; Freed-Hardeman and the National Christian Institute, then headed by Willie Cato.
Upon the family’s return to the States in 1969, they lived in central Texas, where Jesse preached for the Elgin Church of Christ and later for the Burnet Church of Christ. While in central Texas, Jesse held several gospel meetings and in Burnet, he worked with Jess Hall, Sr., long-time evangelist who had come there for semi-retirement. Then, after a move to Mississippi, Jesse preached for a small congregation in central Mississippi. He received help in that work from the Tipton, Oklahoma Church of Christ.
In the 70s, Jesse attended the Pan-American Lectureship in Bogota, Columbia and Quito, Ecuador, where he was one of the main speakers.
In 1973, Jesse traveled with a brother on a business trip to Africa. They lived and worked in Monroeville, the capital of Liberia for several months. While there, Jesse also taught and worked with the church in Monroeville.
In 1978, Jesse, Naomi, and sons, moved to Lumberton, Mississippi, where Jesse preached for the church there for eighteen years, with support from the Gloster Street Church of Christ in Tupelo, Mississippi. The Lumberton church, the only Church of Christ in Lamar County, was fairly small; but composed of a wonderful group of Christians who worked together in harmony and love.
Alan and Doug both graduated from Harding University; and each of them married Christian girls, giving Jesse and Naomi wonderful caring daughters-in law; and later making them grandparents.
Jesse and Naomi worked in New Orleans, where they helped staff the Churches of Christ “River of Life” booth at the 1984 World’s Fair.
Jesse was a pilot; and while living in Mississippi, he served as a Lt. Col. In the Civil Air Patrol. He was also a licensed Ham Radio operator, and certified to administer the test for applicants in Ham Radio.
While in Lumberton, Jesse graduated from the University of Southern Mississippi; and later received his Master’s degree and did doctoral studies there.
When Jesse’s health began to deteriorate, he and Naomi moved to Smiths Station, Alabama just across the river from Columbus, Georgia to be near family. Jesse and Naomi worshipped with the Edgewood Church of Christ in Columbus, Georgia where Jesse was a teacher and an elder for a time.
He was soon asked to accept the work as a preacher for the Torch Hill Road Church of Christ in Columbus where he preached for four years.
During this time Jesse taught online courses for Southern Christian University (Now Ambridge) and for Faulkner University’s military program.
Though in poor health, Jesse made four trips to Ukraine and Russia (‘96, ‘97, ‘99, ’02), where he taught Greek and Biblical Studies at the Preacher’s Training School in Kiev.
Shortly before his death, Jesse authored a book dealing with the Holy Spirit, “The Power Within.” He died at home on April 5, 2006 having been cared for by hospice for three months before his death. At the time of his death, he was survived by his wife of 50 years, Naomi Fonville, two sons, Alan (Carol) and Doug (Chelo), five grandchildren, two brothers and two sisters.
Funeral services were conducted at Edgewood Church of Christ, Columbus, Georgia on Sunday, April 9. He was buried April 10 in the Ft. Mitchell National Military Cemetery in Ft. Mitchell, Alabama. Carved on his stone: “To live is Christ, to die is gain,” words which reflect his philosophy of life.
Jesse loved music and often led singing at worship services, even teaching classes in church music and song leading. He also enjoyed bluegrass music; and studied and played classical guitar. Jesse also enjoyed art, and always looked for beautiful paintings he could afford on his trips. He also took a few art lessons in Phenix City, Alabama.
Jesse was a very humble and patient servant, yet very scholarly. At one time, he had nearly 3,000 books in his personal library. He was known as a peacemaker and a defender of the Truth. His efforts were always to be fair in judgment---“not partial to the poor, nor deferring to the great.” Leviticus 19:15.
--Written by Naomi Fonville, July, 2016
Directions To Grave
The address of Ft. Mitchell National Cemetery is 553 Highway 165, Ft. Mitchell, Alabama, 36856. It is in Russell County. As shown, his marker is in field 12, marker 864.
GPS Location of Cemetery
Section 12, Plot 864
World War II
February 2, 1926
April 5, 2006
To Live Is Christ
To Die Is Gain
Photos Taken by Alan Fonville
Webpage produced 09.01.2016
Courtesy Of Scott Harp
Special Recognition: Thanks to Alan Fonville, the son of Jesse and Naomi Fonville. I first met Alan in the summer of 2016. I was invited to speak during the summer series held at Rose Hill church of Christ in Columbus, Georgia, where he serves as one of the elders. During the course of our visit he told me of his parent's work in ministry through the years. Special thanks to him and his mother who helped to make this webpage possible.