Death of Frances Thompson, Former Missionary to the Philippines

Death of Frances Thompson, Former Missionary to the Philippines

September 2, 1909 – March 21, 2010

Ella Frances Thompson was born in Kentucky just over 100 years ago.  In spite of many moves, her father, who valued education, saw to it that his children always attended school.  Later, Frances (who preferred to use her middle name) received scholarships and worked many jobs in her determination to pay for a college education.  In the summer she taught Vacation Bible School in rural Tennessee communities, some days walking 12 miles to meet her class.  Later she attended Union Theological Seminary in New York City to prepare for a missionary career.

In 1937 she was commissioned by the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions and sent to the Philippines to teach Philosophy, Christian Ethics and Bible at Silliman University.  Her students were from varied backgrounds, some of them Muslims.  She did not try to convert them, but instead shared her faith and ethics by example.

In December 1941, the Japanese invaded the Philippines.  Food shortages and fighting made life difficult and dangerous.  Frances and other “enemy aliens” were put into Japanese Internment Camps.  During her three years in the camp she helped by tending the sick.  She organized an informal school for the American children in the camp.  She was allowed to cultivate a small garden and to grow sweet potato vines which supplied some fresh greens which she shared with other internees; many had become malnourished.  Finally, in 1945, U.S. troops arrived and freed the internees who were then sent home on troop ships.

Frances, now weighing 87 pounds, was given the opportunity to recuperate and again to study at Union Seminary.  She then returned to the Philippines assigned to do “field work” for churches such as literacy programs based on the famous Frank Laubach “each one teach one” method.

After several years of working with local churches in northern Mindanao, Frances was transferred in 1952 to Dansalan Junior College in Marawi City where she taught in both the high school and college departments until her retirement in 1972.  While at Dansalan she also served as college treasurer from 1970-1971.

Dansalan Junior College served a largely Muslim community in the southern Philippines and she taught religion and philosphy courses to mostly Muslim students.  In addtion to her teaching duties, “Aunt Frances,” as she was lovingly referred to by students and colleagues, spent many hours in her campus home counseling young Muslim women who were being confronted with many challenges in their culture.  Her early students were among the first Muslim women in the Philippines to attend high school or college classes and they had many cultural clashes to deal with.  On many occasions they found a sympathetic and helpful counselor in Aunt Frances.

In 1972 after 35 years, Frances retired from missionary work and returned to the U.S. to live in Pleasant Hill, Tennessee.  She summed up her work abroad by saying, “This world needs so much of what God’s Word promises.  I am very glad that I was given the opportunity by the American Board to teach in the Philippines.”

Frances continued to help others in her 38 years after retirement.  She worked to meet medical expenses for those in need.  She gave many hours of service to her church, Pleasant Hill Community United Church of Christ, to the Uplands Retirement Village, and to the wider community.  Those who knew her thank God for her gift of self to help others.

Notes of condolence for Frances’ extended circle of friends may be sent to Ms. Mary Alice Shepard, P.O. Box 588, Pleasant Hill, TN 38578-0588.

Memorial gifts may be sent to Global Ministries, 700 Prospect Avenue, 7th Floor, Cleveland, OH 44115 or made online at