February 3, 1920 – March 16, 2011
While a student at Greenville College (Illinois), Burleigh was riding a bus from Chicago to Greenville when a lady asked, “Are you a preacher?” He responded that he was a ministerial student. She replied, “I knew it … I could tell you were different from the rest of the people on this bus.”
Rev. Francis Burleigh Willard was first appointed to the Dominican Republic and began his service as a missionary in 1945. He was dean of the biblical seminary in Santiago, the only Protestant seminary in the Dominican Republic, for several years. He organized student evangelistic teams to tour the island and open new fields. As conference evangelist, Burleigh visited mission stations and new work throughout the island. Burleigh was also director of the Macedonian League for tithing. As members of this league, the Christian nationals learned to give of their first fruits, donating the income from handcrafts, cows, chickens and coconut trees to the work of the church.
Burleigh’s first wife, Amy, passed away in the Dominican Republic in 1951. In l952, he married Alma, whom he knew from Central Christian College of Kansas (McPherson, Kansas).
From 1952 to 1953 he served in Texas with Latin American ministries. He was pastor of the Houston First Church because there was a shortage of pastors at the time. The family then returned to the Dominican Republic.
In 1959 the Willards moved to Nogales, Arizona, where Burleigh served as principal of Nogales Bible School, a training school for ministerial students from Mexico. The Bible school moved to Hermosillo, Mexico, in 1965 and was operated by national personnel. Burleigh became superintendent of Mexican Missions, visiting the several Free Methodist churches in Mexico.
In December 1963, a committee was organized to begin translation work from English to Spanish. Burleigh and Alma worked with the literature committee on discipleship materials, a Spanish version of the Free Methodist and other denominational publications. The first issue of El Mensajero Metodista Libre (The Free Methodist Messenger) came off the press in April 1964. For the first time, widely-scattered Spanish-speaking Free Methodists had a common bond through literature. Through the efforts of the committee, the first Spanish Free Methodist Discipline was also printed in 1971.
The Willards endeavored to impact more nationals and in the mid-1960s began directing a training program for lay workers through short-term institutes on the district level and in local churches. This way they were reaching a much larger number of students than they could in a Bible school setting. They touched people who would not get any training otherwise.
Burleigh and Alma retired in 1985, Burleigh having served as a missionary for approximately 40 years. Alma died in November 2003.
In his retirement, Burleigh pursued his interest in writing. He had previously written several Spanish textbooks, as well as a novel. He went on to write two more novels, a family history and other inspirational books, including a devotional book co-authored with his oldest daughter, Celia Willard Milslagle.
Burleigh’s Colleague Writes
Missionary colleague Doane Bonney writes, “Ruth and I were assigned to Santiago, Dominican Republic, and arrived there in 1958 where I was to take Burleigh Willard’s place as director of the Instituto Evangelico in that city. Later, as Area Assistant for Latin America, I again had a chance to work directly with Burleigh as I visited the Free Methodist work in Mexico.
“Burleigh became an expert in the spoken and written Spanish language. I do not think any of the rest of us ‘expatriots’ or ‘gringos’ came anywhere near his level of ability in Spanish. He had a wide vocabulary, but, perhaps even more important, he knew how to put the words together, when to use reflexive forms and a whole lot more of the ‘finer points’ in the language of Cervantes.
“Besides being an expert linguist, Burleigh was also a student of God’s Word and an excellent teacher. You could be confident that his teaching would be in the Wesleyan tradition and that when his students went out in the harvest fields of the world, they would build congregations grounded in the truths as revealed in God’s Word. A whole generation of pastors in the Dominican Republic, as well as in Mexico, got their training under Burleigh’s diligent care.”