Jackie Francois sat in a lone chair backstage studying her outline before her talk. This is the first time the 27-year-old has been to Holy Hill, and the first time in days that she’s spoken at an event. As she preps herself, she prays for her talk to go smoothly.
Francois, a Christian musician and speaker, has traveled the country and the world spreading the word of God in a way that’s relatable to young audiences.
Even before she speaks, she’s able to get the audience’s attention. She’s a California girl with long, flowing blonde hair and a big smile. But that’s only part of her. According to Francois, she’s in love – with God.
“God punched me in the face with the Holy Spirit and he turned my life upside down,” she told the audience. “Yeah, it happens.” The audience laughed.
On a weekend filled with Packers, Brewers and Badger games, organizers said approximately 1,400 teens gathered in a large tent to hear Francois talk at the Fire on the Hill youth rally.
Francois began her talk by making jokes and imitating the various accents she’s heard on her travels. She told a story about a man coming on to her on a plane ride from Italy and how she and her guitar intrigued him. When she told him she was a Christian musician and speaker, they began to talk about religion. According to her, the man had a lot of false views about Christianity and admitted to living a life that would be considered sinful.
When she asked him if he thinks he’s going to heaven, Francois was taken aback by his casual, “Yeah.”
“If you want to get warm, you stand next to a fire. If you want to get wet, you jump in a pool,” Francois said. “If you want a miserable life full of sin, then you stand next to evil and you stand next to sin. And if you want a life full of joy, peace and gentleness and patience, then you have to stand next to love.”
Francois said the current culture doesn’t explain what true love is, and that shows like “The Bachelor” only give the audience a picture of lust. She says love is the gift of self and sacrifice.
Francois said in high school she was a “lukewarm” Catholic, just going through the motions. But after a weeklong retreat when she was 18, she started to understand God and that’s when said she fell in love with him in a different way.
From that experience she went on to become a volunteer and sang in a Christian youth group. Eventually, Spirit and Song, a Christian music outlet, asked her to join them in recording and touring.
At first it was not what Francois expected. She was nervous about not getting any gigs, but that changed.
“When the opportunities started coming I was like ‘Thank the Lord,’” she said. “The traveling has exploded in recent years.”
Francois said each experience is completely unique. She uses her testimony and experience to deliver her message to encourage listeners to change their behavior. She tries to make an impact, especially on young girls.
“I try to tell them not to just settle for some guy,” Francois said. She encourages young women not to be with someone who will pressure them into having sex.
Francois is saving her virginity for marriage and knows how difficult it can be.
“With certain relationships it was hard and painful,” she says. “Pain is a great tool for purification.”
Francois tells audiences to always be ready to go before God in heaven when one dies, because one doesn’t know when that will happen.
“I had two friends that died at (age) 27 this year; they didn’t know,” François said. “Were they ready? I don’t know. Every day we have to live as if it’s our last. Every day you should be ready to get to heaven.”
She acknowledged that people make mistakes, and said it’s all right if they realize them and change.
“The greatest sinners make the greatest saints,” she said, proceeding to tell her audience about St. Augustine, and how he went from sinner to saint.
“His passionate lust, his passionate anger and his passionate pride became passionate love for God,” she said.
Francois used her own experiences as examples of what young adults should be prepared for when talking about God with others.
“You might be the only Gospel anyone ever reads,” she said.
After her presentation, which included songs she had written, she took time to talk with fans, mostly girls, sign T-shirts and take pictures.
François said she’s never had any confrontations at any of her events, but does get some negative feedback on Twitter and Facebook, because of misunderstandings.
Francois was one of three keynote speakers at the youth rally that included activities and opportunities to receiv the sacrament of penance.
Jacquelyn Haas, director of religious education at St. Lawrence Parish, St. Lawrence, was attending her second Fire on the Hill rally and it made a big impact on her.
“I think these kids have an opportunity to have a transforming experience,” Haas said. “One of my students was nervous to go (to confession) and we went together. Afterwards she came out and said, ‘Can I take a minute to pray?’ and she went to eucharistic adoration and it brought me to tears to know I got to walk with her on that journey.”
Haas labeled the speakers “phenomenal” and said they each touched her heart.
“This whole day has meant so much to me personally because what they have had to say has touched my soul in a way that I’ve been struggling and I think that’s what’s so great about these events,” Haas said. “You can come no matter where you are and your spirit can be awoken.”