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Their mother was a hostess and bartender at Hillcrest Country Club, and their father ran a small business, McFadden General Home Repair. Saundra would stand at grocery stores and on the streets of Kansas City, passing out fliers and business cards for her dad. A shy, introverted girl, Saundra loved to dig and plant flowers in her mother's garden, and she dreamed of someday being a farmer. She played the flute in her older brother's jazz group, Lonnie and the Band.
"She could have been one heck of a jazz flutist," says Lonnie, now one-half of the popular McFadden Brothers jazz and tap-dancing duo, with his younger brother, Ronald.
But Saundra found a different calling: the pulpit.
As she approached her teenage years, Saundra started thinking more and more about God and the Bible. At Ward Chapel, she felt lost in a sea of adults, and she wanted to find a church where she'd feel at home.
Through their band, she and her brothers found a "church home." When Saundra was twelve, Lonnie and the Band stepped out of the basement for the first time, performing holiday shows at three churches. At Ward Chapel, the adults bickered after their show, and the children felt ignored. But at St. Mary's Grand Holy Tabernacle, a nondenominational church where Saundra's cousin pastored, they felt they belonged. As they blew on raggedy instruments they'd had since fourth grade, they all felt a "deep touch from the Lord," Saundra remembers.
After the show, the kids were giddy. They piled their instruments in the back of their old van, and Lonnie drove them through the frosty night to the McFadden home. That evening, they sat around the fireplace, drinking eggnog, talking about the energy they had felt. The McFadden kids started walking to St. Mary's every Sunday.
For a few weeks, Saundra sat quietly in the corner pew, behind a large pillar, afraid to go forward when the pastor invited converts to the altar. Her knees knocked and she felt queasy. One morning, she finally got up the nerve to join the church. A few months later, in the spring, she was assigned to give a two-minute inspirational speech during a service led by the church's youngsters.
That evening, Saundra got up in the pulpit and preached for a full hour. Her voice rose and fell, rich and mighty, then soft and gentle. She quoted Scripture. She preached, she shouted, she spoke the word of God.
After she finished, the congregation sat, staring and utterly silent. Moments passed, until finally the pastor spoke incredulously: "Church is out. You already been preached to."
The next morning at breakfast, the family couldn't stop talking about what had come over Saundra. Her parents had not witnessed the sermon, but her brothers told them every detail.
"Do you think God's trying to tell you something, Saundra? Because we do," her mother said. That was when her brothers stopped looking at her as the pesky little sister and started looking up to her.
Saundra's parents enrolled her in the School of Christianity at St. Mary's Grand Holy Tabernacle, where she was the youngest pupil. Her father would help her with theology and metaphysics studies after she finished her regular homework. He sent off for correspondence courses from Oral Roberts and Jerry Falwell and Billy Graham, and father and daughter would sit in the living room, studying and practicing.