“The news spread rapidly through the small town of Garland, North Carolina that Leola and Albert had eloped. Albert James Harrell had planned carefully for the event. According to Albert’s strategy, he was to appear near the Lockamy home on Friday, May 26. The year was 1922. Albert was dressed in new work clothes with his wedding suit underneath. This was the signal for Leola Lockamy to come out.
“A short distance away, Mapes Page and Annie Bell Robinson were waiting in Page’s black Model T Ford to take the wedding party to Clinton to be married by a justice of the peace.
“Somehow the news reached Grandma. She lost no time in hot pursuit, determined to stop the wedding.
“Grandma realized she wasn’t going to catch the runaways before they reached the courthouse. Not to be outdone, she sent a telegram to the court clerk forbidding him to sell them a marriage license since Leola was under age. When they arrived at the courthouse, the clerk told them, ‘We’re sorry, but we just received a telegram five minutes ago forbidding us to sell you a license.’ He went on to advise, ‘Children, why don’t you go home and wait until you grow up to get married.’
“Albert was insulted. He was 26 and had even served in World War I! ‘Let’s go to the Pender Courthouse1 for the license,’ he said.
“Here they heard the same thing: ‘We’re sorry, but we have a telegram forbidding us to sell you a marriage license.’
“At 10:00 p.m. that night, after five attempts and many miles of travel, Leola and Albert were finally married by a justice of the peace in Bishopville, SC.
“Two weeks later the newlyweds returned to Garland to settle down. By this time tempers had cooled.”
Edna Harrell was born to that union. She grew up and made the decision to attend Holmes College of Theology and Missions in Greenville, SC. There she met a handsome and intelligent young student named John Parker, who graduated second in his class.
“John and I talked about the Lord Jesus giving each of us a missionary call to go to China,” she said. “Then John made the observation that since both of us were planning to go to China, we might as well go together!
“We were married on June 21, 1949, and it just happened to be one of the hottest days of the year. Our 5:00 p.m. wedding was a scorcher. The church was not air conditioned and we couldn’t open the windows, so we all suffered together. The candles soon wilted and doubled over.”
So began the missionary service of John and Edna Parker. John’s ordination was in the North Carolina Conference. Their ministry together was destined to span fifty years on three continents.
It is understandable that very few parents or grandparents would want their underage daughter to marry a 26-year-old young man. But in this story, Grandma Lockamy didn’t see what God saw in the future of Leola and Albert Harrell. The old truism has been proven again, anyone can count the seed in an apple, but only God can count the apples in the seed.
The government of Chiang Kai-shek, China’s leader, fell in 1949 to the insurgency of the Chinese Communist Party, led by Chairman Mao. W. H. Turner, who had served many years as a missionary in China, was secretary of the IPHC Foreign Missions Board at the time. Turner knew it was not wise to send a young and inexperienced missionary couple to China at that time.
Because of the dangers the Foreign Missions Board assigned John and Edna to Costa Rica. It was not their vision, but they submitted to the Board’s wisdom and made the move in 1951.
Those early years in Costa Rica were difficult because Roman Catholicism dominated the country. The first effective Pentecostal challenge to the tight papal grip on Central America came in the Parkers’ second year in Costa Rica.
Evangelist T. L. Osborn conducted a crusade in Venezuela in 1952, characterized by gospel preaching and miraculous healings. People were also receiving the baptism with the Holy Spirit and were speaking in tongues. The authorities reacted and expelled Osborne from the nation. A few days later he arrived in Costa Rica in his shirtsleeves. In four days he had another campaign going, this one in San Jose’s Mendoza Stadium. It was packed in three nights, so he moved over to the bullring seating about 7,000 people. In one week, the bullring too was full of people hungry to hear the gospel.
Like Venezuela, this was too much for the Catholic hierarchy in Costa Rica, so they brought pressure against Osborne. The San Jose police put him under house arrest; then he was again booted out of the country. But the word of God cannot be bound (2 Timothy 2:7). In those few nights scores of people were healed and hundreds were saved.
T. L. Osborn was used of God to begin to penetrate the Roman Catholic stronghold in Costa Rica, awakening the people to the power of the gospel. The Pentecostal Holiness Sunday school in Cinco Esquinas, for example, [a community part of metro San Jose], grew from 25 to 121 in a week.
John Parker had an unusual ability to train and develop national leaders. He opened Costa Rica’s first Bible school in 1959 with three students. His ministry was characterized by teaching and writing in English and Spanish. He mastered the Spanish language to the level of an expert and could speak the language as well as educated nationals. He also wrote in perfect Spanish. His book Doctrinas Basicas de la Iglesia de Santidad Pentecostal (Basic Doctrines of the Pentecostal Holiness Church) was first published forty-one years ago. It was based on teaching notes he had been using for some twenty years. The book has been republished several times and continues in use to this day in Central and South America. Doctrinas Basicas has taught several generations of Hispanic believers the core Biblical values of the church.
John and Edna Parker returned to the United States in 1974, believing their work in Costa Rica was complete. John had been superintendent of the work in Costa Rica for almost twenty-five years.
All those years their vision for China stayed in their hearts, although they had no way to know what was ahead. Blessing of blessings! World Missions director B. E. Underwood appointed John Parker supervisor of IPHC ministry in Asia in 1977. John and Edna moved to Hong Kong that same year and led ministry in the Orient for the next nine years. It was a dream come true, fulfilling the word of the Lord to them while Bible school students.
Their final assignment before their retirement was as overseas ministry coordinator of Europe and the Middle East. He led in that role for five years, from 1988 to 1993. They served in Europe at a time of unprecedented continental ferment and change.
U. S. President Ronald Reagan was in West Germany on June 12, 1987 for the 750th anniversary of Berlin. Standing at the historic Brandenburg Gate that gave him a full view of the infamous Berlin Wall, Reagan publicly challenged Russian leader Mikhael Gorbachev, the General Secretary of Russia’s Communist Party: “Mr. Gorbachev,” he said, “tear down this wall!”
John Parker was IPHC’s leader in Europe when the Berlin Wall fell. The historic date was November 9, 1989.
John and Edna Parker have the distinction of being one of only a very small number of missionaries in the first 100 years of IPHC missions to serve successfully on three continents. He is one of two missionaries in IPHC history to lead IPHC ministry on three continents.2
John and Edna are living in their retirement in Oklahoma City in the Heartland Conference missions duplex. They are each in poor health. Their many friends can contact them at 7613 NW 113th Place, Oklahoma City, OK 73162. Their telephone is 405-470-0799. [When you call please identify yourself and remember to talk slowly, as Edna is hearing impaired now. Her phone is equipped to flash your words on a screen to enable Edna to communicate.]
Their only child, David Parker, grew up in Costa Rica and speaks fluent Spanish. He was employed as vice president of the IPHC Church Extension Loan Fund in 1996 and has served as president since 2010. The assets of the Fund have grown from $10 million in ’96 to almost $60 million today. The Fund has provided financing for over 900 churches since it was launched in 1958. David’s command of Spanish has been a significant asset in the relationship of the Loan Fund to the many Hispanic churches in IPHC.
When John and Edna arrived in Costa Rica in 1949, IPHC had two very small churches. Today, Pentecostal fire continues to burn brightly in 86 strong and totally indigenous churches with 12,500 members.
John and Edna Parker have been a faithful team. They fulfilled an important leadership role serving their Lord on these three continents in their long tenure, and have lived to see the fruit of their labors.
• In Central and South America as a whole IPHC is blessed with 932 churches and 108,964 members.
• In Asia, the totals are 3,669 churches 302,188 members.
• Europe includes 385 churches and 31,848 members.3
All of us in the IPHC family can be grateful Grandma Lockamy failed in each of her attempts to block that marriage!
1The Pender County Court House is in Burgaw, NC, a small town in southeastern NC near Wilmington.
2Ray Brewster is the other missionary to give leadership on three continents.
3The statistics come from the latest published records of IPHC in 2011.