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My Influencer: Parker Henderson

Parker & Donna Henderson with Althea Starling at My Parents' 70th Wedding Anniversary Celebration, Dec 2007

Last week, Marion and I had lunch one day with Parker and Donna Henderson together with their adopted son Tim and his wife.

Parker and Donna have served the Lord in foreign mission areas for 52 years. They first went to Thailand in 1958. In more recent years, they have been in Trinidad-Tobago, having moved “closer to home” when his father died so they could be nearer to Parker’s mother.

I first met Parker about 1950 when he was preaching for the Central Church of Christ in Cocoa, FL. I was ten years old, and immediately fell in love with his preaching. I suppose he impressed me because of the stories he told for illustrations.

I still remember some of them that I heard over the next few years. There was the flea that rode over the bridge on the ear of the elephant – and who shouted in the elephant’s ear as the bridge was collapsing behind them, “Look what we did!” (This is the church member who does nothing himself, but brags about “what we are doing.”)

Maybe one of the things I loved about him as I was moving into my teen years was his transparency – before I had even heard that word used to describe someone who is completely honest and open when talking about himself. I remember once he told about a young man in the military who came from a good Christian home – but who went to a dance with one of his buddies. After the dance, the buddy told him that he had been thinking about becoming a Christian because of the influence of the young man – but decided against it because the young Christian had gone with him to the dance. It was at the end of his telling the story that Parker revealed that he himself was that young Christian.

When he was in the military (WWII), he served with the Army Air Corps (later the USAF) whose mission was to drop supplies to the resistance to the Japanese in Southeast Asia. He fell in love with that part of the world and with its people. He determined then to prepare himself to return as a missionary, which he did in 1958.

In late 1957, I was home from Alabama Christian College (now Faulkner University) for the Christmas break. I was privileged to hear Parker speak about his plans to go to Thailand. He was leaving for the West Coast in early January to embark for his work there. I prevailed on him to stop by Montgomery and speak to the college there. At the time, I was an officer in the Pi Sigma Delta, a club for aspiring preachers with Furman Kearley as our faculty advisor. We promoted the event, and had a good crowd turn out to hear Parker, who had added a stop there to his already hectic schedule at a time when he was extremely tired – and still facing a drive across country with his wife and year old child (long before there were any interstate highways!).

I heard him speak again about his coming work in Thailand. That night I made a commitment to myself before the Lord that within five years , I would be somewhere in foreign missions. (I was not quite 18 years old at the time.)

I did not see Parker again until 1967 when I was making that long drive across the country with my own wife and year-old child to embark on board ship heading back to New Zealand. I had just graduated after a two-year stint at the Sunset School of Preaching in Lubbock. Parker was visiting his parents in Perry, FL, almost 200 miles north of my parents’ home in Apopka, FL. (Parker’s Dad and my Dad are first cousins – so Parker and I are second cousins who share common great grandparents, Green & Amanda Starling.)

Before leaving Sunset, I knew Parker was in the States and that he hoped to be here for a more extended stay this time. I suggested to Cline Paden, director of Sunset at that time, that Parker would be a a great addition to the faculty at Sunset – and had written Parker to the same effect. When I saw him, I asked about this, and encouraged him to call Cline – which he did. The result was that Parker taught at Sunset for a short interlude before returning to his first love, foreign missions.

The next time that I remember seeing Parker was at the Golden Wedding Celebration for my parents, Philip & Ruth in December 1987. In his tribute to them, he said that for a church to live and thrive, someone has to die. Then he talked about their years of service to the congregation as “dying.” That made an indelible impression on me.

At lunch last week, for the first time, I told him of the impression his talk about Thailand when he came to Montgomery made on me. I also confessed that before the five years were up, I had forgotten my commitment to myself and to God. It was many years later before I connected that promise to what happened as the five years were coming to a close.

I was working as a computer programmer at Marshal Space Flight Center in Huntsville, AL and preaching for a small rural congregation near there. I was also attending a personal evangelism class at the West Huntsville Church of Christ where I met three men, members of that church who were engineers (electrical, Eddie Cantrell; mechanical, Doyal Wright; and civil, Ralph Ellis). One evening following the class, we were at Shoney’s Big Boy drinking cokes and talking. They were making plans to take a sabbatical leave from their jobs and go somewhere as missionaries for three years.

They had a letter from the Central Avenue church in Valdosta, GA. That church was planning an evangelistic campaign in Wellington, New Zealand – and needed someone to stay behind after the campaign for follow-up. The elders of the church had invited them to come down to Valdosta to discuss the work.

One of them looked at me and said, “Jerry, why don’t you come go with us?” Another said, “Aw, he wouldn’t be interested.” I said, “Keep talking.”

After leaving them, I drove around thinking. Before I went to bed that night, I had decided I would join their effort. I was single and able to “cut loose” for a time without difficulty. Three months later, I was on my way to New Zealand. I arrived there almost five years to the day after I had heard Parker Henderson speak in Montgomery and made a commitment before God to be somewhere on the mission field within five years.

As I said, I had not connected those two events or the time between them in my mind until many years later. That, however has taught me a great lesson. I may forget my promises – but God does not forget that I have made them. In His great providence, He has ways to see that I keep what promises I have made – unless I deliberately rebel against Him.

Thank you, Parker Henderson, for your influence over me throughout the majority of my life! And, thank You, LORD OF HEAVEN AND EARTH, for seeing that I kept a promise I made before You, even though I had forgotten it.


18 Responses

  1. Sue and I first ‘encountered’ Parker & Donna in Thailand (1969). I was in the Army and not a member of the church. We ‘stumbled’ into the COC in Bangkok and the rest is history. I am convinced that Parker didn’t own a watch . . . or, at least, he never paid attention to it on his occasional trips back to the US. He’d call at whatever time he thought of us . . . which was generally after midnight. I would later go to Sunset at his encouragement because, as I tell the story, it was easier to move to Lubbock than it was to keep telling him no. Not entirely the truth (:-) . What a great family.

    • As I mentioned in the body of my post, Parker’s dad and my dad are first cousins. Parker’s father, Herman Henderson, went to be with the Lord several years ago. Parker’s mother, Eva, followed him sometime later. My father and mother are both still living. Parker makes a point of stopping to see them when he can.

      He and Donna now live in his parents’ place near Perry, FL. Since writing the above, I saw them at a small dinner I hosted in Valdosta, GA on behalf of Eastern European Mission. One of the members from the Ash St. church in Perry drove Parker and Donna to the dinner, as they are both getting on in years and do not drive much at night. Within a couple of weeks, Parker called me with news that the small church there had decided to make a generous donation to the work I was promoting in Eastern Europe. His heart is still with evangelistic effort wherever it is taking place!

      May God raise up many more with that kind of heart.

      Thank you for your story about how Parker has also influenced you.


  2. Br. Jerry,

    It was good to hear your thoughts as per your journey through Ministry and the influence Parler Lee Henderson had on your perspective. He is truly an amazing brother and i also was inspired by him during my preaching school days in Trinidad–i have never seen a man so hungry for Truth or work so tirelessly to prepare others for the pursuit and spread of God’s Mystery revealed .indeed his passion is contagious and has set an example for many like myself, who follow him as he follows Christ. Thanks so much for the post !

  3. I had the blessing of studying under Parker Henderson in 1974 at Sunset. He had a tremendous impact on my preaching, teaching, and walk with God. Thanks, Jerry, for your part in helping Parker to have the opportunity to teach at Sunset when I was there.

    Don Potter, Elder for the Sherwood Church of Christ
    Odessa, TX

    • Don,
      I had spoken with Cline about Parker about the time my class graduated in July 1967. I knew through my parents that Parker was to be in the states for a while. When I saw Parker later that summer, I urged him to call Cline again, which he did. It was such a natural fit for Parker and for Sunset – and benefited both of them at the time.

      I saw him last Sunday in Perry, FL where he worships near where he lives in his parents old place north of there. Donna is not doing well, but Parker is still very alert and energetic – though he has slowed considerably. After all, he is in his mid 80’s, I believe. It would do him good to hear from some of his old students. His address is 8485 Alton Wentworth Rd., Greenville, FL 32331.

      Jerry Starling

  4. I am S. Abraham of Bangalore in India, too was influenced by this great Evangelist of our God (Parker Henderson), while he was teaching the Word in this city, I had been facinated by this man’s preaching style that I had been regularing to his Seminors, from 1978 to untill on 20 June 1988, at night around 10 he Baptized me into the Lord Jesus Christ.

    I am thrilled to see this web site and his picture posted in it, thanks for bringing him back to me, since 1988, he has been one of the reasons the I constanly praise the Lord for.
    I hope he gets to see these few lines, may the Lord continue to keep and guide and use him for the saving of many souls from hell.
    God bless you Brother Parker Henderson.

    I am a minister of the Word for a small Kannada Congregation of Christ at Hebbal, Bangalore.

    • As a long time admirer of Parker Henderson, I am glad to hear your story. His father and my father are first cousins – which means we have a common set of great-grandparents from whom we are in the 3rd generation of descendants. I tell people that means we are near enough “kin” to claim each other if we like – or to ignore each other if we prefer. In our case, we both “like” to claim the relationship. I was with Parker just a couple of weeks ago. He is still going strong, but his wife’s health could be better.

      When I next see him, I will try to remember to pass along your message (with others who have shared their stories about Parker Henderson.

      Yous in Christ,


  5. Parker Henderson baptized my Dad and Mom (Bill and Marion Colman) in Bangkok, Thailand. My Dad was flying for Air America. I may have been young, but whatever it was that I learned from our church of Christ experience stayed with me. I would love to send Parker Henderson my best regards. With the love of Christ, Janis

  6. We heard Parker henderson for the first time at the lectureship at Mount Dora Bible school. That night we decided to go to thailand as miossionaries. One year later we were on a plane with four children. We were in thailand almost ten years and did a number of short trips. With the help of the congregation (Salem Church of Christ) in Florence, Al. we help start a Literature Program in Thailand that now has over a million people studyine the bible by mail. Brother Subin Panboon who was baptized by Parker over sees the program. We love Parker and Donna…enough that our youngest daughter, born in Chiengmai, Thailand is named for Donna, Bill and bettye Beck

  7. First, I am also a great grandchild of Green and Amanda Starling. Jerry and Parker and many more are cousins. My parents and I lived im Miami, Fl, and especially when in Trinidad, had many quick stayovers and airport trips. I have heard Parker preach in Perry, Nashville and Lubbock. I had the priveledge to have several hours of conversation with him, Donna and Tim. Thier son Larry and I were at Abilene Christian University for a couple of years.
    There is something special about missionaries and the families. I have had the priveledge of several hours of time with Otis Gatewood in Miami and Abilene. Same thing, missionaries are special. There is a different fire, a rush of purpose, and all are scared because the world is so large, so ignorant, and there is so much to be done. They also have a low toeration of petty differences between Christians. I guess when you have seen various cultures and languages try to be Christ like, wether you beleive in how many cups, support method for orphans, or to have Sunday or Wednesday school, the arguments just seem silly.
    I wish that everyone would get to know a missionary personally. We would all be more united and committed to change this world by God’s redeeming power.

    • Larry,
      Thank you for your kind observations about missionaries in general and about Parker in particular. I find that the more involved people are in actually doing the work of the Lord, as opposed to complaining about how someone else is doing it, the less they focus on the petty differences among Christians.

      • Amen cousin. Just like James said, “show me your faith”. The best show me guy I know was Abraham. If God said move, he believed and packed. Sacrifice your son, He selected the ass, knife and wood for the fire. Sermons are nice but live it folks are better.

  8. I found this blog and replies while searching for Parker Henderson. We are friends of Tim and Becky Talley, Parker’s and Donna’s daughter. The reason I’m writing is about the Starling name. I’ve read the various exchanges about the relatives, and wonder if any of you are related to a late preacher who influenced me as a child when I was growing up in Belleville, IL, Harry (Dottie) Starling? Bob Mize, Lubbock, TX reckmize@gmail.com 806-543-1516

    • I’m unaware of Harry Starling. There have been Starlings in this country since before the Revolutionary War, and I know of preachers who are Starlings outside the descendants of my great-grandfather, Green Starling. Are they (Frank & Harvey) related? Possibly, but it would be distantly. Family tradition says that Green Starling was an orphan reared by one of the Dasher families near Valdosta, GA. (He is buried in Dasher Cemetery.) So any connection would have be through people born prior to the Civil War.

  9. Jerry, Would you let us know how Parker and Donna henderson are doing.. We think of them so often. I was talking with Jesse Fonvilles Wife and she was wanting news of them. The Fonvilles and the Hendersons were to gether. Ms. Naomi is getting kinda feeble and thinking of old friends.

  10. We spent this last Sunday with Parker and Donna. They worship at Sunset Church of Christ in Lubbock. They are doing great. Moving slower but they’re always a great inspiration to us all.

  11. I couldn’t find who wrote this tribute to Parker Henderson. I too, was greatly influenced by Parker. He did a gospel meeting for our small church in Crystal River, FL. I was in 4th grade, so about 1976. I was so impressed with his scripture quoting and smiling all through the sermon, talking about wonderful, wonderful Jesus.

  12. I have been so influenced by Parker I named my first son after him. I just turned 48 but remember so well his fast preaching and quoting. His bible was usually opened but he rarely needed to read it. Out of the pulpit I found extremely humble even a bit quiet. He must have saved energy to really let go when he preached. I called from time to time in Trinidad. Donna seemed very touched when I told them I named my son after him. I am looking forward to heaven where miles and time will not inhibit our fellowship. God bless you Parker and Donna. And God bless those seeking first the kingdom of God.

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