The Quiet, Unassuming Missionary from Elbert County
“The father of IPHC missions in India”
By: Frank G. Tunstall
The Pentecostal Holiness Church owned nothing in India in 1920, not a foot of ground or even one house. No converts were there to help our first missionaries, and the church had no missiology plan.
In that unpromising climate, the Holy Spirit had a plan to give the pioneers their first foothold in India, a land where evangelism was as hard as the granite that is so plentiful in the Asian sub-continent.
God’s plan was to raise up a man.
John (Jack) Turner (b. 1891) was reared amid moonshiners and hard liquor drinkers in Elbert County, Georgia. He was saved in a tent meeting in the Wesleyan Methodist Church. The next year, during a cottage prayer meeting, a lady laid her hands on young Turner’s head and fervently prophesied, “Go ye into all the world.” He resisted at first, but then amid a flood of tears, he surrendered heart and soul to Jesus Christ.
I think you’ll revel in this fascinating story of how the Holy Spirit cracked the rock.
John Turner first went to school at Toccoa Falls Institute in Toccoa Falls, Georgia, paying his way by working as a dishwasher and handyman. After graduation he journeyed to Nyack, New York, to a Christian Missionary Alliance school, which did not accept the new teaching of a Pentecostal baptism with speaking in tongues. But they recognized something special about this young man and enrolled him as a student, even though Turner had told them about his Pentecostal experience.
On one of his trips from Toccoa to New York, Turner just happened to be seated on the train next to Bishop J. H. King. To open conversation, King asked this incredibly shy and totally unassuming young man about his future dreams.
“I plan, God willing, to go to India as a missionary.”
This excited King, so he replied, “We’re sending out two ladies to India this year. We need a man. We’ll be glad to send you.”
“When I left the presence of Rev. King in Royston,” young Turner said, “I knew this was the will of God for my life.” But it was a struggle for him.
The missions department of the Christian Missionary Alliance had already pledged his support and transportation. The conflict within him was compounded because he had fallen in love with Olivia Boyd Jackson, a teacher at Holmes Bible and Missionary Institute, who had also received the Pentecostal baptism and a call from God to dedicate her life to missions.
During the summer of 1920, Turner took a train ride from Greenville back to Toccoa. His heart was so burdened with the call that he felt like the load would crush him. So he stepped off the train at an Indian cemetery, fell to the ground on his face, and cried, “Live or die, sink or swim, you tell me what to do, O God, and I will obey!”
He got up with the word “Cancel!” ringing in his ears. At that point, he knew God’s will for his life: call off the plans with the Christian Missionary Alliance Church, marry Olivia, and head for India under the banner of the Pentecostal Holiness Church.
Bishop King kept his word and commissioned Jack and Olivia as Pentecostal Holiness missionaries. They set sail for India in the fall of 1920 with no promise of regular support. Turner was twenty-nine. He and Olivia were the first IPHC missionaries in India.
As their vessel plowed up India’s Hooghly River after six weeks on the high seas, Olivia gazed at mud huts lining both sides of the waterway. She began to weep. “It’s almost too good to be true!” she exclaimed. “I’m looking at the houses I’ve dedicated the rest of my life to live in, if needs be.”
IPHC at the time had no strategy for missions. This meant each missionary was allowed to operate freely in their natural abilities and trust God to bring something good out of it.
The young couple arrived in Calcutta, India, on January 19, 1921, and served for 27 years. They lived strictly on faith in God for their finances, and understood well the trusting heart of the widow of Zarephath (1 Kings 17:8-16).
Jack and Olivia started language study at Nainu Tai, a hill station in the Himalayas. About two years after their arrival, they had acquired enough skill in the Hindi language to begin to converse with the people.
Following language school, Turner learned of a three-acre, walled compound in Jasidih Junction, in the state of Bihar in northern India that he thought might be suitable for a mission station. The tract of land included a brick house and a smaller structure. He negotiated the $3,000 price tag and succeeded in buying it on very favorable terms. Jasidih Junction became the first land owned by the Pentecostal Holiness Church in India.
Now the challenge was how to turn the property into a soul-winning center that would validate the purchase. The Turners felt guided by the Spirit to use several methods of evangelism. Jasidih was two miles from one of India’s largest pilgrimage centers. Tens of thousands of Hindus visited the shrine two or three times a year. Turner and his wife made it their practice to sing to these pilgrims, give out tracts, and preach and play his guitar in the local bazaar and on the station platform. Turner also made a habit of visiting weekly the markets in rural areas. The peasants came in large numbers to sell and exchange livestock and agricultural products with other farmers. Turner would play his guitar and sing and preach while they bartered their goods.
Turner found the people to be hard of heart and very slow to accept Jesus. But in time, they came to respect and trust him. First, Turner won the confidence of a couple of national helpers, Ramesch Charin and Dharmin Das Tewari. Turner and his first partners in ministry would often leave home early on Monday mornings. They would camp in a different village each week until Friday afternoons, sleeping in tents and cooking over open fires. He always took a slide projector to show the villagers pictures of the life of Jesus. At night he used magic lantern shows, in which glass slides depicting biblical scenes were projected on a large screen. These always got a crowd. Then it was back to Jasidih for the weekend.
Turner was a tentmaker missionary. He worked as a carpenter and cabinet-maker to supplement his preaching. “We can still hear him whistling as he built cabinets and tables in his shop,” is how his children remember those days.
Early in his ministry, John Turner learned the power of prayer. He made it a habit to get up at 4:00 a.m. almost every day of his life. His oldest daughter, Carolyn, expressed it like this:
“God sat in the living room in the early morning with our father. Dad was a shy and very self-conscious man but that didn’t seem to get in his way. As we think back now, it may have been one of his most valuable assets. He made many true friends with Hindus, Muslims, and Christians simply because he didn’t overpower them in a land ruled by the proud British. The Indians saw little Christianity in their English conquerors but a great deal of it in the shy, white missionary.”
The Turner family included five children. It is remarkable that even though India is a land rife with disease, the family stayed healthy, almost never needing a doctor. The children have no recollection of being hungry growing up, or without clothes.
All five of his children finished high school and went to college. John, the eldest, because of his mastery of the Hindi language, entered diplomatic service. Warren became an engineer, providing heating and air conditioning systems for Holiday Inn across America. Carolyn worked as a teacher in the public schools. Agnes married a lawyer. Dr. Richard, the youngest, developed Ridgecrest Medical Center in Clayton, Georgia (now Mountain Lakes Medical Center).
The widow of Zarephath learned the Lord will provide, and Jack Turner and his family discovered Jehovah Jireh too.
BUT FOR GRACE
By Olivia Turner
While seated in a large shop one day not long ago, I heard a plaintive plea. Looking up I saw a beggar woman holding the hand of her little daughter. The mother was clothed in rags, but the child was absolutely naked. I spoke to the mother in strong terms about having her little daughter in such a condition. The child was cold and tears streamed down her cheeks.
The mother went away, thinking she would receive nothing from that shop. A voice within me said, “But for Jesus that might be your own little daughter.”
I hurriedly bought a ready-made garment and followed them, and there in the street I dressed that naked child. The mother was no doubt of a very low caste and illiterate. She was earning her living the only way she could—by preying on the sympathies of people. She was using the little naked four-year-old as her tool for begging.
I tried to persuade this mother to give me the child for teaching and care, but, of course, she refused. Later I saw the youngster in the street in another part of the town, but I had the satisfaction of seeing her clothed. That child is headed for a life of shame and misery. I wish I could rescue her.
The Holy Spirit used the shy and unassuming man from the foothills of Georgia to smite the granite that was India, and from the rock the gospel stream began to flow. “We needed no fashionable clothes and no expensive car,” Turner said. “Our print dresses and tennis shoes and sun hats were all the expense we needed to carry His Word. The Lord goes along with us, and at the villages He reminds us of His own walking, and His bone-tired body, and of His sermon to the woman at the well who forsook all and followed him.”
Turner led in the formation on January 10, 1937 of the Bihar Conference, named after a state in north eastern India. Turner was appointed as the first superintendent. He continued to serve in India until 1948.
In that year he accepted the pastorate of the Beulah Pentecostal Holiness Church in the Georgia Conference. The congregation had gone through a difficult season and was having trouble finding a pastor who would accept the appointment. But the challenge was not too big for Turner. He served the congregation at Beulah for the next 26 years, building it into a strong fellowship.
The man widely recognized as the father of IPHC ministry in India lived to the ripe old age of 98.