Pentecostal Pioneers: H. Earl Wilson
By Dianne Cothern
The earliest memories I have of my grandfather, H. Earl Wilson, are sitting on his lap and combing his white, wavy hair. He teased me and said, “If I didn’t pick on you, you’d think I was mad at you!” I loved to hear the stories of his experiences while he was an evangelist and pastor and of the miracles God did for him and his family.
He was born soon after the turn of the century to a Methodist preacher and his wife. In his early childhood his father accepted the message about the Holy Ghost and later the truth of baptism in Jesus’ name. While studying the first chapter of Hebrews, he received the revelation of the mighty God in Christ.
As a child, Earl felt the call of God to the ministry. He had been preaching the Jesus Name gospel for several years before he met and married the daughter of a pioneer of the gospel from Arkansas.
Brother Clifton was in a revival at Mayflower, but so far nothing had happened. Some friends of his went to the meeting and took Earl Wilson. Although Earl had never preached before, word got to Brother Clifton that his friends were bringing a minister. They had a flat tire and arrived just as the preacher began. Brother Clifton told the congregation, “We have a young preacher here tonight to bring the message. They had a flat coming out from Little Rock and he’s tired. Everyone come back tomorrow night and bring someone with you to hear the new preacher.”
For weeks Isaiah 1:18 – “Come now, and let us reason together, saith the LORD: though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool” –had been running through Earl’s mind. All day he fasted and prayed down by a creek that ran through the pasture where he was staying. When he got up to preach that night, he said, “I take for my text tonight Isaiah 1:18.” Then the anointing of God came on him, and when he gave the altar call, fifteen fell in the altar.
From there Grandpa Earl and Brother Clifton went to Conway and took turns preaching. One night Brother Clifton was so hoarse he could only whisper, “You’ll have to preach.” Grandpa was hoarse himself. When he got up, he said, “As you know, this is Brother Clifton’s night to preach but he can only whisper and I’m not much better. We’ll have preaching if the preacher comes. I’m taking for my subject ‘Bobbed Hair.’ ” Again God spoke through him, and people told him that he floated about a foot above the platform as he preached. When he gave the altar call, fourteen girls with bobbed hair went to the altar.
One of the girls was dating a bootlegger. Grandpa told her she could not go with him anymore now that she was a Christian. When the bootlegger came for her, she told him she could not go with him. “Why?” he asked. When she told what Grandpa had instructed her, he said, “I’ll teach him not to meddle in my affair.” He threatened to beat Grandpa up so badly that “his folks won’t know him.”
Grandpa knew that the bootlegger carried a forty eight pistol, a steel dagger, and a pair of brass knuckles. He prayed, “Lord, if you can get more glory out of my life by my being killed or in the hospital, I want you to have the glory no matter what.”
One Sunday he stayed after the others had gone. When everyone had left, the bootlegger said, “I’m going to beat you up right now. I know I can.” Over six feet tall, he weighed more than two hundred pounds.
“I know you can, too, and if you had said so a few months back, I’d have told you to prove it. But now, I’m a Christian, and by the grace of God, if you knock me down, I’ll get up and turn the other cheek,” Grandpa answered.
The bootlegger began to weep and never touched Grandpa. When folks asked him why, he said, “I don’t know, but when that little preacher said what he did, I couldn’t hit him. There was something in him, around him, or something.”
Irby Bailey similarly testified, “As a young man I lived about three miles from the Sunny Lane community, where I attended church. A devout family held prayer meetings in their home and a young minister, Earl Wilson, was at one prayer meeting. Something about him stood out to me. He did everything with all his might. One of his favorite songs went, ‘Oh, I know I don’t feel blue, for I’m rich and happy too.’ Brother Wilson sang with so much enthusiasm, the rafters of the house echoed. He preached with the same zeal. Years after, my wife and I received the Holy Ghost, were baptized in Jesus’ name, and accepted the call to the ministry; then I understood why Brother Wilson was so thrilled.”
While attending a conference in Beaumont, Texas, with Brother Wilburn, Grandpa joined the evangelistic band of W. H. Lyon and they went to Comanche, Texas. One night Grandpa preached on the subject “Jesus and What He Can Do.” After church a young couple came up carrying a baby. They showed Grandpa the baby’s feet, a pitiful sight. Instead of normal feet, they turned up the back of the leg. “Can Jesus heal our baby’s feet?” they asked.
“Oh, yes, He can,” Grandpa said as he laid a hand on each foot and prayed. He felt the feet turn to the proper position. They were completely normal! Years later, Grandpa was in a street meeting in Comanche when a woman asked him, “Do you remember me?” She was the mother of that baby. “He’s marching in the United States Army now!”
From Comanche, the band went to Muleshoe, and then to Clovis, New Mexico, establishing churches all along. From New Mexico they went to Farwell, Texas, where Brother Lyon pastored for many months, sending Grandpa on to fill an appointment in Littlefield.
While there, he preached the longest sermon of his career. He spoke in a crowded schoolhouse with standing room only. Reading Jeremiah 6:16 for a text, he spoke for two hours and forty-five minutes on “Old Paths.” Again people who were there said he floated above the floor. He reminded them of the length of the sermon, but they just said, “It didn’t seem like fifteen minutes.”
After two years and eight months with Brother Lyon’s band, Grandpa went home. He visited some friends in Little Rock, Arkansas, and G. Hobart Brown asked him to hold a revival. “We’ve not had a real move of God in some time and we need a good revival.” The Lord did move in a mighty way. One woman who had been seeking the Holy Ghost for fourteen years was filled. Twenty eight repented, fourteen were filled with the Holy Ghost, and the revival spirit continued long after the meeting closed. Following this meeting Grandpa was the conference evangelist.
He went back home near Star City, Arkansas, where there was much moonshine and bootlegging. During one service, Grandpa noticed people going out and coming back in. He felt the power of the devil but couldn’t fathom what was wrong. The people had heard that someone had come to kill him, and they had gotten their guns to protect him.
After dismissing, Grandpa saw a man out from the brush arbor. He felt led to speak to him. Grandpa asked him, “Are you a Christian?” The man cursed and said, “No!” Grandpa told him, “You’d better be, or that’s where you are going.” This man was the ringleader of those who were going to kill Grandpa and also the brother of the woman in whose home he was staying. Some people with guns were waiting for a signal from him, but no harm came to Grandpa.
Grandpa held a six-week brush arbor revival at Hardin, Arkansas. He baptized eighty-nine and sixty-five were filled with the Holy Ghost. From this revival a Sunday school began and a church was built.
Edith Hayes from Hardin reminisces about those revival days: “Brother Wilson came back for a revival in the Junett community. The Hardin church went to help. Ed Donaldson drove a truck loaded with people; others drove their cars. The Lord blessed from the first night in that old brush arbor. Not everyone could get under the arbor, so they stood outside. Before services every evening, the women went in one direction and the men in another into the woods for prayer. Many people received the Holy Ghost every night.
“One night a demon-possessed man came to the altar. He wanted to kill, so Brother Earl said, ‘Everyone who is not prayed up, stand back!’ Then he said, ‘Down, in Jesus’ name!’ The man fell to his knees, as if he had been hit in the head. He came back again and Brother Earl said again, ‘Down in Jesus’ name!’ Then he told Satan that he was bound. The next day the saints fasted and prayed all day. The man was set free, received the Holy Ghost, and lived for God until he died. Some of his children still come to church.
“Another night Brother Earl gave the altar and pleaded with souls. He gave a message saying that one in the group would not hear the dove in the spring. Sure enough, a young man died from a knife stab in just a short while.”
After the Hardin engagement, Grandpa went to Friendship, Arkansas, as pastor, then to Arkadelphia as pastor, then back to Hardin as pastor. There he married. He stayed as pastor for over a year after his marriage, then left and went to Pine Bluff to pastor. There his first child, Juanita Marie, was born. Then the family went to Trumann, Arkansas, for a revival and he stayed on as pastor. He pastored there until after the birth of his second child, Merlin Dean, leaving in the late winter of 1936.
The Wilson family had some miraculous experiences there. During a revival one Sunday morning before breakfast, a man knocked at the door and asked for prayer for his wife. “She’s had a stroke!” Grandpa went and prayed for her, and she was healed instantly.
After church that same Sunday, the Wilsons went home with one of the deacons for lunch. While they were eating, a boy came and said, “Daddy wants you to come and pray for Mother.” Grandpa told him, “I’ll come when we finish eating.” A short time later, the grown son came and said, “Hurry, Mother’s dying! The doctor says she won’t live through the day!” When Grandpa got there, a grown daughter had fainted from grief, the son was on one side of the bed, and the husband was holding the woman’s hand and crying as she was in a coma. Grandpa prayed and God healed the woman instantly.
From there they went to another woman who had suffered a stroke, and God healed her. Then from there to a woman who was bent double. God healed again. Then they prayed for a woman in her eighties who had been crippled in a car wreck and had walked on crutches for eight months. Grandpa felt led to ask her if she wanted a drink of water. The daughter brought her one. Grandpa set the glass on the floor, took her crutches, and said, “Grandma, in the name of Jesus, reach down and get that glass.” She did so.
Grandpa also had another miraculous experience while pastoring in 1936. One Sunday afternoon when he was lying down, God flashed verses of Scripture–book, chapter, and verse–in front of him as though on a screen. He called for Grandma to read the verses as they came. They started with Matthew 5:20.
That Sunday night he preached on those passages and the message stirred up much anger. Guilty ones stopped his pay, trying to starve him out. But God caused a young man who was working in a bakery to bring the Wilsons cakes, pies, and bread. They depended upon their cow for the baby’s milk, but the cow had no hay or feed. The last stick of firewood was gone. When Grandpa and Grandma got up from prayer, Grandma looked out the window and saw someone pulling in the driveway. She saw a bale of hay lying on top of a load of wood and cried, “Hey, hey! Well, it is hay!” The man bringing it was one of the angry ones. He had gone out to his farm, but when he got ready to return to town, God had him to load his pickup with wood and the bale of hay. The man drove back to Grandpa’s shed and asked, “Where do you want this? God made me bring it.”
The Assembly of God pastor called Grandpa to his house and loaded his car down with potatoes, fruit, and things from his cellar. “Come back if you need anything,” he added. A Church of God pastor killed a cow, and God told him to take a quarter to that One God preacher. He went and knocked on Grandpa and Grandma’s door. Grandpa went to the door, and the preacher said very crossly, “Can you tell me where that One God preacher lives?” Grandpa did, thinking perhaps the man wanted to harm him. They went out to the truck, whereupon the preacher told him the story, and said to pick out the quarter he wanted. Grandpa said, “I won’t. If God told you to bring it, He told you which one to bring.” The preacher gave him the best one.
After leaving Truman, the Wilsons held a revival in Senath, Missouri, and stayed for about two months. From there Grandpa felt led to go to Denver, Arkansas. When he got there, the pastor told him that it was not the time for a revival. They had service in Denver that night, however, and God blessed. Then the pastor said, “I feel led to have a revival!”
Later Grandpa held revivals in Sapulpa and Tulsa, Oklahoma, then
went on to Vera to start a church.
During the revival in Vera, on divine healing night, a car drove up and parked. Some people got out, but two men stayed in the car. When they had prayer for the sick, the driver got out of the car and another came to help him bring an old man in to be prayed for. As the saints prayed, Grandpa took hold of his arms and raised them, and the congregation went wild. The man had not been able to raise his arms or use them. Twenty-seven doctors had said, “No chance!” God instantly healed him, and he drove his car to service the next night. He had been a member of the Church of Christ, and four other Church of Christ families came into the truth as a result.
One of the families had a midget who was twelve years old. One day after service Charles asked Grandpa, “Brother Wilson, do you think God can heal me?” “I know he can,” Grandpa said. He prayed for the underdeveloped boy and God healed him. He grew to be a 160-pound man.
After establishing and pastoring the Vera church, the Wilsons went to Dewar, Oklahoma, for a revival. The pastor had left, so they became pastors there. One summer they baptized thirty-nine, and out of that number, there are three or four preachers. God gave them around two hundred souls that summer.
Grandpa told me, “I have just given you a few highlights of my early ministry. I can tell you of blind receiving their sight, deaf hearing, lame walking, cancer dropping off, the barren bearing children, curved spines straightened, and legs lengthened. For eight months food multiplied enough for four to eat. We ate all we wanted and still had enough for the next meal. We could still go to the meal and flour can and have enough for bread.”
God did not forget Brother Wilson in his later years. Twice the Lord blessed him with his car. Once after he prayed, he drove fifty miles with a broken fan. The battery ran completely down, but the car did not get hot. The second time, his car caught fire and blazed two feet up in the air. He made it to a filling station, and the fire went out like a blowen out match.
Irby Bailey spoke of Grandpa preaching at his church: “His enthusiasm and zeal was still the same. His faith for divine healing, strong message of biblical holiness, and firm convictions on repentance, baptism in Jesus’ name, and the infilling of the Holy Ghost have not waned with his age.”
Grandpa’s last pastoral was in Oklahoma City. I received the Holy Ghost in his church when I was only eight years old.
Editor’s note: Earl Wilson went to be with the Lord early in 1992.
THE ABOVE MATERIAL WAS COMPILED BY MARY H. WALLACE, AND PUBLISHED BY WORD AFLAME PRESS, 1992, PAGES 269-278. THIS MATERIAL IS COPYRIGHTED AND MAY BE USED FOR STUDY & RESEARCH PURPOSES ONLY.