Pentecostal Pioneers: Warren Debbs Emberlin

Pentecostal Pioneers: Warren Debbs Emberlin
By  Warren D. Emberlin
As told by Noble D. Emberlin

My dad was a farmer who owned a three-room house with a path” on a 120-acre farm. A hardworking, stern man, Dad only gave instructions once. He said, “Whatever you do, do it right.” As a child I thought Dad was too hard, but now I appreciate the lessons I learned in obedience.

As a small child, I decided to start to school before I was old enough. I ran down the road for about one-half mile when my uncle stopped in his new 1918 Dodge touring car and took me home. My mother put me in the underground cellar in total darkness. I screamed until I was delivered. I surely don’t ever want to be cast into “outer darkness”!

One very cold morning I awoke to find everyone out at the barn doing chores, leaving me alone. “They shouldn’t have left me!” Angrily I decided to run away. I put on my old brown overcoat over my sleepers. With no shoes on, I started down the road in full view of the barn, hoping someone would see me. Soon I decided to return to the warm house and hot breakfast. No more running away!

A short time later my mother was expecting again. I hardly knew all that went on. My mother had a wisdom tooth removed while she was with child and infection set in. When a baby sister was born, my mother’s face was so swollen she could barely see the baby. Shortly after the baby died. My mother never got well either, as the infection spread. She died at thirty-nine when I was nine.

When I was ten, my dad took yellow jaundice and died at forty-one. My uncle, administrator of the estate, sold most of our possessions to pay debts. The family that I lived with showed me much love. My brother went to live with an aunt. Later I lived with my Uncle Elbert, his wife, and two daughters. Then my brother got married so I lived with him. My education continued up to the eleventh grade, all that was available in our area.

Soon after I got out of school I began to date Carmen Ruby Vanderburg. After dating for two years, we married on June 12, 1932. We moved into a two-room house belonging to my wife’s cousin, furnished with apple green furniture that I built out of used lumber. In the fall we took a delayed honeymoon, driving a stripped-down Model T Ford to western Oklahoma to pick cotton.

In the early part of 1933 we heard about a Pentecostal revival in Hennipen, Oklahoma, almost seven miles from our place. The evangelists were Brothers Michael, Carley Carter, and M. R. Carter. We took turns with our neighbor, driving his team one night and mine the next. My cousin and I listened outside, then we moved up close.

At the altar call I was surprised when my wife and our neighbor’s wife went to the altar. I turned my big, black hat around and around in my hand as I shook uncontrollably. Finally I got a firm hold on the car bumper, but the car shook! Jumping up, I asked my cousin to hold my hat, and I ran to the mourner’s bench. Weeping, I repented and felt as if the whole world lifted off me.

Before this my neighbor and I had helped ourselves to a man’s horse oats and fed them to our teams on the way home. That night as we neared the field, my neighbor asked, “Are we gonna get some more oats?”

“No, my oat-getting days are over!” I didn’t know that the Bible said, “Let him that stole, steal no more,” but I did know that my conscience would not let me steal again. Later I was baptized in Eight Mile Creek fed by a cold spring that runs out of the Oklahoma Arbuckle Mountains.

We attended church when we could, as my wife was soon to have our first child. Wanda Mae was born in Sulphur, Oklahoma, on December 6, 1933. She only weighed about three pounds. Her heart stopped, and the nurse had to run to the doctor’s car and get a heart pump while the doctor inserted a long needle into the baby’s chest. They finally got her breathing. The doctor warned us about having more children since my wife had thirteen convulsions before the birth.

In 1934 the Methodists began a brush-arbor meeting nearby, which we attended. A powerful preacher, the minister preached hard against sin and for the need of restitution. Each night the altar filled with weeping sinners. One fellow got up from the altar, went out, got his horse, and headed for a friend’s house. He called the man out and paid him five dollars he had cheated him out of the night before in a poker game. I brought my brother Noble to the altar.

Shortly after this, Brother C. P. Kilgore began a revival in Hennipen. Signs and wonders followed. Seven out of eight people who were lingering at the arbor saw an angel of the Lord. Five of them were my kinfolks. The next night they tried to tell what they had seen. An angel had appeared, bowed over the pulpit, floated out, caught hold of one of the arbor poles, and then disappeared. They could hardly tell it for weeping. A spirit of weeping spread over the congregation from the tops of our heads to the tip of our toes. To this day when I talk about it, I still can feel the surge of the Spirit like ‘possum tracks going up and down my spine, and tears still come to my eyes. Oh, what an experience!

In 1935 we attended a camp meeting in Weewoka, Oklahoma. My wife had some large lumps in her breast so she went on a long fast. One night there was a prayer line and my wife got in it. When she was prayed for, she received the Holy Ghost and the Lord healed her. The lumps were completely gone! I received the Holy Ghost in July of 1935 in Elmore City in Brother Kilgore’s revival.

In 1936 while we were living just out of Katy, Oklahoma, Wanda, who was about two years old, became very ill. We had no telephone, no car, and no neighbors. The church was about six miles away. Desperately I went outside under the stars and called on the Lord. He told me to anoint Wanda with oil and pray. We only had some Fitch hair oil so I used that. When we finished praying, she fell asleep, and when she awoke she asked for water. She drank it and was all right. Praise God!

In 1938 when Wanda was five, she was sitting on a bench by a wood heater when she fell into the heater, burning her legs badly. Quickly we took her to our pastor’s home in Hennipen. Brother and Sister Carter and Brother and Sister W. O. McComb were in revival there so we all prayed. Wanda screamed with pain. As we prayed, she suddenly stopped screaming and started to play with the other children. God had taken away the pain.

About a week or so later, she began to swell so we took her to the hospital in Winnie Wood. The doctors were upset because we hadn’t brought her in at first. They treated the burns but said she would never walk again because of the damage. But thank God for His touch!

While Wanda was still in the hospital, I hitchhiked home for service. That evening Brother Carter asked me to preach. I had felt the Lord dealing with me to preach but had not obeyed. I preached from Exodus, “When I see the blood I will pass over you.” That began my preaching ministry.

Shortly after my first message, Wanda was released from the hospital but was not walking. A few days later when my wife was outside, she heard Wanda screaming. She ran into the house to find that Wanda had gotten out of bed and walked across the room. She has walked ever since.

I preached on street corners, in schoolhouses, tents, brush arbors, open-air meetings, churches, and Bible conferences. For about eight years I evangelized. I received my first ministerial certificate in 1939 and was ordained in 1940 with the Pentecostal Assemblies of Jesus Christ. Later I received my ordination certificate with the United Pentecostal Church.

When Wanda began school, we moved to Elmore City, where Brother Parkey was our pastor. When I wasn’t preaching, I worked as a roofer, which helped us through hard times. Once I was flat broke, so I left home and went to another town to find work. I went to tell my pastor, and as I was leaving, he handed me forty-five cents. “I don’t need this,” I said. “Take it. We’ll be here at home and won’t need it,” he said.

I hitchiked to another town, found a house that had shingles missing in front, and went to inquire about replacing them. I had to wait for the man of the house. At first he said, “No, I’ll do it myself.” As I
turned to leave, he said, “Wait. What will you charge beside board?” “Two dollars,” I answered. I got the job. I slept out in the back yard, took my meals with them, and made $2.50. Then he got me another job.

When I had made ten dollars, I went to the bus station and bought a ticket to Oklahoma City. I got my brother-in-law and sister-in-law and we came back to work and rented a place to live. We worked for several days, then went to Elmore City for my family. “I’ve got to go by Brother Parkey’s to pay my tithes,” I said. My brother-in-law said, “Wait, take him my tithes too.” We went back to work and I bought a Chevy car for thirty dollars, then we returned to Elmore City. Our son, Jerry David, was born there on July 4, 1941. The doctor charged me five dollars.

During our time in Elmore we met a tall, young trinitarian preacher, James L. Gilbert. Brother Parkey and I set out to win him over to the Jesus Name message. With God’s help, he saw the light and soon began preaching Jesus. He spent time in our home, and we went on several preaching journeys together.

One cold winter we wanted to go to a conference in Tulsa. Someone had given us some pecans that still had outer hulls. I soaked them in water, hulled them, and sold them for conference money. We stayed in an unheated trailer home, but the Lord richly blessed us.

Another time we hitchhiked to Savoy, Texas, to a fellowship meeting, finally catching a ride with Brother gingham. By the time we arrived, he had a carload of folks he had picked up, some even riding the hood. Brother James met a young lady, Ruth Weaver, in our church whose dad let them come only to our house on their dates. Later they married. Years later their oldest son married our younger daughter.

In 1943 we went to California to work and preach. We preached in LaMont for Brother Paul Winters of the Pentecostal Assemblies of the World. We worked in Wasco, where I heard about some Jesus Name folks meeting in a house. I preached for them several times, then I located an empty building for rent for thirty-five dollars. The next service I asked, “Would you like me to rent it?” They agreed and our first service was packed out. Soon I reorganized the Sunday school, ordered material from a Christian publishing house, and appointed a woman teacher. Then I organized the books, and soon we had some good musicians and singers.

While we lived in Wasco my three-year-old son, Jerry, came in the house one day asking for a drink. “Just a minute,” my wife said. A jar of kerosene was on the floor. Thinking it was water, Jerry drank it and became violently ill. I came home from work and we began to pray. I got him into the car, praying as I drove. Then I asked, “Do you want a milkshake?” I got it and he never lost it. God heals!

We preached in Strathmore in a storefront for nine nights. The pastor closed the meeting without taking up any offerings. After service, a backslidden preacher who had prayed back through got up on the altar bench and said, “I think we need to take up the preacher an offering.” I got about nine dollars.

I preached a revival for Brother Rode in Modesto. One night as I was preaching, a man and a woman walked in with Bibles. They came to the altar and prayed. Afterward they said that they were Nazarene, had been to their service, and were walking by when they looked in and saw me. Previously they had dreamed about a man preaching and that man was I. So they came in and heard the truth.

While in Modesto, Wanda was riding in the back of our pickup. When I stopped at a light, she slid back against the tailgate, which came open, and fell to the ground in front of an eighteen-wheeled truck. Thank God, he stopped. We preached a revival in a home missions church for Brother Andie Evans in Tracey. Then we preached Brother Ike Terry’s first revival in Bakersfield. We preached several revivals for Brother H. Greggs in Safford. After coming to Denison, we were invited to preach the eleventh Arizona prayer and Bible conference in May.

In 1949 while we were in Elmore City, several men told us we ought to go to Springer and help the people there as they had no leader or building. I decided to investigate and drove to see Brother D. B. Black, the one in charge. His wife said, “He’s not here; he’s in Ardmore.”

“Let’s go to Ardmore [a town of twenty thousand] and park on the main street,” I decided. “The first man I meet will be Brother Black.” That’s exactly what happened! I felt I was in the will of God to go to Springer. We drove back and forth to the services from our home in Elmore. Sometime later we decided to move the church to Ardmore. Several wanted to move but others wanted to stay. Some went but some stayed.

We purchased two corner lots in the southeast part of town. When we were ready to build, the city informed us that we could not build a church within three hundred feet of any adjoining property. The
neighbors passed a petition signed by all the homeowners complainingthat we made too much noise. So we sold the property at a profit and moved.

Brother Black owned some commercial property and he deeded the lot on the back of it for a church. We built a church facing Palmer Street, a very narrow street connecting E and F streets. We didn’t have many men while we were building, so the ladies helped. Sister Emberlin and Sister Edith James helped pull up the rafters with a rope, then we nailed them. Brother Black, men who were just passing through town, and I built most of the building.

Night and day we worked, especially Brother Black. His family got low on groceries. The children thought this was strange because they were used to plenty, but the Lord carried them though. After the birth of their baby, Sister Black got very sick. The doctor said she would not improve, but when we prayed, she improved, got up, and cooked breakfast the next day.

We had to take baptismal candidates fifty miles to Sister Miller’s church in Gainsville, Texas, for baptism. At our opening service, the place was packed with Oklahoma District officials, pastors, saints, and friends. Holy Ghost rain fell inside, and natural rain fell on the outside. We stayed at Ardmore about a year.

In 1951 I preached in Denison, Texas, for Brother F. C. Smith, who had begun a work in a storefront and was beginning a building. When Brother Smith decided to leave, he called me to try out for the church. I was very content so I told him, “No, I’m not coming to preach because they already know how strict I preach.”

They held a vote anyway and he called, “It was one hundred percent!” I was still not willing so I said, “I’ll let you know.” On my way to Durant, Oklahoma, for a service, I told my wife, “I must let Brother Smith know something. If the first station in town has a telephone, I’ll stop and call. It’s unlikely he’ll be home.” As I rolled into town the first station had a phone so I called. He was home and I said, “I’ll come.” We left Ardmore for Denison. We finished the church building, then finished the parsonage.

Our Romona Kay was the first baby born in Grayson County so we received a write-up in the paper and free merchandise. We organized a Sunday school and offices in the church, then started planning an educational building.

The state decided to build an embankment for a highway right in front of our church, hiding us from the highway and causing water to run in front of our property. We took our case to court but the state won, so we decided to move.

We purchased property one block south of Highway 69 and one block east of 75. We bought five lots with a two-story house for a parsonage. We moved our auditorium to the new location and had services for a good while.

We had a revival with Curtis, Simeon, and Dorothy Young in the old building, also a great revival with Joe Ben Terry and Jack DeHart. Many soldiers from nearby Perrin Air Force Base received the Holy Ghost and new families moved in.

In February 1953 our daughter Wanda married William C. Gray. They evangelized for a while, then pastored in Longview, Texas, and Kansas City, Missouri. They have two married sons, Rodney and Nathan, who are active in the church in Denison. Wanda and her husband are now in the
church in Denison.
In 1959 we began our new church, a 44-by-84 block building attached to the old building, which is now used for education.

When I was in my forties, I got the childhood disease of mumps and was sick unto death. In addition we had some church problems that added stress. Sister Cora McCray prayed the prayer of faith and the Lord lifted me up! Our son, Jerry, married Judy Cravens in Durant, Oklahoma, in 1959. They had two sons. The first child, Monty, died at two and a half. Later Jonathan David was born to carry the Emberlin name.

In 1971 we sent our younger daughter to Texas Bible College. All the children went to Bible college–Wanda to Tulsa, Jerry to Stockton, California, and Kay to Texas. Kay married David Gilbert, and they evangelized for eight years.

In 1978 my wife was selling peanut brittle at Christmas when she accidentally locked the keys in her car and had to walk home. As she crossed a street, the light changed and a car hit her, injuring her
severely. She spent three months in the hospital. We were under so much pressure that I called my son-in-law to help with the church. My wife improved and began to walk again, then in December 1980 she had a heart attack and a stroke, which paralyzed her left side. My son-in-law agreed to stay on as co-pastor. Then in 1983 my wife had another stroke.

We had a lot of hard times, so I retired and my son-in-law became pastor. Since he became pastor, the congregation has built an educational building and remodeled the auditorium. Souls have been saved and the church is growing.

I still minister some here and preach out when I am called. The Lord has blessed. I didn’t keep complete records of the folks we baptized when we first came to Denison, but according to the records we have and my memory, we have baptized over five hundred. Several ministers have gone out of this church. Among them are Robert Molsbee, Gulfport, Mississippi; Rodger Hennigan, Bogalusa, Louisiana; John Brooks, evangelist; Alan Dorries, Ardmore, Oklahoma; and Royce Robinson, Valient, Oklahoma.

Since my retirement I started metal detecting. While in a schoolyard, a young man asked me to look for a ring. The tone sounded, so I knelt to dig. The young man hit the back of my head intending to rob me. I swung my detector. He ran! I thanked God I could defend myself.

In my younger days I claimed Psalm 67:2 and asked God for “saving health,” and the Lord has given me exactly that. Two other verses–Psalm 71:9, 18–have also been a great comfort to me. Thank God for experiences; they bring hope!