Connections: Mark Purkey
Sept. 21, 2014
"Stand on My Word"
Evangelists Mark and Susie Purkey share the gospel regularly in more than 20 nations in Central and Western Europe, traveling for a week on a monthly basis overseas and holding services across the United States the balance of each month. They live in Oklahoma City. Mark Purkey recently spoke with Scott Harrup, Pentecostal Evangel managing editor, about the miracle of healing in his life that became the foundation for the Purkeys’ ministry.
evangel: You thought your life was going in one direction, and cancer changed all that.
MARK PURKEY: I had been called into the ministry all the way back when I attended a kids camp in Oklahoma when I was 9. But, at 18, I had some unexpected success in football and pursued that instead of what I knew God wanted me to do.
I enrolled at Evangel University in Springfield, Mo., on a football scholarship instead of pursuing a Bible college education. I began to toy with the idea that I didn’t necessarily need to preach in order to fulfill God’s calling on my life. I could pursue football and still be a great layman in the church and a great support to my pastor. But I knew in my heart that was not what I was supposed to do.
evangel: When was the cancer discovered?
PURKEY: I got the news in early January 1981. It all started with a cough that kept getting progressively worse until I finally visited a doctor in my hometown of Claremore, Okla. Initial tests revealed several masses about the size of golf balls in my chest cavity. Two clusters of these masses were near my heart and a lung.
Even I could feel with my fingertips hard, rocklike lumps under the skin around my neck, under my arms, and some places around my waist. Doctors sent me from Claremore to St. John’s Hospital in Tulsa.
Two specialists were awaiting my arrival, and they immediately started tests over several days. The results came back on a Wednesday evening. My parents did the music at our local AG church, and it was midweek church night. Mom and Dad came to the hospital after church, and a doctor met us around 8. He showed us the different X-rays and other test results. He diagrammed on a legal pad where all the masses were located, and he was most concerned about the masses near the heart and lung.
The doctor told us I had cancer of the lymph nodes, non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. “This cancer has been spreading like wildfire,” he said. He did not believe chemotherapy or radiation would help, because the cancer was so advanced. He said the medical team wanted to perform surgery the very next morning.
They planned two incisions. The first would be near my neck to take a biopsy for quick lab analysis. The chief surgeon would then be called in to make another incision from the middle of my stomach wrapping around my torso to the right side, where several ribs would need to be broken to allow room for extensive surgery on the masses in my abdomen. That procedure would last most of the day.
evangel: Did your doctor offer any hope?
PURKEY: The real concern, the doctor explained, was that the surgeon might not be able to remove the masses near my vital organs. My parents asked the doctor what my options were if those masses could not be removed. “Your son would have three to six months to live,” he told them.
But the next thing the doctor said had a deeper meaning than he realized: “What we need is a miracle.” I believe he meant by “miracle” just a one-in-a-million successful surgery, but when he said that to a family like ours that has been in this Fellowship for generations, we came alive.
evangel: How did you pursue that miracle?
PURKEY: In 1913 my Grandmother Purkey was about 8 years old when she heard the gospel for the first time and was saved and baptized in the Holy Spirit. From that day on, she served the Lord with all her heart. Pentecost started with our family in 1913 through my grandmother.
I called Grandmother Purkey about 11 o’clock the night of that terrible report. I knew she would be home from church by then, and I knew she was an intercessor. When I called her and told her the news, she didn’t want to talk much. “Well, I’ve got to pray,” she said. “I’ll see you in the morning for your surgery.”
evangel: What did she do?
PURKEY: She started walking through her small, two-bedroom house, praying up and down the hall and in the various rooms. While praying, she said she felt impressed of the Lord to “stand on My Word.”
At that Wednesday night service, she told me later, they had sung “Standing on the Promises.” She thought that was what the Lord was reminding her to do. She walked through the house praying, “Father, I come in the name of Jesus, standing on the Word of God.” She began quoting different passages of Scripture while she prayed.
A second time, she felt the Lord’s impression to “stand on My Word.” She kept walking, praying and quoting promises from Scripture.
When the impression came the third time so clearly to “stand on My Word,” she took a family Bible off the coffee table in her living room, put it on the floor, and opened it to Isaiah 53:5, “By His stripes we are healed.” She physically stood on that open Bible. She told me that when she stood on the Bible in the middle of her floor “the shekinah glory of the Lord filled the house.”
Grandmother prayed fervently on that Bible. When she was finished, she stepped off of the Bible and went into her kitchen, thinking she would get a drink of water before going to bed for the night. To her amazement, when she looked at the kitchen clock, it was 6 o’clock in the morning and she had to rush to the hospital before I went in to surgery. She had been standing on that Bible praying for me all night long.
evangel: What happened to you while your grandmother was praying?
PURKEY: The presence of the Lord came into my room. I heard the door to my room open and close in the middle of the night. I could see no one, but there was such a sense of God’s presence I sat up and looked toward the foot of my bed. I couldn’t see anyone.
During the next minutes, I felt God’s presence move to the left side of my bed, back to the end of my bed, and then to the right side of my bed, even though I couldn’t see anyone.
God began to deal with my heart about my rebellion against His call to preach the gospel. I immediately repented. I lost all interest in football and all my pursuits. At 19 years of age, I prayed, “Lord, if You really want to use me, I give You my life.”
I was lying back down in my bed at that moment, and I felt a hand press down on my chest. Again, I looked around the room, trying see anyone who might be there. I was alone. But I knew a hand was on my chest because I could make out the pressure of a palm and fingers and a thumb. I could even tell it felt like someone’s right hand.
It lasted just a few seconds, and then it was over and the sense of God’s presence left the room.
evangel: How did your experience connect with your grandmother’s prayers?
PURKEY: The next morning, I was being prepped for surgery when my grandmother came to the hospital. I could hear her in the hallway saying, “I need to see my grandson.” She came up to me and asked me to tell her exactly what had happened.
My grandmother, when standing on that Bible, asked the Lord to do several specific things in a specific order. She prayed that God would fill my room with His presence. She prayed that God would walk around my bed and minister to me. She asked the Lord to deal with me about my life’s calling. Finally, she asked the Lord to lay His right hand on me and heal me.
When I told her that was exactly how things had happened, she began to pray quietly in the Spirit, and then slipped out of my room to join the rest of the family and friends in the waiting area.
evangel: What happened during surgery?
PURKEY: I expected to wake up about 11 hours later in ICU. When I opened my eyes, I was back in my room, only a couple of hours had passed, and my father was standing by my bed. He told me what had happened.
When the doctors made the first incision and began to search for the cancer, there was nothing to find. They were only able to identify one small piece of scar tissue where one of the masses had been. There was not a trace of cancer in my body. They closed my first incision and cancelled the second, more invasive surgery.
The doctors and surgeons on my medical team gathered for a conference and contacted colleagues at the Mayo Clinic. No one could explain the absence of cancer.
When they finally came to the waiting room to confer with my family, they announced there was no cancer and that they had no explanation to offer. All my loved ones who had gathered for the surgery began to praise God and sing and celebrate in that waiting room.
Back in my room, my dad whispered to me what they had been told. I felt tears begin to run down my face. Because that first surgery had been around my throat, my throat was swollen and all I could do was whisper, “Dad, would you be disappointed if I gave up my football scholarship and went to Bible college?”
“Son,” my dad whispered back into my ear, “I’ve already called Central Bible College and they’ve got a dorm room reserved. They’re waiting for you.”
evangel: Were the doctors ever able to explain the miracle?
PURKEY: It took three weeks for me to heal from the surgery. I went back for follow-up tests to confirm there was still no cancer. My file was declared “an act of God.” I’ve gone in every year for the past 33 years for a major physical. I’ve been cancer free ever since.
evangel: What other events in 1981 made it a pivotal year?
PURKEY: I arrived at CBC by the end of January 1981 at age 19. I was accepted into the Revivaltime choir and started giving my testimony during the Sermon and Song section of our services on our tours.
In one of our Revivaltime services in Syracuse, N.Y., a man was healed after my testimony. He had been paralyzed from the waist down in a motorcycle accident, and he got up from his wheelchair in that service and walked. It was a service like no other in Revivaltime history.
Susie and I married in December of 1981, at the end of that same year I had been healed. We’ve been in full-time ministry ever sense.
evangel: What happened to your grandmother?
PURKEY: She lived to be 100, and about eight years ago I had the privilege of preaching her funeral.
evangel: How do you encourage people in your services when you know they have a strong faith in the Lord as their Healer and yet they have struggled with an illness or other physical condition for years without healing?
PURKEY: I encourage them to continue daily to stand on God’s Word. I encourage them to use their mouths to speak in faith as a means of nurturing their belief in God as Healer. I don’t have an explanation for why some people are healed instantly, others gradually, and still others continue with an illness for many years even after faithful prayer.
But none of this changes the fact God honors His Word and honors faith and invites us to be persistent in our prayers for healing. When healing does not come in the long term, even believers can struggle with depression and discouragement. But we need to continue holding to God’s Word and proclaiming His promises from Scripture in faith.
Sometimes people ask me, “What if God had not healed you?” I always respond, “I’m a winner either way.”
If God had not healed me of my lymphoma, I would be in heaven with Him today. Because He healed me, I was given a chance to make something right and follow a wonderful calling into ministry that I would have missed.