By KATIE EUBANKS
Dr. Ivan Parke was born in Mumbai, India (then Bombay), in 1965. He and his parents moved to America for economic opportunity when he was 2 years old, and now Ivan is a Mississippi College professor and a published author, husband to adjunct instructor Mary Ann, and father of two children — one in med school, and one a teacher.
It’s the American dream, with one distinction that Ivan points out: He didn’t pull himself up by his bootstraps. Likewise, Mary Ann notes exactly Whom they’re depending on.
“I am not self-made in any way,” Ivan says, instead crediting extended Christian family in India (see box on page 22) and his parents’ sacrifice in “leaving everything familiar” for a better life.
Similarly, “we have all these plans,” Mary Ann says, “but then we relax and know (Jesus is) enough.” In other words, His plans are best.
“I’m thankful to get to tell students — I could not have manipulated my life any better than God has led,” Ivan says. “I’m living my dream.”
‘That man can pray.’
Ivan’s father, Kelly, was a physician in India but still struggled. After the family moved to America, Kelly redid all his medical training before finally being able to practice in Ohio. The Parkes lived up north until 1978.
“I made it to the South in time to incorporate ‘y’all’ (into my vocabulary),” Ivan says.
Meanwhile, “I thought I’d be a doctor just like my dad, but God knew I would be a communicator,” he says. Ivan was called to ministry — and preached his first sermon — at age 14. After attending several schools as the family moved, he graduated high school in central Florida.
Mary Ann grew up in Louisiana and also attended multiple schools due to her dad’s job with Louisiana Power and Light, now Entergy. “I claim the whole state,” she says.
After Ivan graduated high school, “I decided to go far from home,” he says, and attended Baylor University in Waco, Texas. By then, Mary Ann had her master’s and was teaching math — also at Baylor. But Ivan already had his math credit, so he never met Mary Ann during that time.
“I was thinking, ‘God, do You have anyone for me?’” Ivan recalls. However, it’s good he didn’t take her class, he says now, “because she’d never marry a former student.”
Finally, Ivan and Mary Ann did meet, in the singles ministry at First Baptist New Orleans. By that time Ivan was attending New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary (NOBTS), and Mary Ann was teaching at The University of New Orleans.
The two started as acquaintances who were active in the singles ministry and sang in the singles ensemble, Ivan says.
“Our music minister would call on him to pray from time to time,” Mary Ann recalls, “and I would think, ‘That man can pray.’”
After a couple years, they went from acquaintances to friends.
“We played tennis,” Ivan says. “I made a meal for her, but it was Indian food, so it was too hot for her. She invited me to a lunch with her parents, just as friends, and I enjoyed that.”
“He fit in so well, and we all laughed and talked, and it was the first time I really ‘noticed’ him,” Mary Ann says of the lunch. “(Soon after that) we decided this would be worth pursuing.”
They each felt that “spark” within a week of each other. Ten months later, they were married.
Job and jobs
When Ivan started his doctorate at NOBTS, he noticed a class on the book of Job — the godly Old Testament man who lived through terrible suffering — focusing on the book’s original Hebrew language. “Sure,” he thought, and signed up.
As a result, “Job becomes part of my everyday life. It becomes my dissertation,” Ivan says.
How did that happen? “It was the stress of writing a research paper for that seminar,” he says. “The topic that I opted to tackle (the literary role of God’s speeches in the book) became the ‘seed’ of my dissertation.”
Around that same time, he and Mary Ann moved to the Baton Rouge area, where Ivan became a youth pastor at First Baptist in Denham Springs and Mary Ann taught math at Louisiana State University. At one point Ivan had the opportunity to teach through Job at church.
“Then this academic (content) I have to transfer to everyday folk who love the Lord — not dumbing it down or watering it down,” he says. “That started what I’ve done for 29 years.”
Meanwhile, Ivan and Mary Ann’s children, Anne Marie and Jonathan, were born in Denham Springs. Jonathan, known as JP, was born “in chapter 3 of my dissertation,” Ivan says.
Soon after JP was born, the family moved again when Ivan became pastor of Walkers Chapel Baptist Church outside of Birmingham. Mary Ann stayed home with the kids for a few years. Ivan worked on his doctorate after the family went to bed, and during the day he learned how to be a full-time pastor.
“I remember sweating bullets at our first (church) business meeting,” he says. “My first year was a learning year. The second year, it was all God. … March through summer, we had baptisms, whole families joining.”
They also met some sweet people, Mary Ann says. “The children were 2 and newborn when we moved there. Some of those senior adult women claim them as their own.”
And, Ivan finished his dissertation.
“Then a friend from seminary calls and says, ‘I’m looking for a professor who specializes in Old Testament. Would you pray about coming (to Mississippi College)?’” Ivan recalls.
“But there was so much wonderful going on (in Birmingham). I’d always wanted to teach, I was getting the degree to do it, but …”
He couldn’t decide. “We rented (the movie) ‘The Preacher’s Wife,’ and after watching that, I thought I’d stay (in Birmingham),” he says. Finally, Ivan’s friend invited him to visit MC in person. Still unsure, he and Mary Ann made the drive.
“When I set foot on this campus, I thought, ‘This is like home. I’m supposed to be here,’” he recalls. But Mary Ann was still “wrestling children” that morning, she says, and hadn’t arrived on campus yet. This was January 1998, before cell phones were prevalent, so Ivan didn’t get a chance to tell her how much he liked the place.
She started figuring it out during the job interview, she says. “We only came here because you don’t shut a door God opens — but he’s answering these questions like he wants this job. (I’m wondering) do I act like we want to come? Should we start looking at houses while we’re here?”
MC offered Ivan the position. The family moved to Clinton in August 1998, and Ivan and Mary Ann are still there. “It’s the longest either of us has lived anywhere,” she says.
Research and real suffering
In 1999, the year after moving to Clinton, Ivan started doing research in order to write a practical, relatable book — not a dissertation — on the book of Job.
Four years later, a friend asked him to co-author a different book, so Job got put on the backburner. “Then JP starts playing all-star baseball, and that was our life,” Ivan says. “For about six years,” Mary Ann adds.
Finally, Ivan says, God got his attention and told him, “It’s not that your life will be incomplete or a failure (if you don’t finish this book about Job), but you’ll be wishing you’d done it.”
By the time he completed the book, on Father’s Day 2021, he and Mary Ann had experienced a little more suffering of their own, though they’re under no illusions that they suffered like Job.
“In 2013 (Anne Marie) manifested manic depression,” Ivan says. “I thought my parents’ divorce was the worst thing I could go through, but when you see your daughter suffering … She wound up being (diagnosed as) bipolar.”
He and Mary Ann found help for Anne Marie at First Baptist Jackson’s Summit Counseling and with a psychiatrist at St. Dominic Hospital. Thanks to God, prayer, and the right professionals, Ann Marie eventually was able to manage her mental health.
“She met the love of her life, got married, graduated on time, got her master’s in math, and we have a grand-dog,” Ivan says.
However, the pain that he and his family endured during the height of Ann Marie’s illness made Ivan’s book on Job a better one.
Ann Marie’s journey also made her parents better teachers, says Mary Ann, who started teaching at MC a few years after Ivan. “A lot of times you want to dismiss (a student’s) excuses, but a lot of times they need extra help.”
And the Parkes’ suffering gave them a new appreciation for the body of Christ around them.
At one point Ann Marie had a math test coming up at MC, and she’d missed a whole week of classes. Her mother confided in John Travis, then head of the math department, without really thinking he’d be able to help.
“He calls that night and says, ‘Send Ann Marie and I’ll put (the lessons) up on my whiteboard and we’ll get her caught up,’” Mary Ann recalls. “He did that, teaching (her) a class he didn’t even teach.”
“That has been a blessing, living in a place long enough to get community,” Ivan says.
‘When Life Meets the Soul’
In November 2022, Ivan finally released “When Life Meets the Soul: Everyday Lessons from the Book of Job.” Far from a verse-by-verse commentary, the book instead distills 25 principles into brief chapters, each five to 10 pages long, which readers could use for personal devotion, Ivan says.
“The people who know him or have had him as a teacher say, ‘I can just hear Ivan (as I read the book),’” Mary Ann says.
There’s also a 10-session small group study guide, put together by Ivan and his former student Timothy Peabody, minister of adults at Morrison Heights Baptist Church in Clinton, where the Parkes are members.
Both book and study guide are available at IvanParke.com or on Amazon, and the book can also be purchased at Barnes & Noble in Ridgeland or The Cupboard, an interior décor and gift shop in Clinton.
“And from our garage,” Mary Ann adds. Ah, the glamour of being an author!
Jokes aside, the Parkes love their life. Mary Ann is an adjunct, a realtor, and a “standard patient,” or mock patient, keeping med students on their toes at The University of Mississippi Medical Center.
Ivan is thrilled to get to teach God’s Word, whether in book form, to college students, or to others. (In addition to his duties at MC, Ivan is interim pastor at Liberty Baptist Church in southwest Mississippi. He’s served as an interim pastor at a dozen Mississippi churches over the years.)
“I don’t know why we think God’s will is just the worst thing we could do,” he says.
Still, he admits, it takes time to learn to trust Him with each step.
“I’m such a slow learner in this regard — rather than stress the details, because I love the details, I have finally learned that ‘I trust You. I don’t know how to get from point A to point B, but I trust You.’”