Heart for the Harvest, Stories of Vision, Faith, & Courage, by Jeff Farmer and Andrea Johnson. Des Moines, IA: Open Bible Publishers, 2009.
Two Pentecostal groups starting from revival movements in the Northwest in 1919 and in Iowa in 1932 eventually discovered they shared most of the same doctrines and passion for spreading the gospel around the world. After comparing notes, praying, and attending each other’s conferences, they reasoned that they could more effectively minister for the Kingdom together than apart. They consolidated their efforts in 1935, becoming the Open Bible Standard Churches with headquarters in Des Moines, Iowa. Today the group—much larger than in 1935—is known as Open Bible Churches and still operates from the capital city of Iowa.
The Northwest group began when Fred Hornshuh and other young Pentecostal ministers associated with Florence Crawford and her Apostolic Faith group in Portland, Oregon, came to disagreements with the leadership. They struck out on their own as the Bible Standard Mission to evangelize and plant churches. And they soon sent missionaries to foreign fields; created two periodicals: Bible Standard and Bible Standard Overcomers; and launched a Bible school in Eugene, Oregon.
Their evangelizing passion and excitement during the 1920s and the Great Depression apparently knew no bounds. Big game hunter Hornshuh could throw up revival tents, dig church basements, hammer nails, and advertise his meetings as well as he could preach from street corners and crude tent pulpits.
Sixty years after he pioneered as the Bible Standard Mission, Hornshuh reminisced: “We did things on the spur of the moment. We had no higher officer to consult like a district superintendent or board of evangelism. We had to find the mind of God quickly and then move as he directed. When we acted without analyzing all the difficulties, everything fell into line. As we bulldozed ahead, the Lord met us.”
Two of Hornshuh’s “bulldozing” efforts still remembered in Eugene Oregon, are the Lighthouse Temple, built in 1926 to seat 3,000, and Eugene Bible College.
Now, what about the group in Iowa?
Aimee Semple McPherson, founder of the International Church of the Foursquare Gospel, had sent graduates of her Los Angeles Bible school to Des Moines. She recognized the leadership abilities of a Kentucky farm boy, John R. Richey, and placed him in charge of her Midwest churches and a Bible school in Des Moines.
But like differences in Portland between Hornshuh and Crawford a dozen years earlier, the Foursquare ministers in the Heartland began to question McPherson’s policies and her personal life. As a result, Richey and others separated from Foursquare in 1932 to form the Open Bible Evangelistic Association. The group named the dynamic Richey as their leader.
Richey and his wife Louise were as energetic as Hornshuh, preaching and teaching almost daily in the former Methodist church building they bought at 19th and Crocker in Des Moines. Their exuberance rubbed off on others, creating excitement throughout the upper Midwest.
The Great Depression was a deterrent to pioneering, but Richey viewed it as a time to trust God rather than a road block. The Foursquare Bible school now became the Open Bible Training School, the Open Bible Messenger magazine was launched, and soon young men and women with “hearts for the harvest” scattered throughout the Midwest and into foreign fields.
One of the organizing ministers of the Open Bible Evangelistic Association, R. Bryant Mitchell recounted the history of the two groups in his Heritage & Horizons in 1982. He and his wife Lucille followed this book in 1995 with a missionary history, Heritage & Harvests.
But as time passed and the founders passed off the scene, a new generation was urged to record history of the movement since 1982. With President Jeff Farmer and editor Andrea Johnson leading the way, Heart for the Harvest began to take shape with original articles and reprints from the Open Bible Message.
The result is a 528-page biographical history of Open Bible Churches—1982-2007. Some might prefer an academic and critical approach with foot or end notes, but the intent is to inspire readers to see how God has led the younger generation to plant churches in the U.S. and foreign countries, see answers to prayer, and bring the fellowship together as a united force for the Kingdom.
Former Open Bible Churches president, Ray Smith, spoke to denominational members when he wrote, “As you read Heart for the Harvest you will be proud to be part of a movement that is changing lives across America and around the world. You will be inspired by the miraculous works of God through Open Bible individuals, churches, and para-church ministries.”
And we could add that sister organizations will find inspiration and learn more about what the Open Bible Churches is accomplishing for the Kingdom.
Take for example Don and Lee Ann Frye.
As church planters in Kentucky, they were impressed to move to a small church in Springdale, Pennsylvania, in 1986. For the next 10 years they described the situation as “church as usual.” But then a 2-year revival changed everything.
One of the Frye granddaughters organized a prayer group in her high school. Other students started prayer groups in their school while some students met daily for prayer around their schools’ flag poles. The youth group soon outgrew their facility.
The Fryes and their daughter Heather and son-in-law Peter Freeman were amazed and overjoyed to see “punkers” and “preps” praising God together. They saw teenagers attracted with every hair coloring and styles imaginable. “Wearing earrings in eyebrows, noses, and cheeks. Former drug users and those who once practiced witchcraft worshiped alongside honor students and athletes. Teenagers came from everywhere—each with a jaw-dropping testimony. One girl, who wanted to be a vampire, had caps put on her teeth and filed them into long points. Before long, she gave her heart to the Lord and had the caps removed.”
Springdale had never seen anything like it as young people were delivered from drugs, cigarettes, the occult, dragon games, eastern religions, alcohol, sexual addiction, and false religions. “Searching for something more, they found Jesus.” Some of the youth from the revival went into youth ministry and others enrolled at Eugene Bible College, nearly 3,000 miles away.
And speaking of the Oregon school—the same school Fred Hornshuh, Sr. founded in 1925—it is featured in chapter 4.
Cramped in a downtown building for years, the school desperately needed more space and buildings. President Don Bryan spearheaded a project to obtain a 20-acre campus in west Eugene in 1974, which was called “Miracle Hill” because of what was accomplished to obtain the land and the construction of buildings on the hillside. The latest building, coming too late for Heart for the Harvest, is the Rexius Event Center, which includes the Cordeiro Court (gym), Stewart Chapel, and the Open Bible Heritage Center.
A visible landmark 24 hours a day that has helped put the EBC campus on the map is the 51-foot cross. Thirty years earlier the cross was placed on Skinner’s Butte Park, overlooking Eugene from the north. Because the cross was on city property, opponents took it to court, and case went all the way to the Supreme Court. The court refused to hear the argument, forcing Eugene to remove the cross from its park property. Several groups wanted the cross but the city awarded it to the college on Miracle Hill, across the valley where it is now anchored and lighted every night.
Another feature of the hillside campus is the R. Bryant Mitchell Park with its pavilion, gazebo, pond and fountain, arched bridge, and Walk of Faith. It is used by the college, congregations, area residents, and groups.
Open Bible Churches outreach ministry, as narrated in this book, includes ministry to various ethnic groups and military and institutional chaplains. Rear Admiral Robert E. Burt, an EBC graduate is the best known military chaplain, appointed as the Navy Chief of Chaplains in 2006. Unlike most chaplains, he first served as an enlisted man and then felt a call to the chaplaincy, becoming the first chief chaplain of any branch ordained by a Pentecostal/Charismatic denomination.
No history of an evangelical organization would be complete without an account of world missions. And without the support of local churches who are encouraged to regularly support those called to foreign fields, the agency would close its door. Not the case with Open Bible International Ministries. Picking up where Heritage & Horizons leaves off, the authors report success in areas as diverse as Sierra Leone, South America, the Ukraine, India, the Philippines, the West Indies and even Cuba.
Perhaps the most thrilling story of the denomination’s international ministry during the past 25 years was the discovery of Open Bible churches in India.
The story begins in 1936 when missionaries Willis and Grace Clay planted a few churches in South India. When they had to leave India in 1946, one of their converts, P.K. Paul, assumed leadership. But the Open Bible offices in Des Moines lost track of the few churches the Clays had founded.
In the late 1990s, however, through a series of events that leaders called nothing less than miraculous, the two groups discovered each other. Paul’s son John now led the 61 churches in India, and they thought they were the only Open Bible churches in the world. U.S. Open Bible leaders visited India, and the Indian leaders visited the U.S. A search for the Clay’s daughter Blossom was successful, and in 1997 she attended a convention and met John Paul whom she had played with when they were children. Talk about excitement around the convention!
As expected, the book includes stories of physical healings and deliverances—thus verifying their Statement of Faith: “We believe the power of God to heal the sick and afflicted is provided for in Christ’s death on the cross. God is willing and does heal today.”
The book is divided into three major sections. Section 1 contains stories from the church’s five national regions; Church Planting in the U.S.A; Other Harvest Ministries, including evangelists, authors, musicians, other media ministries, and the volunteer Mobile Kingdom Builders.
Section 2 covers developing church leaders, including Eugene Bible College; Institute of Theology by Extension (INSTE); Master’s Commission; chaplain’s ministries; and youth and seniors ministry.
Section 3 looks at the worldwide ministry of the denomination.
Researchers wanting information for dissertations, publications, digital projects, or teaching will find a wealth of information covering the years of 1982-2007 in a nearly 75-page appendix. This includes convention history, lists of credential ministers, missionaries, and churches, names of board directors, and numerous other statistics. But for a full report of the denomination, the researcher needs the previous histories by R. Bryant and Lucille Mitchell: Heritage & Horizons and Heritage & Harvests.
What is the future of the Open Bible Churches? With only 315 churches, 1,053 ministers in the United States, and one Bible college, it is about the size of some districts in other Pentecostal denominations.
More than once the much larger Assemblies of God invited the Open Bible Churches to join them. Although the two groups are close in doctrine and polity, each time the offer was extended Open Bible leaders believed they were to continue as a separate entity.
As one reads the many success stories in Heart for the Harvest it is evident that the authors and contributing writers believe God led them with their decision not to accept the Assemblies of God’s offers. On the last offer M.J. Stewart, a church leader, was certain he heard from God and relayed it to the other leaders: “Open Bible is a vital organ in the Body of Christ.”
And as President Jeff Farmer added, “History and the Holy Spirit have since affirmed our calling and distinctive.”
Reviewed by Wayne Warner, former director of the Flower Pentecostal Heritage Center
528 pages, photographs, indexes, and appendixes. $12 paperback, $19.25 hardback, postpaid. Order from the Open Bible Churches, 2020 Bell Ave., Des Moines, IA 50315, or online: http://www.openbible.org/browsebooks.html.