Category Archives: Biography

Wesley Steelberg: The Christ’s Ambassadors and Revivaltime Pioneer who became General Superintendent

SteelbergThis Week in AG History — July 27, 1952

By Ruthie Edgerly Oberg
Originally published on PE-News, 27 July 2017

“With deep regret we announce the passing of our beloved General Superintendent, Wesley R. Steelberg, on July 8, 1952.”  This statement in the July 27, 1952, Pentecostal Evangel informed the constituency of the Assemblies of God of the vacancy in the General Superintendent’s office left by the sudden death of 50-year-old Steelberg (1902-1952).

At the age of 16, Steelberg was known as “The Boy Preacher.”  Born to Methodist parents in 1902, Steelberg was converted at the age of 8 while attending a children’s meeting at the Pentecostal Assembly in Denver, Colorado. While praying at the altar, a mother knelt beside him and encouraged him to begin to ask the Lord to fill him with the Holy Spirit. God answered his prayer that night and a Pentecostal preacher was born.

Steelberg’s young body had been sorely twisted by the effects of spinal meningitis. When God healed him in the Pentecostal church both of his parents joined the movement and encouraged their young son to follow God’s call. Steelberg worked at various trades from carpentry to racecar mechanic but always studied the Bible in his spare time. He began speaking, first in his home assembly, and then branching out into other opportunities as pastors would open their pulpit to the young preacher.

In 1919, an evangelist invited him to join on an evangelistic tour of the Northwest. That same year he was ordained with the 5-year-old Assemblies of God. (Steelberg would later, briefly, turn in his credentials when it was decided that no one could be ordained until he was 21.) During this time, Steelberg struggled with physical ailments and only felt relief when he fully consecrated himself to be willing even to die if that was what the work required.

Later that same year, at age 17, Steelberg became associate pastor at Victoria Hall in Los Angeles where he met Ruth Fisher, the daughter of Elmer Fisher, pastor of the Upper Room Mission. They were married and to this marriage were born four children: Wesley Paul, Juanita, Esther, and Marvel.

The Steelberg’s were soon called to the pastorate of Stockton, California, where he conceived the idea of a great Pentecostal youth movement. He organized many “Pentecostal Ambassadors for Christ” groups throughout the Northern California-Nevada District which later fully developed into a national ministry called “Christ’s Ambassadors.”

Later pastoring in Sacramento and Philadelphia, the young preacher became known as someone who displayed a rare combination of faithfulness to the old paths of Pentecostalism while aggressively meeting the challenges of the days in which he lived. While pastoring in Philadelphia, he saw the value of radio preaching and began to develop this ministry.

It was during this time that Steelberg came to the attention of the larger body of the Assemblies of God and was elected to serve as an Executive Presbyter and then as superintendent of the New York-New Jersey District. At age 43, he was elected one of four assistant general superintendents and was given charge of the Christ’s Ambassador’s ministry at the general headquarters. Upon the retirement of E. S. Williams in 1949, Steelberg was elected general superintendent.

In this capacity, as in every other position he had filled, he gave himself unsparingly to the task. Having struggled throughout his life with a weakness in body, he often worked far beyond his natural strength. Though he was never heard to complain, the travel required for his ministry often took a great toll on him. In March of 1952, he suffered a severe attack which left him confined to his bed for several weeks.

Against the advice of others, Steelberg summoned enough strength to record a few more broadcasts of the new Revivaltime radio program, initiated to replace Williams’ former program, Sermons in Song. Under the conviction that he should act in faith and that God would meet him as he went ahead, Steelberg made the long journey in late May to Great Britain for the World Conference of Pentecostal Churches.

He stopped in Cardiff, Wales, on June 7 for a Revivaltime Radio Rally and literally “preached his heart out.” That night’s effort was the final one for the boy preacher. He never left his bed again until his death a month later. His predecessor, E. S. Williams, said of him, “Even when physical strength was unequal to the demands which his office made upon him, he gladly gave his all. God has seen his fidelity and has now promoted him to the Paradise above.”

Steelberg left behind an old song book that he used as a young teenager. In it he wrote his name, “Wesley Rowland Steelberg” and underneath “All for Jesus.”  He lived for only 50 years, but those years left a legacy to the Assemblies of God: the youth ministry, Christ’s Ambassadors; Revivaltime Radio; and the example of one who gave his last full measure of devotion to the cause of Christ.

Read the full article, “Brother Steelberg Is With the Lord,” on page 5 of the July 27, 1952, issue of the Pentecostal Evangel.

Also featured in this issue:

“An Outstanding End-Time Sign,” by J. Narver Gortner

“Popularity or Adversity,” by Vance Havner

“Caleb, One of the Two,” by Hermes Broadhead

And many more!

Click here to read this issue now.

Pentecostal Evangel archived editions courtesy of the Flower Pentecostal Heritage Center.

Do you have Pentecostal historical materials that should be preserved? Please consider depositing these materials at the Flower Pentecostal Heritage Center (FPHC). The FPHC, located in the Assemblies of God national offices, is the largest Pentecostal archive in the world. We would like to preserve and make your treasures accessible to those who write the history books.

Flower Pentecostal Heritage Center
1445 North Boonville Avenue
Springfield, Missouri 65802 USA
Phone: 417.862.1447 ext. 4400
Toll Free: 877.840.5200
Email: archives@ag.org
Website: www.iFPHC.org

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Zelma Argue: Pioneer Pentecostal Evangelist and Writer

Argue Zelma

A. H. Argue (right) standing with his son Watson (left) and daughter Zelma (center) in front of a car at the Ohio State Pentecostal Camp Meeting at Findlay, Ohio.

This Week in AG History — July 24, 1937

By Ruthie Edgerly Oberg
Originally published on PE-News, 20 July 2017

Zelma Argue (1900-1980) was the daughter, sister, sister-in-law, aunt, and cousin of great preachers. When her father, A. H. Argue, was asked on an evangelistic campaign, “Where is (your wife)?” his answer came quickly, “Oh! She’s at home raising the preachers.” As an evangelist with her family, Zelma ably filled the pulpit, but it seems she was even more productive with her pen.

Upon her ordination and embarkment on the evangelistic trail in 1920, her family gave her a writing set and a portable typewriter. Over the next 60 years she put them to good use, penning eight books and writing for at least seven periodicals, including nearly 200 articles for the Pentecostal Evangel. Her first article, “Buying Gold,” appeared in the March 5, 1921, edition and her final article, “Threefold Purpose of the Baptism in the Holy Spirit” was published on March 23, 1980, just two months after her death.

Argue wrote with a passion, challenging readers that the Christian life must carry an ever-increasing surrender to God’s service. While her words were oftentimes hard, she wrote in such a way that the resulting effect did not convey condemnation but conviction. Her common topics were intimacy with God, revival, prayer, worship, and the importance of soul-winning.

In an article in the July 24, 1937, Pentecostal Evangel, “The Next Towns Also: A Plea for Fresh Efforts at Direct Evangelism,” Argue examines the practical application of the words of Jesus in Mark 1:38, “Let us go into the next towns also…” In this passage, Christ is at the beginning of his ministry and has reached a zenith of popularity in Capernaum; so much so that He found the need to search for a solitary place, prompting Peter to remind Him that “all men seek for thee!”

Argue makes the proposition that Jesus was at a crisis point in ministry — one that we often face, as well. If He chose to stay in Capernaum it seemed that all would be going His way. If He chose to move on, He had no idea the reception He would face in another town. In addition, if He focused on others, what would happen to those whom He left behind? Argue states, “but in solitude He had heard from above. His answer was ready: ‘Let us go into the next towns, that I may preach there also, for therefore came I forth.’ These last words seem to suggest that He had been pondering deeply and had only reached His conclusion by recalling what He must never forget: the goal set before Him.”

Argue illustrates the importance of consistently reaching out into new fields by comparing the church to a lively home where there are little children for whom to care. She argues that the home with babies is a much happier spot than a home where all the inhabitants were adults who “had little to do but sit around and disagree” with each other. She plainly states that an assembly with a stream of new blood constantly pouring into it was God’s best for a contented home church: “Fresh kindling catches fire better than burnt over wood!”

The genius of Argue’s writing is that she not only points out the need for reaching beyond current borders but offers practical solutions that can be easily and quickly implemented. She says that in “railroad stations and other public places I never see a box of Christian Science literature that I do not feel that we should have a box of Evangels.” She encourages churches to consider moving evening services into a tent for the summer or renting out a building in another part of town when having a guest speaker so that new ears are exposed to the gospel message.

Fifty years before they were widely popular, she encourages “Branch Sunday Schools” conducted in neighborhoods outside the church building to reach children and their families. Argue also admonishes churches to consider having meetings at different times of the day and week to reach those whose schedules or lifestyle is not conducive to Sunday or evening services. She also suggests that church take advantage of technological advances, like radio programming, to expand to new fields.

She pleads with readers that “not only foreign fields, but our next towns, our neighborhoods, our next-door neighbors, may present fields of opportunity … if someone will leave the well-tilled and well-reaped field, and search out those not yet reached, as Jesus Himself sought so faithfully to do.” His vision includes “the next town,” and ours must, also.

The Argue family continues to bless the Pentecostal movement with great Pentecostal preachers, such as David Argue (former Assemblies of God Executive Presbyter) and Don Argue (the first Pentecostal to serve as president of the National Association of Evangelicals). However, few would contest that some of the best preaching in the Argue family came through the pen of the lifelong spinster aunt, Zelma Argue.

Read the full article, “The Next Towns Also,” on page 2 of the July 24, 1937, issue of the Pentecostal Evangel.

Also featured in this issue:

“Spiritual Promotion,” by W.E. Moody

“Pioneering in Nicaragua, by Melvin Hodges

“Healed of Pneumonia and Tuberculosis,” by Eunice Bailey

And many more!

Click here to read this issue now.

Pentecostal Evangel archived editions courtesy of the Flower Pentecostal Heritage Center.

Do you have Pentecostal historical materials that should be preserved? Please consider depositing these materials at the Flower Pentecostal Heritage Center (FPHC). The FPHC, located in the Assemblies of God national offices, is the largest Pentecostal archive in the world. We would like to preserve and make your treasures accessible to those who write the history books.

Flower Pentecostal Heritage Center
1445 North Boonville Avenue
Springfield, Missouri 65802 USA
Phone: 417.862.1447 ext. 4400
Toll Free: 877.840.5200
Email: archives@ag.org
Website: www.iFPHC.org

 

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Hélène Biolley’s Dining Room, a Parrot, and the Origins of French Pentecostalism

LeCossec1

By the 1950s, Assemblies of God congregations were scattered across France. Here, French Assemblies of God pastor Clement Le Cossec is standing in front of the Assembly of God, Rennes, France, circa 1950.

This Week in AG History — June 30, 1974

By Darrin J. Rodgers
Originally published on PE-News, 29 June 2017

Hélène Biolley (1854-1947), a highly educated Swiss linguist, was a catalyst to the formation of the Pentecostal movement in France. In 1974, Assemblies of God missionary R. Kenneth Ware wrote a Pentecostal Evangel article about Biolley’s influence, noting that the French Pentecostal revival started in her dining room. Humorously, he also remembered her quipping that the first Pentecostal “martyr” in France was a parrot!

Biolley was part of the Coeurs purs (Pure Heart) movement — a revival in 19th century Switzerland that encouraged Christians to examine their motives and cleanse their hearts from all wickedness. Biolley coupled this motivation toward inner holiness with social action, becoming active in the Temperance movement, which sought to rescue people from the destructiveness of alcohol.

Biolley moved to France in 1880 to work with a Temperance organization called the French Blue Cross Society. She settled in the harbor city of Le Havre, located on the English Channel, where in 1896 she opened a small Christian hotel and restaurant, Ruban Bleu. The establishment became a center for Temperance meetings, prayer services, and gospel outreach. According to Ware, “She served good meals but without alcoholic drinks, rented clean rooms, and talked about Jesus.”

Many missionaries and evangelists, including those from England, stayed at Ruban Bleu. In 1909, an Anglican vicar, Alexander Boddy, visited and testified about his baptism in the Holy Spirit. She was curious and wanted to learn more. She began inviting other Pentecostals, including Smith Wigglesworth and Gerrit R. Polman, to preach at Ruban Bleu. The dining room of Ruban Bleu became an important early Pentecostal ministry center in France.

Biolley became well known among missionaries for her linguistic skills. She provided French lessons in addition to room and board. Many missionaries headed to French-speaking African colonies first took language lessons from Biolley.

The Pentecostal movement remained relatively small in France until the early 1930s. For years Biolley had prayed that God would send missionaries to France. Her prayers were answered when Douglas Scott, an Englishman who felt a call to minister in Congo, arrived at Ruban Bleu in 1927. Biolley invited Scott to minister at Ruban Bleu. He prayed and preached with power, and several people were miraculously healed.

Biolley asked Scott to devote six months at her mission before going to the Congo. He agreed and returned to Le Havre in 1930, ultimately devoting the rest of his life to spreading the gospel across France. Scott sparked a significant Pentecostal revival and helped bring cohesiveness to the movement through the organization of the Assemblies of God of France in 1932.

The Pentecostal movement in France grew significantly during Scott’s 37 years of ministry in the country. However, it was not without opposition. Biolley made light of these difficulties, recounting the story of the first French Pentecostal “martyr” – a parrot which had learned many Scripture verses and slogans opposing alcohol consumption. A drunken sailor at a neighboring hotel and restaurant – apparently feeling conviction – killed the parrot to rid himself of the bothersome bird. In Biolley’s estimation, it was a “feathered martyr”!

When Hélène Biolley followed God’s call in 1880 to move to a new country and to start a Christian ministry center, she was a single woman in her twenties. Few people imagined that her ministry would amount to much. But in God’s providence, she was in the right place at the right time. Her linguistic skills, coupled with her hotel and restaurant, proved to be an important crossroads for visiting missionaries and evangelists. She prayed faithfully for 20 years for God to send Pentecostal missionaries to France. In her seventies, her prayers were answered, and revival sprang forth from the spiritual foundation that she had helped to lay.

Read R. Kenneth Ware’s article about Hélène Biolley, “Revival Started in the Dining Room,” on page 9 of the June 30, 1974, issue of the Pentecostal Evangel.

Also featured in this issue:

* “The Churches in Eastern Europe,” by Thomas F. Zimmerman

* “On Target with Mission France,” by Bill Williams

And many more!

Click here to read this issue now.

Pentecostal Evangel archived editions courtesy of the Flower Pentecostal Heritage Center.

Do you have Pentecostal historical materials that should be preserved? Please consider depositing these materials at the Flower Pentecostal Heritage Center (FPHC). The FPHC, located in the Assemblies of God national offices, is the largest Pentecostal archive in the world. We would like to preserve and make your treasures accessible to those who write the history books.

Flower Pentecostal Heritage Center
1445 North Boonville Avenue
Springfield, Missouri 65802 USA
Phone: 417.862.1447 ext. 4400
Toll Free: 877.840.5200
Email: archives@ag.org
Website: www.iFPHC.org

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A.G. Ward: The Pentecostal Pioneer Who Was Converted During His Own Sermon

AG Ward

Donald Gee, A.G. Ward, Helen and Frank Boyd, and Stanley and Alice Frodsham at Central Bible Institute in Springfield, Missouri; circa 1929

This Week in AG History — June 22, 1946

By Ruthie Edgerly Oberg
Originally published on PE-News, 22 June 2017

A.G. (Alfred George) Ward (1881-1960), a Pentecostal pioneer in Canada, was an example of an unconverted minister. According to his own account, he began in ministry as a Methodist circuit-riding preacher — before he became a Christian. He later converted during his own sermon!

Ward shared this humorous anecdote in the June 22, 1946, issue of the Pentecostal Evangel. He became a prominent Canadian camp-meeting speaker and evangelist, but was possibly best known as the father of longtime Revivaltime speaker C.M. Ward.

A. G. Ward took great care to preach about the importance of having a vibrant spiritual life, as he knew from experience how easy it is to possess a form of religion without having the substance. His sermons frequently focused on the threefold theme of his life: salvation, consecration, and divine healing, all accomplished through the power of the Holy Spirit. His messages resonated with listeners across North America.

A.G. Ward’s father, an alcoholic, died when his son was only 2 months old. The strain of struggling alone to raise four children took its toll, and Ward’s mother died when he was 13. Just before his mother’s death, he attended a Methodist revival meeting. Although he felt a desire to become a Christian, the church leader who spoke with him only encouraged him to believe the Scriptures. Ward did not have an understanding of repentance or the availability of power to live a Christian life.

Nevertheless, young Alfred wanted to be a preacher. After finishing high school, he was appointed as a Methodist circuit-rider on the western frontier of the Canadian Rockies. At the time, young preachers were expected to receive practical experience as ministers before receiving education. During these early meetings, he preached the Bible; but he did not truly know God. His preaching lacked power, conviction, and results.

In the Pentecostal Evangel article, he recalled, “On my second circuit as a Methodist preacher … during a series of special meetings while I was doing the preaching, I was converted. I was the only convert in a week’s meetings, but I have always been thankful and a few others have been saved since, as a result of the preacher getting converted.”

It was not long after this experience that Ward met a group of Methodists in northwestern Canada who taught holiness and believed that Jesus healed people in answer to the prayer of faith. Ward met Christian and Missionary Alliance founder A.B. Simpson, a teacher of divine healing.

Simpson sent Ward to begin an Alliance work in Winnipeg, where he met and married a Mennonite evangelist, Mary Markle. In 1907, at a holiness prayer meeting in Winnipeg, they both received the baptism in the Holy Spirit with the evidence of speaking in tongues. This ended their affiliation with both the Mennonites and the Christian and Missionary Alliance.

A.G. and Mary took a step of faith and, in 1909, organized one of the first Pentecostal camp meetings held in Ontario. The young evangelists had no money to give in the offering at the camp meeting. However, they felt impressed to physically place their infant son, Charles Morse Ward, in the offering basket as their gift to God’s work. They did so, and young C. M. grew up with a calling to the ministry from a young age.

After the meeting, Ward raised funds by selling his tent to another young Canadian evangelist, future International Church of the Foursquare Gospel founder Aimee Semple McPherson, and began holding meetings in schoolhouses, churches, and other places across Canada and later throughout the U.S.

Ward not only preached consecration, he modeled it in his own life. C.M. Ward, in a Revivaltime booklet titled “Intimate Glimpses of My Father’s Life,” described his father’s deep spiritual life. The younger Ward wrote, “I would rather have been born in such a home than have the honor of sitting in the White House.”  C. M. credited the example of his father’s message of holy consecration, lived out through the power of the Holy Spirit, as his own model for ministry.

Read the full sermon “Christ or Self — Which Shall It Be” on page 3 of the June 22, 1946, issue of the Pentecostal Evangel here.

Also featured in this issue:

“Signs of the Times,” by Ralph M. Riggs

“A Harvest of Souls in Jamaica,” by Harvey McAlister

“How to Have Revival,” by George T.B. Davis

Click here to read this issue now.

Pentecostal Evangel archived editions courtesy of the Flower Pentecostal Heritage Center.

Do you have Pentecostal historical materials that should be preserved? Please consider depositing these materials at the Flower Pentecostal Heritage Center (FPHC). The FPHC, located in the Assemblies of God national offices, is the largest Pentecostal archive in the world. We would like to preserve and make your treasures accessible to those who write the history books.

Flower Pentecostal Heritage Center
1445 North Boonville Avenue
Springfield, Missouri 65802 USA
Phone: 417.862.1447 ext. 4400
Toll Free: 877.840.5200
Email: archives@ag.org
Website: www.iFPHC.org

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E. S. Williams: The Azusa Street Veteran Who Led the Assemblies of God for 20 Years

ESWilliams

Ernest S. Williams (2nd from left) sitting in a gospel car used for evangelism efforts by his Philadelphia congregation, Highway Mission Tabernacle, circa 1920.

This Week in AG History — June 9, 1957

By Glenn W. Gohr
Originally published on PE-News, 8 June 2017

Having just observed Pentecost Sunday, it is fitting to remember the Pentecostal testimony of Ernest S. Williams (1885-1981), who was the only participant in the Azusa Street revival to later become a general superintendent of the Assemblies of God (1929-1949).

Known for his spiritual depth, he led the Fellowship during a period of significant growth in numbers as well as expanding outreach programs. During his watch, the Assemblies of God opened several new Bible schools and developed programs such as the Sunday School Department, Education Department, U.S. Missions, Chaplaincy, Youth Ministries, and Speed the Light. He wrote several books on theology, taught theology courses at Central Bible Institute, and authored a “Question and Answer” column for the Pentecostal Evangel.

Ernest Williams was born in San Bernardino, California, where his family was active in a Holiness church. He testified that he was saved and sanctified in 1904 at age 19.

Two years later, in August 1906, Williams was living in Colorado when he received letters from his mother telling him about the outpouring of the Holy Spirit in Los Angeles. That September, Williams and a friend traveled to Los Angeles to observe for themselves what was happening.

His first visit to the Azusa Street Mission was on a Sunday morning. What touched him the most was the altar service at the end of the meeting. The front of the mission was packed with seekers and altar workers. Christians and unsaved spectators crowded around to see what was going on. Some at the altar were seeking to be filled with the Holy Spirit; others were worshiping God in unknown tongues. Some were prostrate under the power of God. People were worshiping everywhere. In his autobiography, Williams stated this worship was best described in Ephesians 5:19, “Speaking to yourselves in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord.”

Williams looked on, not knowing what to think. His heart was hungry for God. He already had salvation, but he was not satisfied. After much prayer and study of the Word, he returned to the Mission and began to seek the baptism in the Holy Spirit. On Oct. 2, 1906, he received the Pentecostal blessing. Williams recalled, “How rich an experience, and in my private devotions spontaneous speaking in tongues became a large part of the outpouring of my heart in worship of God.”

This was Williams’ introduction into the Pentecostal Movement, and he never regretted his decision. Feeling called into the ministry, Williams was ordained by the Apostolic Faith Mission under the ministry of William J. Seymour in 1907. He went on to lead a Pentecostal mission in San Francisco in August 1907. From there he traveled as an evangelist to Colorado Springs, Portland, and other places in the Northwest. In Portland, he met Laura Jacobsen, and two years later she became his wife in 1911.

Together the Williamses pastored small churches in Kentucky; Conneaut, Ohio; and Seattle, Washington. E. S. Williams read in the Word and Witness, an early Pentecostal newspaper, about the formation of the Assemblies of God, and he decided to join the young fellowship in 1915.

Next the Williamses pastored in Bradford, Pennsylvania, in 1916 and Newark, New Jersey, beginning in 1917, where Bethel Bible Training School had recently opened. In 1920, Williams became the pastor of Highway Mission Tabernacle in Philadelphia, where he served for a little over 10 years. He then was elected general superintendent and served for 20 years in that office (1929-1949) as he guided the Assemblies of God through the Great Depression, World War II, and the post-war era.

Throughout his ministry, Williams pointed back to his baptism in the Holy Spirit as being a defining moment in his life. In an article from 60 years ago titled, “Baptized With the Holy Spirit,” E. S. Williams explained the doctrine of being baptized in the Holy Spirit from a scriptural viewpoint.

Williams wrote, “The Baptism with the Holy Spirit is a definite experience.” He further declared, “It was definite in the time of the early Church; it ought to be definite today.” He called the Holy Spirit “the promise of the Father.” To back this up, he quoted from Luke 24:47-49 where the disciples were instructed to “tarry in the city of Jerusalem” until they would be “endued with power from on high.”

The June 9, 1957, issue of the Pentecostal Evangel emphasized Pentecost Sunday. Read “Baptized With the Holy Spirit” on page 20.

Also featured in this issue:

• “Pentecostal Patience,” by Donald Gee

• “Endued With Power From on High,” by Myer Pearlman

• “Pentecost,” by Louis H. Hauff

And many more!

Click here to read this issue now.

The Pentecostal Evangel archived editions courtesy of the Flower Pentecostal Heritage Center.

Do you have Pentecostal historical materials that should be preserved? Please consider depositing these materials at the Flower Pentecostal Heritage Center (FPHC). The FPHC, located in the Assemblies of God national offices, is the largest Pentecostal archive in the world. We would like to preserve and make your treasures accessible to those who write the history books.

Flower Pentecostal Heritage Center
1445 North Boonville Avenue
Springfield, Missouri 65802 USA
Phone: 417.862.1447 ext. 4400
Toll Free: 877.840.5200
Email: archives@ag.org
Website: www.iFPHC.org

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Pioneer Pentecostal Missionary Alice Wood: The Orphan Who Found a New Home in Argentina

Wood Alice

Argentine Christians bid farewell to veteran missionary Alice Wood, July 12, 1960. (L-r): Pastor Ernest Diaz, Mrs. Diaz (seated), Miss Alice Wood, and Evangelist Ruben Ortiz

This Week in AG History — May 25, 1920

By Ruthie Edgerly Oberg
Originally published on PE-News, 25 May 2017

The first Pentecostal missionary to Argentina, Alice Wood (1870-1961), holds another great distinction: she served more than 60 years on the mission field, the last 50 without a furlough. When she finally retired at age 90, she left behind a thriving church pastored by Argentinians whom she raised up for the purpose of impacting a country for Christ through the power of the Holy Spirit.

When the call came in the December 1913 issue of Word and Witness for a gathering of Pentecostal believers in Hot Springs, Arkansas, E.N. Bell published the five reasons for this first General Council of what would become the Assemblies of God. The third reason stated: “We come together for another reason, that we may get a better understanding of the needs of each foreign field, and may know how to place our money … that we may discourage wasting money on those who are running here and there accomplishing nothing, and may concentrate our support on those who mean business for our King.”

Alice Wood received the call but was unable to attend. She was a single, 44-year-old Canadian Pentecostal missionary in Gualeguaychú, Argentina, with no visible means of support. Encouraged by the vision to support missions, Wood sent in an application to be included among the first official missionaries of the fledgling Assemblies of God. She was accepted onto the roster on November 2, 1914.

Wood was an adventurous woman who looked on fearful obstacles as challenges to be overcome. When she was 7 years old, one of the older school girls told her, “Conquer a snake and you will conquer everything you undertake.” The next time she saw a snake, she ran to put her foot on its head while encouraging her sister to pelt it with rocks until it was dead. From childhood, she was a woman who ran toward things from which others ran away.

Orphaned at age 16, Wood lived with a foster family. While she was raised in the Friends (Quaker) church, she also attended Methodist and Holiness conventions and sought the presence of God in her life. At age 25, she enrolled in the Friends’ Training School in Cleveland, Ohio. Upon graduation she began pastoring a church in Beloit, Ohio.

When a young missionary visited her church, she “longed to go where Christ had never been preached.” She resigned her church and became involved with the Christian and Missionary Alliance, which sent her to Venezuela in 1898 and to Puerto Rico in 1902. While there, overwork took its toll on her health and she returned to the United States for rest. During this time she heard of a great revival in Wales and began to pray, “Lord, send a revival and begin it in me.” While in Philadelphia she heard of another outbreak of revival at a small mission on Azusa Street in Los Angeles, only increasing her hunger. Seeking after God, she received the baptism in the Holy Spirit with the evidence of speaking in tongues at a camp meeting in Ohio, along with a re-commissioning from the Lord to return to South America. Upon receiving the news of her Pentecostal experience, the Christian and Missionary Alliance broke ties with her.

In 1910, with no commitment of support, Wood sailed for Argentina as the first Pentecostal missionary to that nation, trusting that God would provide. After a few years working on the field, some health problems returned but, knowing of the power of the Holy Spirit, she turned to God rather than doctors for healing. She later wrote, “Then I learned to take Christ as my life. Jesus healed me of cancer, nervousness, and many other ailments. Let His name be praised.”

When she joined the newly formed Assemblies of God, the 16-year veteran missionary’s experience lent credibility and stability to the organization. However, she never attended a district or general council meeting, nor did she travel to raise support and share her needs. From the time she arrived in Argentina in 1910 until her retirement in 1960 at age 90, she never took a furlough. When asked why she never returned to America to visit and itinerate, she responded that God had called her to Argentina and she understood the call to be for life.

When Wood was 88, a national worker became concerned about her overwork and made known to Field Secretary Melvin Hodges that a clothes washer would ease her load. Wood had been washing all the clothes at the mission on a washboard. Since she had been a missionary before the founding of the district councils, Wood had no home district that watched out for her needs, so her lack was sometimes overlooked. Wood, at age 89, became the proud recipient of a brand new 1958 washer paid for by the newly formed Etta Calhoun Fund of the Women’s Missionary Council. She wrote back expressing her gratitude: “You have greatly lightened the work … I have never seen anything like it. It is ornamental as well as useful.”

When Wood finally returned to the United States in 1960, a year before her death at age 91, her travel companion, Lillian Stokes, wrote, “As I saw her few little ragged belongings I thought, ‘the earthly treasures of a missionary,’ but the word of God says, ‘great is her reward in heaven.’”

This veteran single female missionary laid the foundation work for the revival that continues today in Argentina. In 1912, she wrote, “Ours is largely foundation work … but we believe our Father is preparing to do a mighty work and pour out the ‘latter rain’ upon the Argentine in copious showers before Jesus comes.” The sweeping Argentine revival of the 1980s and 1990s under evangelists Carlos Annacondia and Claudio Freidzon saw their beginning in Alice Wood, the fearless little missionary lady from Canada.

Read one of Alice Wood’s many reports from the field on page 12 of the May 29, 1920, issue of the Pentecostal Evangel.

Also featured in this issue:

“Fire From Heaven and Abundance of Rain,” by Alice Luce

“The Great Revival in Dayton, Ohio,” by Harry Long

“Questions and Answers,” by E.N. Bell

And many more!

Click here to read this issue now.

Pentecostal Evangel archived editions courtesy of the Flower Pentecostal Heritage Center.

Note: Quotations in this article come from Alice Wood’s missionary file at the AGWM archives.

Do you have Pentecostal historical materials that should be preserved? Please consider depositing these materials at the Flower Pentecostal Heritage Center (FPHC). The FPHC, located in the Assemblies of God national offices, is the largest Pentecostal archive in the world. We would like to preserve and make your treasures accessible to those who write the history books.

Flower Pentecostal Heritage Center
1445 North Boonville Avenue
Springfield, Missouri 65802 USA
Phone: 417.862.1447 ext. 4400
Toll Free: 877.840.5200
Email: archives@ag.org
Website: www.iFPHC.org

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Walter Evans: Rediscovering a Pioneer Black Assemblies of God Minister in Nebraska

Evans Walter

By Darrin J. Rodgers

Until this week, I had never heard of Rev. Walter Evans, a pioneer black Assemblies of God evangelist who was a faithful, well-loved member of the Nebraska District Council for about 20 years until his death in 1959.

On Monday, when sorting through a collection of treasures recently deposited at the Flower Pentecostal Heritage Center, I discovered a delightful advertising card for a black gospel musician and evangelist named Walter Evans (pictured here). Who was Evans? Was he a Pentecostal? Probably Church of God in Christ, I surmised.

A quick search on the Heritage Center website uncovered that Evans was a licensed Assemblies of God minister, and that he died in 1959. I located his ministerial file in the Heritage Center vault, but it contained only scant information, confirming that he was indeed a licensed minister in 1958 and 1959, that he last lived in Bridgeport, Nebraska, and that he died on February 3, 1959.

Evans Walter card

Walter Evans advertised himself as an “evangelistic singer” who played “beautiful music on traps and drums”

Evans’ brief ministerial file did not disclose his race. Since the earliest years of the Assemblies of God, applicants for ordination have been required to state their race on applications that were filed at the Assemblies of God national office. These applications, ultimately, find their way to the vault at the Heritage Center, where they are safely stored for posterity.

Because Evans was licensed, and not ordained, his application for credentials was not filed at the national office. Why was Evans licensed and not ordained?

It was not unusual for Assemblies of God ministers to remain licensed and not to progress to the level of ordination. In 1958, when the Assemblies of God started including licensed ministers in its national directory, there were over 9,300 ordained ministers and over 5,200 licensed ministers.

However, it is possible that Evans was a casualty of a national policy from 1939 to 1962 that disallowed black ministers from receiving ordination (which was given at the national level) from the Assemblies of God. Black ministers could still be licensed (which was given at the district level). This policy was adopted in 1939 as the societal tensions were emerging over the Civil Rights movement and was rescinded in 1962 when the Assemblies of God ordained Bob Harrison, a high-profile Assemblies of God evangelist who worked with Billy Graham.

This policy had the practical effect of obscuring the ministry of blacks in the Assemblies of God. Until 1958, the national office did not keep files on licensed ministers or include them in the national ministerial directories. Now, historians have difficulty accessing information about black Assemblies of God ministers. District ministerial lists, which included licensed ministers, do shed some light on these black ministers. However, these lists rarely identified the race of the ministers, making it difficult to systematically identify black ministers and to share their stories.

The Heritage Center holds an incomplete collection of the Nebraska District ministerial directories. I did some digging and found that Evans was not listed in the 1938 directory, but was in the 1939 directory, as well as in directories from the following years until his death. District directories gave Evans’ city of residence as Burton (1939, 1942, 1943, 1945) and Bridgeport (1948, 1953).

I contacted the Nebraska District office for more information about Evans, and Val helpfully responded with a number of references that she was able to find. She confirmed that Evans was credentialed with the Nebraska District from 1939 to 1959, and that he lived in Scottsbluff and Mullen, as well as in Burton and Bridgeport. It is unknown whether he transferred his credentials from another denomination or district to the Nebraska District, or whether the district granted him his first credentials.

Val also provided this “colorful” obituary of Evans in the March 1959 issue of the Nebraska Fellowship (the monthly district periodical):

Walter Evans Passes On
by Clyde King

During the last of January Brother Walter Evans suffered a stroke while living with his daughter, Mrs. Cecil Jones in Chicago. He lived for five days, during which time he was unable to talk. Your District Secr. treas sent a small bouquet for his funeral in the name of the Nebraska Dist. As an unsaved farmer boy I first heard Brother Evans sing in the country Coburg Church where I was converted. I liked the song entitled, “Every Time I Feel the Spirit.” But the one I remember best is, “What Are They Doing in Heaven.”

Our former District Superintendent, Brother A. M. Alber enjoyed introducing Brother Evans at one of our district meetings by adding, “Brother Evans always adds a lot of color to our meetings.” Brother Evans would get up, set a chair for his foot, strum his guitar and counter with the remark, “I’m just an Irishman turned wrong side out.” Brother Evans was still adding color to our District meetings as he attended our Lexington Camp last summer; but we won’t be seeing him anymore. He passed away Febr. 3rd.

Walter Evans and countless other unheralded black ministers have helped to build God’s Kingdom through the Assemblies of God. Since the ordination of the first black Assemblies of God minister (Ellsworth S. Thomas of Binghamton, New York) in 1915, blacks have become an important part of the Assemblies of God. In 2015, the Assemblies of God USA counted that 1.9% of its ministers were black (722), and nearly 10% of its adherents were black (308,520). The challenge, in years to come, is to uncover the testimonies of these and other socially marginalized Assemblies of God ministers, so that we can better tell the full story of the “Full Gospel.”

The author, Darrin J. Rodgers, M.A., J.D., serves as director of the Flower Pentecostal Heritage Center.

UPDATE:

Dr. Byron Klaus, retired president of the Assemblies of God Theological Seminary (1999-2015), read this article and responded that his grandparents knew Walter Evans:

I have pictures of Brother Evans staying on my grandparents farm in Whitney NE. He preached revivals all over Western Nebraska in the late 1930’s. He was a regular visitor to the churches in the area. He’d just show up and say the Lord had sent him. Though it was certainly unusual in these times to have a black man preaching in these churches, no body ever thought it was anything other than the Spirits guidance. This was also an era when the KKK was everywhere in the region railing against everything that wasn’t white. Jews, Asians, Native Americans, etc.

__________________________________________________

Do you have Pentecostal historical materials that should be preserved? Please consider depositing these materials at the Flower Pentecostal Heritage Center (FPHC). The FPHC, located in the Assemblies of God national offices, is the largest Pentecostal archive in the world. We would like to preserve and make your treasures accessible to those who write the history books.

Flower Pentecostal Heritage Center
1445 North Boonville Avenue
Springfield, Missouri 65802 USA
Phone: 417.862.1447 ext. 4400
Toll Free: 877.840.5200
Email: archives@ag.org
Website: www.iFPHC.org

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