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Christian and Violet Schoonmaker: Pioneer Pentecostal Missionaries to India

SchoonmakerThis Week in AG History — July 27, 1918

By Ruthie Edgerly Oberg
Originally published on AG News, 26 July 2018

Christian H. Schoonmaker (1881-1919) was the founding chairman of the Assemblies of God of India in 1918. While he served as a missionary in northern India for only nine years, Schoonmaker and his family significantly influenced Indian Pentecostal missions.

After finishing school in the late 1890s, Schoonmaker moved from his home in Albany, New York, to New York City to look for work. There he became involved with the Christian and Missionary Alliance. During this time, he had a vision of a great multitude of Hindu men and women. He felt he had found his purpose in life — to reach the Hindu people of India for Christ. He soon enrolled in the Alliance Bible School in Nyack, New York.

During his time at the Bible school (1905-1907), the Pentecostal revival began to sweep across the United States. Many of the students at the Alliance school experienced the baptism in the Holy Spirit. Schoonmaker’s teachers encouraged him to continue seeking God but warned him against people who taught that speaking in tongues was a sign of the Spirit’s baptism. However, he soon noticed that those who showed the most joy and fervent devotion to God were those who had experienced the fullness of the Spirit accompanied by speaking in tongues. He began to seek all that God had for him, even if it included speaking in tongues.

Meanwhile, beginning in 1905, a Pentecostal revival had also impacted his desired destination, India. When Schoonmaker arrived in India in the fall of 1907, he urged others to partake of the blessing of the Spirit. It was on Christmas Eve, 1907, that Christian Schoonmaker’s life and ministry were changed immeasurably — he also received the baptism in the Holy Spirit and spoke in tongues.

A young single missionary named Violet Dunham (1879-1965) had been in India since 1902. She was warned by several sources to have nothing to do with the kinds of meetings that were happening in the Pentecostal circles. She saw so many other missionaries becoming involved that she prayed earnestly to be kept from their fanaticism. The Lord comforted her with Proverbs 1:33, “Whoso hearkeneth unto me shall dwell safely and shall be quiet from fear of evil.” With this promise, she felt free to attend one of the meetings where Schoonmaker and the other Pentecostals were ministering. On the second day of the meetings, the Spirit began to fall upon the missionaries and the national workers just as in the book of Acts.

Violet became Mrs. Christian Schoonmaker in August of 1909 and soon three children blessed their home. However, their ministry was cut short in 1914 by the outbreak of World War I. They returned to North America where they led a church in Toronto.

During the war years, God blessed them with two more children. They transferred their ordination in 1917 to the newly formed Assemblies of God. They desired to return to India and received missionary appointment with the Assemblies of God. The July 27, 1918, issue of the Pentecostal Evangel included a report from C. H. Schoonmaker reporting that they had landed in India. Due to government restrictions, however, they were not permitted to return to the area where they had previously worked. He earnestly requested “prayer that God will plant us in the right place and use us to reach the unevangelized with the message of salvation.”

They settled in Lonavia, where Violet gave birth to their sixth child. During this time, Schoonmaker felt the need for a unified body of Pentecostal ministers in northern India. There was a need for a closer bond and mutual counsel. In November of 1918, a conference was held and the “Indian Assemblies of God” was formed, electing Christian Schoonmaker as its first chairman.

Just three months later, Schoonmaker returned home from ministry feverish and too tired to eat. The next morning a rash appeared on his chest. Violet knew the signs of smallpox and sent for a nurse. Christian was immediately quarantined from the children. As Violet was nursing their youngest infant, she also was kept from him. He died in their home in India on Feb. 2, 1919, at the age of 37.

Violet’s life was permanently altered in a matter of days. She was now a widow with six children under the age of nine, in a country where widows were often viewed unfavorably. She wrote to the Assemblies of God leadership in the United States, asking if she and her children would be able to continue their missionary appointment. She served in India before she was married and wished to continue that service. She was relieved by the answer — if her calling continued, then her support would also.

Violet Schoonmaker remained in India for another 32 years, retiring in 1951. She continued to speak and write missionary articles until her death at age 86. Christian and Violet’s ministry in India did not stop when either of them died. Five of their six children returned as Assemblies of God missionaries and the sixth, born just before his father died, also served the Indian people as a medical missionary doctor.

Read more about Schoonmaker’s report on landing in India on page 8 of the July 27, 1918, issue of the Pentecostal Evangel.

Also featured in this issue:

• “Pentecost in Central Africa” by James Salter

• “Physical Manifestations of the Spirit,” by Alice E. Luce

• “Questions and Answers,” by E.N. Bell

And many more!

Click 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

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Paul Patkotak, a Pioneer Pentecostal Eskimo, Helped Bring Revival to Alaska

Patkotak Paul

This Week in AG History — July 21, 1963

By Darrin J. Rodgers
Originally published on AG News, 19 July 2018

Paul Patkotak (1891-1980) was born during a harsh winter on the North Slope of Alaska. His Eskimo parents left him on the tundra to die rather than face almost certain death from starvation due to lack of food. Paul survived, however, and later became one of the earliest Eskimos to identify with the Pentecostal movement.

Paul’s parents were traditional Eskimos and lived near Wainwright, a village on the Arctic Ocean. He was born in the family’s snow house. At the time, his parents and their five other children were on the verge of starvation. Other families also faced the agonizing choice of whether to allow their children to die from exposure or starvation. Paul’s father insisted that the newborn must be placed in the snowbank, but his mother initially resisted. After several days, though, it seemed obvious that she was postponing the inevitable. They bundled up little Paul, placed him on the cold tundra, and left to go hunting for food.

Shortly after Paul’s parents left, his grandmother ventured outside and rescued the hapless newborn. She tucked her bundled grandson into her own clothing, but she fell in the snow and was unable to get up and return to the house. It seemed that both would die from exposure. However, a hunter discovered their plight and brought them to his hunting camp. That night little Paul had nothing to eat, but he survived in his grandmother’s care.

The following morning, a caribou herd wandered into the camp. The hunters killed enough animals to provide food for the winter months. Paul’s grandmother fed Paul with milk from one of the caribou cows, which she had managed to milk. Later that day, Paul was reunited with his mother, who had never expected to see him again.

Paul was reared according to traditional Eskimo customs, learning to fish, trap, and hunt. He had contact with government workers and missionaries, who gave him a rudimentary education based on Bible stories. Although he did not become a Christian until years later, the stories of Jesus intrigued Paul.

Unlike many of his Eskimo friends, Paul wanted to further his education. He worked hard, trapping and pelting countless white foxes, which he planned to sell to make his dream possible. In 1911, he boarded a steam freighter with his pelts and headed for Seattle.

Paul arrived in Seattle and felt overwhelmed by the large city. He discovered a Free Methodist school called Seattle Seminary (now Seattle Pacific University), which he wanted to attend. He was not qualified to enroll, but professors allowed him to sit at the back of the classroom and audit classes.

Paul’s limited reading skills hampered his ability to understand, and other students severely ridiculed him. He grew desperate. He wanted to learn, but education seemed out of reach.

One day in 1913, while Paul was wandering down a street in Seattle, a man asked him, “Are you hungry for the Lord?” He responded affirmatively, and the man led Paul to a small Pentecostal congregation affiliated with the Apostolic Faith Mission (Portland, Oregon), which had roots in the Azusa Street Revival (1906-1909).

The young Eskimo sensed the power of the Holy Spirit in the Pentecostal meetings. An African-American woman caught his attention when she testified that God looks at a person’s heart, not at the color of their skin. He realized that he had built up hatred toward white students at the seminary who mocked him. He also realized that he needed to abandon his belief in the power of traditional Eskimo shamans. Paul responded to the altar call, repented of his sins, and peace and joy flooded his heart.

Paul spent the next two years at a government boarding school for Native Americans, where he improved his reading skills. He also remained active in the Apostolic Faith Mission.

Paul sensed a burden for the Eskimo people. In 1913, in a letter published in The Apostolic Faith newspaper, Paul testified of his newfound faith in Christ and stated that he felt called to bring the gospel to his people. He began praying for a mighty revival to come to the Eskimos.

In 1919, Paul, his wife, and children moved to Alaska. They adopted the nomadic lifestyle of a hunter and trapper. This lifestyle made it somewhat difficult to effectively witness to other Eskimos, as they often lived in isolation. Paul was a faithful Christian and shared the gospel when he was able to do so. He was not a credentialed minister, but he went on several extended evangelistic tours across Alaska. The family later moved to Wainwright, so that their children could receive an education.

In the 1950s, the development of the oil industry brought significant changes to the North Slope of Alaska. Outsiders brought money and new opportunities for sin, disrupting traditional society.

In 1954, Paul joined forces with Sherman Duncklee, an Assemblies of God evangelist who was planting a church in nearby Barrow. A significant revival swept Barrow, and then Wainwright. Assemblies of God churches were formed in these towns, and the revival spilled over in to the Presbyterian church and divisions between the churches came down. Paul’s son, Steven, was among the hundreds of converts in the revival. Another convert, Ned Nusunginya, would become the first Eskimo to be ordained by the Assemblies of God.

Paul had prayed since 1913 for revival among the Eskimo people. After 40 years of prayer, a spiritual awakening had finally come to the Eskimos!

The story of Paul Patkotak illustrates several themes in Pentecostal history. The interracial nature of the Azusa Street Revival reverberated through early Pentecostalism, and people from varied ethnic and cultural backgrounds found new life in Christ through Pentecostal churches. Significantly, much of the ministry among early Pentecostals was performed by lay persons, such as Paul. The testimonies of these early converts helped bridge cultural divides and laid the groundwork for the development of revivals and churches.

The July 21, 1963, issue of the Pentecostal Evangel included an account of Paul Patkotak and the Wainwright revival. Read the article, “Arctic Village Turns to God,” by Ida Cecelia Piper, published on pages 24 and 25.

Photograph used with permission of the Apostolic Faith Church (Portland, Oregon).

Also featured in this issue:

• “The Revival We Need,” by Robert C. Cunningham

• “The Vision of the Lord,” by Arch P. Collins

• “The Precious Blood,” by J. Narver Gortner

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

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Filed under Biography, History, Missions, Native Americans, Uncategorized