Grace Agar: Linguist and Assemblies of God Missionary to China

This Week in AG History — March 12, 1967

By Darrin J. Rodgers
Originally published on AG-News, 10 March 2022

Grace Agar (1877-1966) was in high school when she sensed God telling her to prepare for missions work. A native of San Francisco, California, she followed God’s call and ended up on the other side of the Pacific, where she became an Assemblies of God missionary to China and a noted linguist.

Before she left America, however, Agar spent seven years in college, preparing for her future overseas. She graduated from Mills College (Oakland, California), a Christian school for women, and also studied at Moody Bible Institute (Chicago, Illinois) and at the Christian and Missionary Alliance Bible School (Nyack, New York).

Finally, in 1902, the time came for Agar to set sail for China. The attractive, 25-year-old single female missionary watched her family and friends fade from sight as her boat left the harbor. Her heart sank as she realized, “I am all alone.” God whispered to her heart, just like when He called her as a missionary, and He reassured her, “I am here. I will never leave you.”

Agar excelled in school, but learning to listen to the voice of God was one of the most valuable disciplines she ever learned. In China, she continued her studies, learning the Chinese language and writing a widely-distributed book, Mandarin Tones Made Easy (1933). She also continued to draw close to the Lord in prayer and Bible study.

Her prayers and Bible teaching were very fruitful. Agar’s biography, Dark is the Land (Gospel Publishing House, 1962), noted that numerous people along the Chinese-Tibetan border accepted Christ after hearing her compelling preaching and witnessing that God answered her prayers.  

Agar initially served as a missionary with the Christian and Missionary Alliance. But after she was baptized in the Holy Spirit in 1912, she identified with the Pentecostal movement and spent the next decade without any denominational backing. In 1922, she transferred to the Assemblies of God, which already supported numerous missionaries in China.

The civil war in China in 1937 forced Agar to flee the nation where she had devoted 35 years of her life. She returned to America to a hero’s welcome. After she passed away, the March 12, 1967, issue of the Pentecostal Evangel carried a tribute to Agar. “Certainly heaven has been enriched by the presence of this missionary heroine,” the obituary concluded, “who has now answered her Lord’s final call.”

Read the article, “Missionary Heroine with the Lord,” on page 28 of the March 12, 1967, issue of the Pentecostal Evangel.

Also featured in this issue

• “Unfeigned Faith,” by C. M. Ward

• “Little Feet, What Path?” by E. E. Krogstad

• “Sowing and Reaping in Navaholand,” by Eugene and Marian Herd

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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The Spiritual and Social Vision of T.K. Leonard: An Assemblies of God Founder’s Forgotten Legacy

First executive presbytery of the Assemblies of God in front of a stone wall at the First General Council in Hot Springs, Arkansas, April 12, 1914. Seated in front (left – right): T.K. Leonard, E.N. Bell, and Cyrus Fockler. Standing in back (left – right): John W. Welch, J. Roswell Flower, D.C.O. Opperman, Howard A. Goss, and M.M. Pinson.

This Week in AG History —March 2, 1946

By Ruthie Edgerly Oberg
Originally published on AG News, 24 February 2022

Thomas King Leonard (1861-1946), an evangelical pastor from Ohio, was among the earliest to accept the Pentecostal message from the Azusa Street Revival (1906-1909). As a Pentecostal, Leonard pioneered an interracial congregation in a former bar and brothel. Importantly, the congregation provided the first home for the newly formed Assemblies of God national office from 1914 to 1915. 

Carl Brumback, in his 1961 history of the Assemblies of God, called Leonard a “truly indispensable man” at the organizational General Council in 1914. According to Revivaltime radio host C.M. Ward, Leonard “dominated the scene until his retirement in 1941 … a great man.” Yet few Assemblies of God members today probably recall the name of T.K. Leonard. 

Leonard started in the ministry with a small denomination called Christian Union. A bivocational pastor, he owned a prosperous farm outside of McComb, Ohio. In September 1906, he believed that God was pressing upon him to “sell my possessions, consecrate myself, spirit, soul, and body to the ministry of the Lord Jesus.” 

It was during this same time that reports began to spread about an outpouring of the Holy Spirit at a little mission on Azusa Street in Los Angeles. Some Christians in Ohio who heard about the revival began to desire more of God. When Claude McKinney began to preach the Pentecostal message in Akron, Leonard went to the meetings and was convinced of the reality of the baptism in the Holy Spirit with the evidence of speaking in tongues. 

In January 1907, Leonard took the proceeds from the sale of his farm and purchased an old hotel at 406 Sandusky in Findlay, Ohio. This two-story hotel and tavern, which had doubled as a brothel, seemed the appropriate place to begin a mission to reach those who were most in need of his message of salvation and deliverance. He renovated the building and called it “The Apostolic Temple.” 

The only thing from the old tavern that seemed useful for the new church was the bar rail, which Leonard “converted” to an altar rail. The bar rail was not the last of the conversions. Before long many who used to drink at the old bar and make use of the “house of ill-repute” were kneeling in repentance at the altar rail and finding love that was pure and lasting.  

Significantly, Leonard’s congregation was interracial and was committed to caring for the poor. From the church’s founding, Leonard had determined that his work would include persons of every race and economic class. Feeling that the word “church” carried a negative connotation, he searched for another word that expressed their mission to “call out” a group of people from all walks of life. He finally fell on the Greek word “ekklesia” (the called-out assembly) and changed the name of his church to “The Assembly of God” and began issuing credentials under that name in 1912. 

Feeling strongly that education for those called into ministry was vital, he opened “The Gospel School” for the training of ministers. He also started up a print shop that he christened “The Gospel Publishing House.” 

When the call was issued in 1914 for a gathering of Pentecostal believers in Hot Springs, Arkansas, for the purpose of bringing greater unity to this fledgling movement, Leonard served on the conference committee and was elected one of the executive presbyters. It was T.K. Leonard who wrote the constitutional preamble which established the term “Assemblies of God” as the name for the new Fellowship.  

When discussion turned to the need for a headquarters for the Fellowship, Leonard offered his facilities. The newly formed Assemblies of God set up its first headquarters in his converted tavern and brothel in Findlay, Ohio, and began using Gospel Publishing House to print materials. The arrangement was short-lived due to inadequate space, and the headquarters moved to St. Louis in 1915. 

By 1916, the Assemblies of God was facing doctrinal challenges, and the need became apparent for a formal statement of faith. Leonard served on the committee that drafted the Statement of Fundamental Truths, which remains the authoritative theological statement for the Assemblies of God to this day. 

Leonard settled into his pastoral role at the Findlay church, which he led until his retirement in 1941 at age 80. He intended to continue preaching and teaching; however, his health deteriorated and he spent his last years in quiet retirement. 

A death notice printed in the March 2, 1946, issue of the Pentecostal Evangel stated, “Brother Leonard will be remembered as the author of the original declaration on constitution which was adopted at the first General Council…which declaration shaped the course of the Assemblies of God fellowship.” In fact, it was Thomas King Leonard who gave the Assemblies of God its first constitutional preamble and resolution, its official name, and the name of its publishing house, all of which form a legacy that has endured to this day.

See the notice for T.K. Leonard’s death on page 12 of the March 2, 1946, issue of the Pentecostal Evangel. 

Also featured in this issue:

• “A Day with a Palestine Shepherd” by Frances Stephens

• “How God Provided a Christmas Dinner” by Missionary to Japan Jessie Wengler

• “Our Missionary Advance in India”

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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Vaughn Shoemaker: Pulitzer Prize Winning Cartoonist and Assemblies of God Layman

This Week in AG History —February 24, 1940

By Ruthie Edgerly Oberg
Originally published on AG News, 24 February 2022

Vaughn Richard Shoemaker (1902-1991), an American editorial cartoonist, won the 1938 and 1947 Pulitzer Prizes for Editorial Cartooning for his work with the Chicago Daily News. He was the creator of the character, John Q. Public, and a faithful Assemblies of God layman.

As a boy born before radio, movie theaters, or television, Shoemaker looked forward to the delivery of the evening newspaper and reading the comics page on the living room floor. His first attempts at drawing consisted of sidewalk art drawn with a piece of lime found at a construction site.

At age 14, heart trouble sent him to the hospital where their family was given no hope for his survival. With her son placed in a sanitorium outside Chicago to await death, Shoemaker’s mother prayed earnestly for God to heal her son. When the doctor later examined him, he declared, “It’s almost as if you have a new heart!”

Shoemaker’s own faith journey was based on his mother’s conviction that God was personally involved in their lives but he did not have much in mind for life beyond his job as a lifeguard on Lake Michigan. When he found the girl he wanted to marry, Evelyn Arnold, a Miss Chicago winner, he proposed only to be told, “I like you, but until you set a goal for yourself and show me you’re working hard toward it – well, nothing doing.”

Exhibiting more confidence than he felt, Shoemaker went to the offices of the Chicago Daily News to ask for a job. Told there were no openings, Shoemaker returned the next day, and the next, and the next, until his presence became annoying. One day he was waiting in the office to see if there were any openings when one of the newspaper artists, an alcoholic who often failed to meet his deadline, did not appear for work and the editor was in a bind. He looked at the 19-year-old Shoemaker and put him immediately to work, with a seat next to Chet Gould, the eventual creator of the Dick Tracy cartoon strip.

Three years later, the chief cartoonist at the Daily News took a job at the New York Herald. Two weeks later, his replacement was offered a job with King Features Syndicate. The third man to try the job was distracted with family issues and failed to meet deadline three days in a row leaving the presses on hold while the art department tried to find a cartoon for the front page. With the staff decimated, the art director looked at Shoemaker and said, “Kid, do you think you can draw the cartoon while I try to send out of town for a cartoonist?”

Not even knowing if the paper was Democratic or Republican, Shoemaker said, “Sure I can!” When he marched into the chief cartoonist’s office, he realized he had just offered to draw his first political cartoon for a paper with a staff of 3,000 and more than half a million readers. Shoemaker later said, “I froze up. My stomach was churning and I started to sweat. Then I remembered my mother, who prayed to God every day. I was desperate. So I got down on my knees, alone in the middle of the chief cartoonist’s office, and asked God for help. And He gave it to me.”

He continued this practice of asking God for an idea for the next three days. After a string of successful cartoons, the Daily News made him chief cartoonist. He was not much of a Christian, but he found himself kneeling every day to ask for help and realized that, for the first time in his life, God was real to him. Soon Evelyn agreed to marry him, and he began to grow in his faith, joining the Stone Church, an Assemblies of God congregation in Chicago. From his first day in his new office, he never started a day at his drawing board without praying and reading from the Bible.

However, he discovered that “when you become a Christian, you’re all alone in the world — especially if you work in a newspaper office.” He invited the only other Christian he knew at the Chicago Daily News to weekly lunches for mutual encouragement. Sometimes they would ask young pastors to join them, including a young Wheaton college student named Billy Graham. These meetings soon grew until they expanded to include other Chicago businessmen and developed into the Gospel Fellowship Club, which developed into the Christian Business Men’s Connection.

In 1934, Shoemaker was under pressure to create a Christmas cartoon for the front page. The only idea coming to him was overtly Christian — a simple manger scene with John 3:16 included in the heading. The editors all nixed the idea but their new publisher, Frank Knox, who went on to become Secretary of the Navy, liked it. The cartoon was a success and it set a precedent for hundreds of other spiritual cartoons that Shoemaker published, including one that was picked up by the Pentecostal Evangel in the Feb. 24, 1940, issue.

In the spring of 1938, Shoemaker was sent by the paper to visit 17 countries in Europe to produce cartoons portraying the mood of the people caught up in the rise of the Nazi party and its leader, Adolph Hitler. He had recently drawn his first Pulitzer Prize-winning cartoon, “The Road Back” and Herman Goering criticized his cartoons as “horrible examples of anti-Nazi propaganda.”

He served as chief cartoonist for the Chicago Daily News from 1925 until 1952, creating the beleaguered taxpayer character, John Q. Public, said to been more recognizable by Chicagoans than their own mayor.

In 1952, Shoemaker moved to the Chicago Tribune. By 1963, his cartoons were syndicated to more than 75 newspapers. In his later years, Shoemaker traveled the United States giving presentations in churches called, “God Guides My Pen” as he drew cartoons with spiritual application. He died in 1991 at his home in Carol Stream, Illinois, believing that “everything I’ve done worthy of recognition came about because I realized I couldn’t do it alone. God had to help me.”

See one of Shoemaker’s cartoons on page 5 of the Feb. 24, 1940, issue of the Pentecostal Evangel.

Also featured in this issue:

• “Sealed Unto the Day of Redemption” by E.S. Williams

• “Does God Work Miracles Today?” by Howard Taylor

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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Elizabeth Sisson: Pioneer Pentecostal Missionary, Evangelist, Church Planter, Author

This Week in AG History — February 18, 1922

By Glenn W. Gohr
Originally published on AG-News, 17 February 2022

Elizabeth Sisson (1843-1934) was an early missionary, itinerant evangelist, church planter, and author. She was one of four daughters born to New England whaling captain, William Sisson, and his wife Elizabeth (Hempstead) Sisson. She was converted in 1863 in New London, Connecticut, and felt a calling to ministry. She reported that she saw a vision of Christ, who said to her: “I have ordained you.” She joined Second Congregational Church and later attended an Episcopal church.

In 1871 she left the U.S. to serve India as a missionary for the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions (ABCFM) where she ministered among Hindus and Moslems. After she was stricken with severe illness, Sisson was forced to leave India for a period of recuperation in London. She reported that she was healed of an “incurable disease” at W. S. Boardman’s Bethshan Faith Home in London. In 1887 she returned to the U.S. and was a gospel worker in Chicago for a time.

She soon took up a teaching and writing ministry. During this period, she became associated with Carrie Judd Montgomery and became the associate editor of Triumphs of Faith in Buffalo, New York. The two women went to San Francisco in the fall of 1889, where Carrie met and married George Montgomery. During this time Sisson attended some tent meetings held by Maria Woodworth-Etter in Oakland. She later resigned her post with Triumphs of Faith and returned to New England, where she was baptized in the Holy Spirit at a camp meeting at Old Orchard, Maine.

For several years Sisson traveled as an evangelist, accompanied by her sister Charlotte. She held meetings in New England, Canada, and other places. In 1908 she made an evangelistic tour to the British Isles. She spent four months ministering with F. F. Bosworth in Dallas in 1915. That same year she also ministered in Detroit.

Sisson attended and actively participated in the 1917 General Council. She delivered the keynote address on the topic of “building of the body of Christ.” She became affiliated with the Assemblies of God soon afterwards on Dec. 18, 1917, at the age of 74. In her final years she made her home at 17 Jay Street, New London, Connecticut.

Sisson became a sought-after conference speaker and was a prolific writer. She contributed articles to Word and Work (Framingham, Massachusetts), Confidence (Sunderland, England), The Latter Rain Evangel (Chicago), the Pentecostal Evangel, and Triumphs of Faith (Oakland, California). She contributed more than 65 articles to the Pentecostal Evangel and well over 100 articles to other Pentecostal periodicals. In addition, she authored over 30 tracts and booklets. Many of these focused on the topic of prayer. She passed away at her home on Sept. 17, 1934, at the age of 91.

One of her articles on prayer, written 100 years ago, was called “The Last Lap of the Race.” It included a three-point message on 1) the prayer race, 2) how to pray, and 3) the victory.

She started out by saying, “On a racecourse everything depends, not on the beginning of the race … but when comes the last lap of the race, how every eye is fixed upon the runners.”

She stressed that as Pentecostals, we have come to that critical moment — the last lap of a race. And she said this 100 years ago. How much more relevant is this idea today. She quoted the powerful verse in Joel 2:28: “It shall come to pass in the last days, saith the Lord, I will pour out my Spirit upon ALL flesh.”

She considered this outpouring of God’s Spirit upon all flesh as the last blaze of glory in the Gentile age. She wrote that “truly we are in the last lap of the prayer race. It is ours to apprehend the program of God and pray it in.”

She emphasized the vital importance of prayer with a single declaration: “Restrain prayer, retard God’s operations. Increase prayer in the Holy Ghost, and speed this plan of God.” Indeed, when in prayer we have given Him “good measure pressed down and running over,” He will answer back with “gospel measure,” said Sisson.

Sisson listed many examples of answered prayer. She recommended being “hidden in the name of Jesus, covered by the blood” when you pray. She also stressed that it is the power of Jesus’ Name that brings the “Victory of the Throne” when praying. Sisson gave several examples from the Old Testament regarding prayer and praise. She stressed that true victory comes through praising God.

Read Elizabeth Sisson’s article, “The Last Lap of the Race,” which was published on page 2 of the Feb. 4, 1922, issue of the Pentecostal Evangel and continued on page 2 of the Feb. 18, 1922, issue of the Pentecostal Evangel.

Also featured in this issue:

• “The Return of the Lord,” by Arthur W. Frodsham

• “Seven Reasons Why Sick Are Not Healed,” by Max Wood Moorhead

And many more!

Click here and then here to read these issues 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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The First African American Assemblies of God Missionaries: Isaac and Martha Neeley

Isaac and Martha Neeley passport photos, 1919

By Darrin J. Rodgers

Isaac and Martha Neeley were the first African Americans to be appointed as Assemblies of God (AG) missionaries. Isaac S. Neeley was born on August 4, 1865 near Salisbury, North Carolina.[1] Martha A. Board was born on May 3, 1866 in Princeton, Indiana.[2] They married in their late thirties on April 25, 1905, in Chicago.[3] Martha had one child who died before the age of five.[4]

The Neeleys became very active at the Stone Church, an early Pentecostal revival center in Chicago, in about 1908. They were highly regarded at the church, which was mostly white. An article in the church’s monthly magazine, the Latter Rain Evangel, called them “an indispensable adjunct of the Stone Church.”[5]

Martha felt called to missions work at a young age. Her father was connected with a colonization society that encouraged free blacks in the United States to move to Liberia. As a child she heard stories about Liberia that “stirred her heart.” After Isaac felt a call to missions at a Stone Church missions convention in about 1910, the couple began preparing themselves to serve in Liberia.[6]

L. C. Hall, a Pentecostal minister who lived in Zion City, Illinois, ordained the Neeleys as missionaries on November 30, 1913. The ordination was under the auspices of Howard A. Goss’s largely-white Pentecostal fellowship, the Church of God in Christ (which was distinct from Charles H. Mason’s group by the same name).[7]

The Neeleys set sail for Liberia, where they lived from January 25, 1914[8] until June 1, 1919.[9] They served with the Liberia Interior Mission, which consisted of American and Canadian missionaries from various denominational backgrounds, all of whom had the Pentecostal experience. A history of the mission described the organization:

“We represent Methodist, Presbyterian, Congregational, Baptist, Dunkard, Mennonite, Quakers, Pentecostal-Holiness, Mission People and Gospel Workers. So you see we are a sort of mixture, but no dispute has ever arisen in our ranks. We make the Bible the chief book, and strive to live simple and Christian lives. We baptize by immersion. All believe in the Pentecostal Experience, as received on the day of Pentecost.”[10]

The Neeleys received financial support from the Stone Church, as well as from donations mailed to the Latter Rain Evangel. The Neeleys kept their supporters informed of their missions activities through published missionary letters in the Latter Rain Evangel.[11]

The organization that ordained the Neeleys in 1913, the Church of God in Christ, dissolved when most of its leaders helped to organize the AG in April 1914. The Neeleys, however, did not transfer their ordination to the AG during their tenure in Liberia. They may have been following the example of the Stone Church, which remained independent even while becoming closely associated with the AG. The Stone Church hosted two general council meetings (November 1914 and September 1919) but did not formally affiliated with the AG until 1940.[12]

The Neeleys returned from Liberia to Chicago in the summer of 1919. Soon after their return, the Neeleys attended the September 1919 general council, which was hosted by the Stone Church. The following year, in May 1920, the Neeleys received AG credentials as evangelists from the Illinois District, endorsed by Hardy Mitchell, pastor of the Stone Church.[13]

According to an article in the Latter Rain Evangel, the Neeleys became active in ministry at the “Colored Mission on Langley Avenue.”[14] This mission was probably the Pentecostal congregation started by Lucy Smith, an black Baptist woman who was baptized in the Holy Spirit in 1914 at the Stone Church. Smith began her ministry in 1916 out of her apartment and a small flock developed, which organized in the 1930s as All Nations Pentecostal Church.[15] According to Isaac Neeley’s ministerial file, he served as an associate pastor in 1923, presumably at Smith’s mission. When the Neeleys felt called to return to Liberia later in 1923, he directed correspondence to be sent to Lucy Smith.[16]

The Neeleys received AG missionary appointment to Liberia in 1923. Isaac suffered a stroke on December 7, 1923, and died on the following day, shortly before their planned departure.[17]

An article in the Latter Rain Evangel lauded the fallen missionary:

“His funeral was one of the most blessed we have ever attended. It seemed more like a celebration of his Coronation Day than a funeral. Ministerial brethren and others from all over the city gave fitting tributes to the noble life laid down in the service of God. One of the most striking tributes to his life was given by the barber in the neighborhood as he told of Brother Neeley’s life and its effect upon all with whom he came in contact. Brother Neeley lived the life of the Lord Jesus daily; whether on the platform or doing some menial task, his heart was always filled with praises.”[18]

Martha proceeded alone in 1924 to Cape Palmas, Liberia, where she was in charge of Bethel Home, a rest home for missionaries founded in 1913. She took over the work from “Mr. and Mrs. Howard,” who had been granted furlough.[19] Her predecessors were probably Alexander and Margaret Howard, African American Pentecostals from Chicago who had been sent as missionaries to Liberia in 1920 by the United Pentecostal Council of the Assemblies of God, an African American Pentecostal group with roots in the AG. The Howards had also served at Bethel Home.[20]

The Latter Rain Evangel and the Pentecostal Evangel published a number of articles by or about Martha between 1924 and 1928. The final note in her ministerial file states she returned to America from Liberia on July 1, 1930.[21] She apparently did not renew her AG credentials. She returned to Liberia again at some point between 1930 and 1935, as passenger lists in November 1935 state that she sailed from Liberia to New York.[22] Martha A. Neeley seemingly disappeared from the historical record after 1935.

Missions has always been central to the identity of the AG. This focus on missions was probably why veteran missionaries Isaac and Martha Neeley became credentialed with the Fellowship in 1920. In 1923, when they became the first black AG missionaries, they were helping to fulfill the resolution adopted at the November 1914 general council at the Stone Church, committing the AG to achieve “the greatest evangelism the world has ever seen.”[23] People from all races and backgrounds were expected to participate in this commitment to world evangelization. May this same commitment continue to animate the Assemblies of God today!

Adapted from: Darrin J. Rodgers, “The Untold Stories of Three Black Assemblies of God Pioneers,” Assemblies of God Heritage 39/40 (2019-2020): 37-41.


[1] Isaac Neeley, U.S. Passport Application, May 15, 1919. Ancestry.com.

[2] Martha Neeley, U.S. Passport Application, March 31, 1924. Ancestry.com.

[3] Cook County, Illinois, Marriages Index. Ancestry.com.

[4] 1910 U.S. Federal Census. District 0233, Chicago Ward 03, Cook Co., Illinois, 13B.

[5] Latter Rain Evangel, November 1913, 3.

[6] Latter Rain Evangel, November 1913, 3; Martha’s father may have been influenced by Washington Graham, pastor of the African Methodist Episcopal Church in Princeton, Indiana, and a prominent supporter of missions work in Liberia. Alesia Elaine McFadden, The Artistry and Activism of Shirley Graham Du Bois: A Twentieth Century African American Torchbearer. (Ph. D. Diss, University of Massachusetts, Amherst, 2009), 96, 139.

[7] Isaac and Martha Neeley, ministerial files, FPHC.

[8] Isaac Neeley, U.S. Passport Application, May 15, 1919. Ancestry.com.

[9] Martha Neeley, U.S. Passport Application, March 31, 1924. Ancestry.com.

[10] Report of the Liberia Interior Mission, 1908-1916, 3. FPHC.

[11] “First Hardships as a Missionary,” Latter Rain Evangel, April 1914, 11-12; “Wonderful Outpouring of the Spirit in West Africa,” Latter Rain Evangel, April 1914, 22-24; Isaac and Martha Neeley, “Working with Christ in West Africa and the Results,” Latter Rain Evangel, March 1917, 21-22; Martha Neeley, “Blackest Night in the Dark Continent,” Latter Rain Evangel, March 1918, 22-24; Martha Neeley, “The Native African’s Ready Response to Divine Healing,” Latter Rain Evangel, August 1919, 8-10; Isaac Neeley, “Miraculous Deliverances from Demon Possession,” Latter Rain Evangel, August 1919, 10-11.

[12] Stone Church: 100 Years, 1906-2006 (Palos Heights, IL: Stone Church, 2006), 6.

[13] Isaac and Martha Neeley, ministerial files, FPHC.

[14] Latter Rain Evangel, February 1924, 14.

[15] Glenn Gohr, “Elder Lucy Smith of Chicago,” Assemblies of God Heritage 28 (2008): 63-64.

[16] Isaac Neeley, ministerial file, FPHC.

[17] Latter Rain Evangel, February 1924, 14.

[18] Latter Rain Evangel, February 1924, 14.

[19] “Receiving Home in Liberia,” Pentecostal Evangel, December 6, 1924, 11; Christ’s Ambassadors Monthly, October 1929, 12.

[20] Ironically, in 1917 Alexander Howard had reportedly been denied AG missionary appointment on account of his race, which led the Howards to instead affiliate with the UPCAG. Alexander R. Howard, The U.P.C. Mission Work in Liberia, West Africa and Striking Incidents in Mission Work Among Heathen Tribes (New York, NY: the author, [1932?]), 4; Herman L. Greene, UPCAG – The First 90 Years: Volume 1: 1919-1945 (Sussex, NJ: GEDA, 2005), 7-11; Ogbu Kalu, African Pentecostalism: An Introduction (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008), 51-53; Scott Harrup, “A Larger Family,” Pentecostal Evangel, January 16, 2011, 8.

[21] Martha Neeley, ministerial file, FPHC.

[22] Immigration and Emigration Records. Ancestry.com.

[23] General Council Minutes, November 1914, 12.

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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The First African American Assemblies of God Minister: Ellsworth S. Thomas

From the Ellsworth S. Thomas ministerial file, FPHC

by Darrin J. Rodgers

Ellsworth S. Thomas (1866-1936) holds the distinction of being the first African American to hold Assemblies of God (AG) ministerial credentials. His name was just a footnote in the history books until recently, when new information came to light.

Ellsworth S. Thomas was born in March 1866 in New York. His parents, Samuel and Mahala, were part of a free black community in Binghamton, New York, that pre-existed the Civil War. They overcame racism and societal restrictions, developed strong families, and carved out their own religious, economic, and social niche in the region.[1]

Samuel was born in Maryland in 1830 and worked as a laborer. He was also a Civil War veteran, serving for three years (1863-1865) as a private in the Massachusetts 54th Infantry. Ellsworth was born about nine months after his father returned home from the war.[2] Mahala was born in 1842 in Pennsylvania and worked as a laundress.[3] According to the 1880 census, Ellsworth was partially blind.[4] He attended common school,[5] which probably consisted of local blacks who joined together and made private arrangements to hire a teacher.[6] After Samuel passed away in the early 1890s, Ellsworth lived with his mother and cared for her. She died on April 24, 1913.[7] Census records show that Ellsworth owned a modest house (valued at $2,000 in 1930) and that most of his neighbors were white.[8] He never married.[9]

Binghamton city directories from 1888-1892 reveal that Ellsworth was a laundryman and a laborer. Beginning in 1899, though, they listed his occupation as a traveling evangelist.[10] His name first appeared in the AG ministers’ directory in October 1915, which stated that he was a “colored” pastor in Binghamton.[11]

In 1917, AG leaders asked existing ministers to re-submit applications for credentials, apparently because paperwork had not been kept during the earliest years of the Fellowship. Robert Brown, influential pastor of Glad Tidings Tabernacle in New York City, endorsed Ellsworth’s 1917 application. On the application, Ellsworth stated that he was originally ordained on December 7, 1913, by Robert E. Erdman, a Pentecostal pastor from Buffalo, New York.[12]

Records at the Flower Pentecostal Heritage Center show that Thomas pastored a congregation in Beaver Meadows, New York, from about 1917 until about 1922. He remained an AG evangelist for the remainder of his life. He held evangelistic meetings in the area around Binghamton, he held regular services in his home, and he pastored again briefly in about 1926.[13] He also was a regular speaker in the 1930s at two other black churches in Binghamton—Shiloh Baptist Church and Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church.[14]

A 1936 letter from Paul Westendorf informed the Pentecostal Evangel of Ellsworth’s death on June 12, 1936. He was 70 years old and passed away in Binghamton after a serious illness. Westendorf wrote,

He has been in the Council Fellowship for many years and so will be remembered throughout the Eastern District. Brother Thomas was faithful and true to the Lord in all kinds of circumstances, serving Him with gladness, therefore we feel that he had an abundant entrance in the presence of the Lord.[15]

Thomas’s funeral was held in Christ Episcopal Church in Binghamton, the oldest Episcopal congregation in the city, with the church’s pastor, Theodore J. Dewees, officiating. Thomas was buried in the Christ Episcopal Church plot in Spring Forest Cemetery.[16]

The newsletter of the Eastern District (which included Pennsylvania, Delaware, New York, and New Jersey) noted Thomas’s passing:

Brother Ellsworth S. Thomas has been taken home to glory, but very little has been learned about the details. His funeral was conducted by the rector of Christ Church, Episcopal, in Binghamton…Many will remember Brother Ellsworth as a Bible teacher and some of the ministers will remember the fellowship we had with Brother Thomas one morning before meetings opened up, at the council in Rochester years ago, when we all sang “He’s Coming in Power” and Brother Thomas got to dancing in the Spirit, while he held onto a near-by [sic] door because of his almost being blind. He is one more of our number who is on the other side![17]

Ellsworth S. Thomas’s passing was also briefly noted on page 13 of the July 25, 1936, issue of the Pentecostal Evangel.[18] A photograph of Thomas has not been located.

When Ellsworth S. Thomas transferred his ordination to the AG in 1915, the Fellowship was only a year old. He probably did not know that he was the AG’s first credentialed black minister. Thomas became known throughout the Eastern District for his Bible teaching and for his good cheer despite the obstacles he faced, including partial blindness. He never pastored a large congregation, but he was faithful where God placed him. Over the years, memories of this pioneer dimmed. However, Ellsworth S. Thomas remains an example, not just for black ministers, but for all who desire to follow Christ wholeheartedly.

Adapted from: Darrin J. Rodgers, “The Untold Stories of Three Black Assemblies of God Pioneers,” Assemblies of God Heritage 39/40 (2019-2020): 37-41.


[1] Keisha N. Benjamin, “Free Blacks in Nineteenth Century Binghamton,” Binghamton Journal of History 6 (2006).

[2] U.S., Civil War Soldier Records and Profiles, 1861-1865. Ancestry.com

[3] 1870 U.S. Federal Census. Binghamton Ward 2, Broome Co., New York, 27.

[4] 1880 U.S. Federal Census. District 38, Binghamton, Broome Co., New York, 22B.

[5] Ellsworth S. Thomas, ministerial file, FPHC.

[6] Benjamin, “Free Blacks in Nineteenth Century Binghamton.”

[7] New York Death Index. Ancestry.com.

[8] 1900 U.S. Federal Census. District 0013, Binghamton Ward 05, Broome Co., New York, 12A-B; 1930 U.S. Federal Census. District 0023, Binghamton Ward 05, Broome Co., New York, 10A.

[9] Ellsworth S. Thomas, ministerial file, FPHC.

[10] Binghamton City Directories, Ancestry.com.

[11] Assemblies of God ministerial directory, 1915, 16.

[12] Ellsworth S. Thomas, ministerial file, FPHC.

[13] Ellsworth S. Thomas, ministerial file, FPHC.

[14] Press and Sun Bulletin (Binghamton, NY), June 17, 1933, 16; Press and Sun Bulletin (Binghamton, NY), September 16, 1933, 9; Press and Sun Bulletin (Binghamton, NY), December 23, 1933, 9.

[15] Ibid.

[16] Eastern District Bulletin, October 1936, 21; Obituary, “Ellsworth H. [sic] Thomas,” Press and Sun Bulletin (Binghamton, NY), June 15, 1936, 5.

[17] Eastern District Bulletin, October 1936, 21.

[18] Pentecostal Evangel, July 25, 1936, 13.

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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1927 Revival in China Sparked by Miracles, Including the Raising of a Dead Woman

This Week in AG History — February 12, 1927

By Glenn W. Gohr
Originally published on AG-News, 6 January 2022

Divine healing is one of the four cardinal doctrines of the Assemblies of God. The pages of the Pentecostal Evangel contain many testimonies of healing from various ailments. As people of faith, the Assemblies of God also believes in the miraculous. In 1927, missionary W.W. Simpson reported several miracles, including a dead person being brought back to life, in Taochow, Old City, China. These miracles confirmed the truth of the gospel that was being preached, causing many to place their faith in Christ.

Simpson was an early missionary to Tibet and China. He was already on the mission field prior to the formation of the AG, serving with the Christian and Missionary Alliance. He was baptized in the Holy Spirit in Taochow, China, in 1912. He transferred his ordination to the AG in 1915 and served two years as principal of Bethel Bible Training School in New Jersey before returning to China in 1918 to continue his missionary work. His first wife, Otilia (Ekvall) Simpson, passed away with cancer in 1917 at Old Orchard Beach, Maine. He had three children, William, Louise, and Margaret who accompanied him on his return to China. In 1925 he married Martha Merrill in China, and they had seven more children.

While ministering in Minchow, Simpson gave an account of a mighty revival which was able to send out 27 additional gospel workers in China. He reported, “This revival came in a series of conventions beginning in Taochow, New City, and ending in Minchow.” He also reported meetings in Gospel Garden, Choni, and “a mighty miracle at Taochow, Old City.”

Simpson said the theme of these conventions was “Overcoming in Preparation for the Lord’s Coming.” One aspect of overcoming, included “fighting actual battles in conquering disease, death and the devil.”

He told of a 16-year-old girl who was brought into the hall at Gospel Garden and was laid down on the floor beside the platform while the meeting was going on. Her eyes were closed, her face pale, and her form was limp. It was reported that she had been demon-possessed for over a year. One young man, a cook, who was newly saved, began praying for her to be delivered. A Tibetan woman began following him and imitated his actions as if she also was under the anointing. Finally, it was revealed to the man that the Tibetan woman was actually demon-possessed and that the girl would not be delivered until the woman was also prayed over. He brought the girl to the altar, and he began rebuking the woman and commanded the evil spirit to come out of her. When he did, the demon left the girl, but it was some time before the Tibetan woman was delivered from satanic power. The next day both the young girl and the Tibetan woman became baptized believers.

In another incident, a man from Taochow, Old City, asked if Mr. Chow, who was in charge of the work there, would come and pray at his niece’s bedside. She had been sick for about three months and was dying, but she wanted to be saved before she passed away. After she was prayed over, she confessed her sins, and the Lord saved her. Mr. Chow and the woman’s uncle then asked for the Lord to heal her, and they had the assurance that He would. By the next morning she was near death, and according to Chinese custom was already dressed in her burial clothes. Her limbs had lost all feeling and were growing cold and stiff. Her father was a doctor, and all the family knew she was dying. The two men continued in faith, praying and believing for her healing, but she sank into unconsciousness. Finally, she quit breathing, and her tongue dropped back into her throat. She was gone. Still the two men continued to pray for victory over death.

After a few minutes they heard one word from the dead throat, “Faith!” With reassurance, the men began praising God, and “soon the mighty Spirit of Life from Christ Jesus filled the lifeless clay and all heard clearly the dead lips speaking in a tongue as He gave utterance! And the same Spirit who gives utterance in tongues raised the dead woman to life.”

When the woman became alert, she told her father, “Except you believe in Jesus, your daughter cannot live,” and he dropped to his knees and accepted the Lord he had rejected for 30 years. She also told her husband that he too must accept Jesus as his Lord. When he said, “Yes, I believe,” she said, “It must be with all your heart.” Then he confessed his sins and accepted the Lord. Then the woman said there were three who were making fun of the services. Her uncle looked outside and found three mockers and brought them into the room. She challenged them to prove their religion, and the Spirit of God declared through her: “To show you that Jesus is true and your religion false, I will cause this woman to stand on her feet today, sit up tomorrow, and walk the third day.”

It was reported that immediately, with no assistance, and to everyone’s surprise, the woman who was believed to have been dead a few moments before, stood right up in their midst and preached the gospel for two and a half hours! The next day she sat up, and the third day she walked in the presence of many. As a result of this mighty miracle, her entire family and a host of others became saved. Afterwards, her father came 60 miles to the Minchow Convention, being conducted by W.W. Simpson, to tell everyone about this miracle and to be baptized.

Read W.W. Simpson’s article, “Raised from the Dead,” which was published on page 6 of the Feb. 12, 1927, issue of the Pentecostal Evangel.

Also featured in this issue:

• “Love and Spiritual Gifts,” by Donald Gee

• “Amidst Poland’s Poverty,” by Mrs. Gustave Schmidt

• “Report of Assiout Orphanage,” by Lillian Trasher

And many more!

Click here to read this issue now.

Photo caption: W. W. Simpson, family portrait, with 2nd wife, Martha and 5 children, ca. 1936: Alberta, b. 1926 (back, center); Lorena, b. 1927 (front, left); Wallace, b. 1930 (front, right); Richard, b. 1933 (in W. W.’s lap); Paul, b. 1934 (in Martha’s lap).

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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Church Planting in the Assemblies of God: Cumberland, Maryland in the 1940s and 1950s

This Week in AG History — January 31, 1954

By Darrin J. Rodgers
Originally published on AG-News, 03 February 2022

Church planting has always been part of the DNA of the Assemblies of God. While specific programs and personnel come and go, each new generation of leaders has emphasized the importance of starting new churches. In the 1950s, the National Home Missions Department (now U.S. Missions) promoted the “Mother Church Plan.” This program encouraged each Assembly of God congregation to start a “daughter church.” 

The Jan. 31, 1954, issue of the Pentecostal Evangel highlighted how one historic congregation, Central Assembly of God in Cumberland, Maryland, had started four churches in neighboring communities in the previous five years. Central Assembly of God, established in 1915, experienced a revival in 1939. As a result of this revival, young people in the church felt stirred to action and began holding prayer meetings in small towns without Assemblies of God churches. The prayer meetings developed into “outstations,” where small groups gathered for services in rented buildings, schoolhouses, or homes. Each outstation had a superintendent and was under the oversight of the “mother church.” A carload of people from Central Assembly of God, including speakers and musicians, would travel to the outstations to help with the services. The mother church financially and spiritually assisted its daughter churches in this manner until the new congregations grew and could become self-sustaining.

Central Assembly of God’s first daughter church to become self-sustaining was in Bedford Valley, Pennsylvania. By 1954 the Bedford Valley Assembly had an average attendance of 140 people. The Bedford Valley congregation soon mothered its own church in Rainesburg, Pennsylvania. The mother church, according to the Pentecostal Evangel article, had become a grandparent! Central Assembly of God planted two additional churches, in Fort Ashby, West Virginia, and Carpenter’s Addition, West Virginia. 

Initially, some members of the Cumberland church were concerned that sending some of its best members to other communities to plant churches would weaken the mother church. However, the opposite proved true. The daughter churches broadened the mother church’s sphere of influence, and new leaders stepped up to fill the open ministry positions. The mother church became a ministry hub for a broader geographic region. In 1940, approximately 100 people attended Central Assembly of God’s Sunday School. By 1953, this number had risen to 342. The combined Sunday School attendance of the mother church and the daughter churches was about 700 people. 

While the National Home Missions Department began promoting the “Mother Church Plan” in the 1950s, the concept had already been tried and found successful across the Fellowship. The 2009 General Council approved a similar program, whereby a church would be able to register its outreaches, which are distinct from the parent church, as “Parent Affiliated Churches.”

Read the article, “They Exist to Evangelize!” on pages 10-11 of the Jan. 31, 1954, issue of the Pentecostal Evangel.

Also featured in this issue: 

• “A Marvelous Healing,” by Mrs. Lee Jones

• “Miraculous Healing and Conversion,” by John C. Jackson 

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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Briggs Dingman: How an Evangelical Minister Overcame Prejudice Against Pentecostals

This Week in AG History — January 24, 1948

By Darrin J. Rodgers
Originally published on AG-News, 27 January 2022

Briggs P. Dingman (1900-1968) was a renaissance man — he served as a minister, musician, author, linguist, and educator. He spent the first half of his ministry in Methodist, Presbyterian, and Baptist churches and as an officer in the Salvation Army. Much to his own surprise, however, he spent the latter half of his ministry in Pentecostal churches and schools.

Dingman, who shared his testimony in the Jan. 24, 1948, issue of the Pentecostal Evangel, had a broadly informed worldview. He attended Dickinson College, Moody Bible Institute, and Xenia Theological Seminary (a Presbyterian school). He was studious, had a working knowledge of at least five languages, and authored a novel, By Ways Appointed (Moody Press, 1935). Dingman considered himself to be “open-minded” on theological matters. Yet early in his ministry he reflexively rejected Pentecostal claims without first examining them.

It is easy to dismiss people and beliefs, Dingman came to realize, based on a caricature. He had little actual experience with Pentecostals. He had encountered some Pentecostals whom he deemed to be “ultrademonstrative,” and he had read that others handled snakes. He assumed Pentecostals to be deluded or even demon-possessed.

Dingman’s views of Pentecostals began to change when he came into contact with a young Assemblies of God minister. They became friends, and Dingman grew to admire his spiritual life. He felt “forced to admit” that the Assemblies of God preacher and his wife had a closer walk with the Lord than he did.

When Dingman took a different pastorate, he became friends with another Pentecostal minister who was overflowing with joy and spiritual depth. Dingman began developing an internal conflict when it came to Pentecostals — he admired their spirituality but pitied them for believing a “delusion.”

An Assemblies of God pastor who befriended Dingman wisely appealed to Dingman’s desire to be open-minded. He encouraged Dingman to read Assemblies of God literature and to judge for himself whether Pentecostal beliefs were biblical. One of the first books he read was by Robert Chandler Dalton – a Baptist chaplain who had been baptized in the Holy Spirit and who transferred his ordination to the Assemblies of God. Dingman was stunned. Dingman had been a longtime friend of Dalton. 

Dingman voraciously read book after book about Pentecostal beliefs. He came to two conclusions: 1) anti-Pentecostal books were written by people who apparently had very limited knowledge of actual Pentecostal teachings; and 2) Scripture teaches that the baptism of the Holy Spirit often follows conversion. His preconceived anti-Pentecostal prejudices shattered, Dingman determined that he would seek a deeper relationship with God, even if it meant identifying with the Pentecostals.

Shortly afterward, Dingman was baptized in the Holy Spirit. He recounted, “there was no hysterical outburst or extreme manifestation” — his soul was simply flooded by a “real visitation of the Holy Spirit.”

How would Dingman’s former ministry colleagues react? Dingman anticipated criticism: “Doubtless many of my former pastor and laymen friends feel that now I am deluded, but I feel that I may be permitted to exclaim, “Oh, sweet delusion!” 

Dingman explained how the baptism in the Holy Spirit brought him into a deeper relationship with God, wondering how spiritual depth could be called a “delusion.”

He wrote: “If having a continuous spirit of praise to my heavenly Father is delusion, then may it continue! If having a walk with God that was never before so rich, is delusion, then may I grovel in this ignorance until He comes! If having His daily blessings poured out upon my life in measure never before so copious is delusion, then this experience is an anomaly if there ever was one. No, far from suffering from a delusion, I have found the light, and what a light it is!”

Dingman cast his lot with the Pentecostals and never looked back. He transferred his ordination to the Assemblies of God in 1945. He went on to serve as a professor at two Assemblies of God schools: Northeastern Bible Institute (Framingham, Massachusetts) and Southwestern Bible Institute (now Southwestern Assemblies of God University, Waxahachie, Texas). He also taught at Elim Bible Institute (Lima, New York).

Briggs Dingman’s testimony illustrates the prejudice that often existed against early Pentecostals. Despite this prejudice, however, the Pentecostal movement became one of the largest revival and renewal movements in Christian history. Countless people, including seasoned ministers like Dingman, found spiritual depth and renewal within Pentecostalism.

Read Dingman’s article, “Is Pentecost a Delusion?” on pages 3 and 7 of the Jan. 24, 1948, issue of the Pentecostal Evangel.

Also featured in this issue:

• “A Precious Friend, or an Offence – Which is Christ to You?” by Lee Krupnick

• “The Revival in Ireland in 1859” 

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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Jessie Wengler: Prisoner of War and Pioneer Assemblies of God Missionary to Japan

This Week in AG History —January 21, 1928

By Ruthie Edgerly Oberg
Originally published on AG News, 20 January 2022

Jessie Wengler (1887-1958), veteran Assemblies of God (AG) missionary, served for 39 years in Japan. As the only AG missionary to remain in Japan throughout World War II, she held a knowledge of the post-war needs of the nation and a respect from its people that few others could match.

Raised in Clayton, Missouri, Wengler was saved, filled with the Spirit, and called to missions in a Pentecostal meeting in 1909. During the next 10 years, she studied teacher training in Colorado and briefly studied for the ministry at Moody Bible Institute in Chicago and Brooks Bible Institute in St. Louis. She participated in jail and hospital ministry and handed out tracts in street evangelism. With no formal experience as a pastor or evangelist, the AG appointed her as a missionary to the new field of Japan in 1919. She initially went to Yokohama, where she joined Assemblies of God missionaries Barney and Mary Moore, who had arrived the year before.

After language study, the Moores sent Wengler to begin a church in Hachioji, a city of 80,000 close to Tokyo. As the only foreigner in the city, Wengler thought it best to begin reaching out to the children and formed a Sunday School in the home of a neighboring family. The children came along with parents and grandparents. The singing was especially popular, particularly the chorus, “Jesus Loves Me.” Her Bible stories and songs became so popular that the tunes could be heard in the marketplaces throughout her neighborhood. Even the Buddhist leaders took note of her success with the children and soon began teaching their own children to sing, “Buddha Loves Me.” Soon the young daughter of the family hosting Sunday School, Komiko, became Wengler’s assistant and within 10 years, the church had built a large building and Komiko was serving as pastor.

In 1928, Wengler wrote to her supporters in The Pentecostal Evangel, sharing how their new building had escaped a fire that burned down a building not four feet from their assembly. She wrote, “The little chapel stands in the burnt district a testimony to the delivering power of God.” Wengler had no idea that an even greater fire was coming that would affect her and her believing friends in a way that they could never have imagined.

The church sponsored other new church plants and Wengler felt that she could move to Toyko to help build the work there. She soon noticed a shift as the atmosphere became charged with a national patriotism that had not been as prevalent before. Pressure was mounting on Japanese churches to conform to the national image. “Thought Police” began to work to unify the thoughts, actions, and behavior of the Japanese people.

As war conditions in Asia and Europe caused concern around the world, AG missions leader Noel Perkin ordered all missionaries to return to the United States in mid-1941. Unfortunately, Wengler had been confined to a hospital bed for several months from overwork, anemia, and a heart condition. Too weak to make the trip home, Wengler was the only AG missionary to remain in Japan and was there during the bombing of Pearl Harbor in December 1941.

Partially paralyzed on her left side, the Japanese government did not place Wengler in an internment camp as they had with most Americans. She was placed under house arrest and allowed to walk to the market. Her home was searched for contraband and the land she owned was confiscated. Her Japanese friends were not allowed to visit her, although some came to bring her needed resources during the darkness of night. By the second year of the war, her rations were reduced to ¾-cup of rice and a few leaves of vegetables, which had to last for three to four days. Her weight dropped from a normal 124 pounds to less than 90 pounds. She was unable to communicate with the United States, so the AG missions department did not hear from her for four years and did not know if she was dead or alive.

Wengler faced much pressure from her neighbors to fly the Japanese flag on the monthly Rescript Day, the eighth day of each month to honor the day war was declared on the United States. She responded that as an American she could not, in good conscience, celebrate the beginning of the war nor could she recognize the emperor as god in the national celebrations. Through this time, she continued to love her neighbors and serve as a Christian example.

In 1944, American B-29s began dropping thousands of incendiary devices, focusing heavily around Tokyo. Wengler was moved by the military several times until, finally, she was housed with five Baptist missionaries interned in the city. Wengler described the March 1945 bombing: “Bombs were falling like rain all around us. Soon the whole neighborhood was a roaring inferno. No matter which way we turned to flee it seemed we were walking on fire. I cannot describe the terror. The exploding bombs, the roaring fire, the screaming people. We ran through a wall of fire to the school building where we stayed all night. In the morning we returned to find that while homes next to ours were completely destroyed, ours was still standing.”

After the war ended, Tokyo was devastated. 100,000 residents had been killed and one million were left homeless, making the March bombing the most destructive single air attack in human history. The Japanese people were dazed, confused, and exhausted. Wengler longed to serve her people but was sent back to the States in late 1945 to rest and give reports. When she returned to Japan in 1947, she served as the AG representative to the Allied powers until the final peace treaty was signed in 1951.

Wengler worked tirelessly until her death in 1958, at age 71, to help the Japanese people and to rebuild their church. She conducted Bible classes for university students and led many people to Christ who became leaders. Upon her death, she left her life insurance money to build a church in Ichikawa City and was buried with honors by her friends in Karuizawa Cemetery.

Read Wengler’s report on the Hachioji fire, “Quenched the Violence of Fire” on page 9 of the Jan. 21, 1928, issue of the Pentecostal Evangel.

Also featured in this issue:

• “The Sin of Resisting the Holy Ghost” by A.G. Jeffries

• “Are the Gifts of the Holy Spirit for Today?” by Donald Gee

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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