Tag 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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Myer Pearlman: The Story behind the Foremost Assemblies of God Systematic Theologian of the 1930s and 1940s

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This Week in AG History — October 27, 1934

By Glenn Gohr
Originally published on PE-News, 27 October 2016

Myer Pearlman (1898-1943) was one of the foremost educators and writers in the early Pentecostal movement. Born into a Jewish family in Edinburgh, Scotland, he moved with his family to Birmingham, England, at age seven. He received his common-school training at the Birmingham Hebrew School and excelled in his studies. At age 14 he mastered the French language on his own and later used this knowledge to act as an interpreter for the U.S. Army during World War I.

He immigrated to the United States (New York City) in 1915 and enlisted in the Army Medical Corps when he was 19. After the war, he moved to California where one night he felt drawn inside the Glad Tidings Mission (now Glad Tidings Church) in San Francisco. The people were singing an inspirational hymn called “Honey in the Rock.” After several months of attending the church, Pearlman was converted to Christ and baptized in the Holy Spirit.

He graduated from Central Bible Institute (CBI) in Springfield, Missouri, in 1925, and was immediately asked to join the faculty. In 1927 he married Irene Graves, whose father, F. A. Graves, had composed “Honey in the Rock.”

Pearlman was a premier Assemblies of God systematic theologian of his era. He wrote extensively and taught a variety of courses, but he is best known for his synthesis classes on the Old Testament and New Testament. He was fluent in Hebrew, Greek, French, Spanish, and Italian.

In addition to his teaching career, Pearlman was a prolific writer. For many years he prepared the Adult Teacher’s Quarterly and Adult Student’s Quarterly. He contributed articles to the Pentecostal Evangel, and during World War II he edited Reveille, a devotional publication for American servicemen. He also authored Seeing the Story of the Bible (1930), Why We Believe the Bible Is God’s Book (1931), The Life and Teachings of Christ (1935), Through the Bible Book by Book (1935), The Heavenly Gift (1935), the Minister’s Service Book (1941), Windows Into the Future (1941), Daniel Speaks Today (1943), and several other books. Three of Pearlman’s books are still in print and are available through the Gospel Publishing House 

Pearlman also wrote the weekly Sunday school lesson for the Pentecostal Evangel from December 1932-May 1935. A sample lesson found in the Oct. 27, 1934, issue is called “Christian Growth.” The lesson emphasizes that Christians first need to follow Christ’s example of being about His Father’s business (Luke 2:42-52) and then move forward in the plans of God for our lives and His church (2 Peter 1:5-8). In a nutshell, those two elements promote healthy Christian growth. Pearlman emphasized, “There is no standstill in the spiritual life; if we are not advancing we are retreating.”

Myer Pearlman was well-loved by his coworkers and by the faculty and students at CBI. Unfortunately, due to overwork and health issues, Pearlman passed away at the young age of 44. He is buried in Greenlawn Cemetery in Springfield, Missouri.

The 1942 CBI yearbook, “The Cup,” was dedicated to him, and later the school library was named after him. The yearbook praised Pearlman for “his sterling Christian character and capable ministry.” The dedication continued: “We have seen the Christ whom he serves in his godly life, and the underlying element of human understanding and humility of heart expressed in his kindly dealings with the students. His knowledge and versatility qualify him for the wide sphere of service in which he so ably participates. His ready wit and originality have given us many gems which we shall cherish, while his sparkling humor has been a source of delight to all.”

Read Myer Pearlman’s article, “Christian Growth,” on page 9 of the Oct. 27, 1934, issue of the Pentecostal Evangel.

Also featured in this issue:

• “How Shall I Curse Whom God Hath Not Cursed?” by Lilian Yeomans

• “Seed Thoughts,” by Alice E. Luce

• “Questions and Answers,” by E. S. 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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Nazi Rocket Scientist Wernher von Braun Converted to Christ, Interviewed by C. M. Ward

Wernher von Braun

C. M. Ward interviews Dr. Wernher von Braun (center) in his office at the Space Center headquarters in Huntsville, Alabama, May 9, 1966. Lee Shultz (right) looks on.

This Week in AG History — June 26, 1966

By Darrin J. Rodgers
Originally published on PE-News, 26 June 2016

Wernher von Braun (1912-1977), one of Nazi Germany’s leading rocket scientists, became a pioneer in America’s space program following World War II. But it was von Braun’s conversion to Christ that captured the attention of Assemblies of God radio preacher C. M. Ward. Ward interviewed the scientist in 1966, during which von Braun described the relationship between his newfound faith and his lifework in science.

Von Braun’s interest in rocket science had been sparked by a desire to explore space, but he came to regret that his work was being used to cause tremendous destruction of human life. He had developed the V-1 and V-2 rockets, which allowed Germany to pummel Allied targets up to 500 miles away during World War II. The rockets, manufactured by slave labor, indiscriminately killed thousands of people.

Sensing disloyalty, the Gestapo arrested von Braun in 1944 and charged him with espionage. Von Braun’s work was deemed essential to the success of the war effort, so Nazi leader Albert Speer intervened and ordered the release of the scientist. When American soldiers marched into central Germany in May 1945, they found that von Braun had organized the surrender of 500 of his top scientists, along with plans and test vehicles.

Von Braun and his German scientists were relocated to the United States, where they became indispensable to the development of American military and space programs. Von Braun’s life had changed drastically within the course of a year. But it was in a little church in El Paso, Texas, that von Braun experienced a spiritual transformation that would change him from the inside out.

In Germany, von Braun had been nominally Lutheran but functionally atheist. He had no interest in religion or God. In Texas, while living at Fort Bliss, a neighbor invited him to church. He went, expecting to find the religious equivalent of a country club. Instead, he found a small white frame building with a vibrant congregation of people who loved the Lord. He realized that he had been morally adrift and that he needed to surrender himself to God. He converted to Christ and, over the coming years, became quite outspoken in his evangelical faith and frequently addressed the complementarity of faith and science.

C. M. Ward’s 1966 interview of von Braun took place in Huntsville, Alabama, at the George Marshall Space Flight Center (NASA), where he served as director. Von Braun contrasted the large empty cathedrals of Europe to the large numbers of churches he found in Texas, many meeting in temporary buildings, pastored by “humble preachers driving second-hand buses,” who led “thriving congregations.” The German scientist was impressed and noted: “Here is a growing, aggressive church and not a dignified, half-dead institution. Here is spiritual life.”

Ward published von Braun’s story and his thoughts on faith and science in an article in the June 2, 1966, issue of the Pentecostal Evangel, as well as in a 15-page booklet, The Farther We Probe into Space, the Greater My Faith (Gospel Publishing House, 1966), of which almost 500,000 copies were published.

Wernher von Braun booklets

The booklet containing C. M. Ward’s interview with Wernher von Braun was published in several languages, including English, Croatian (pictured), and German.

Read the article by Lee Shultz, “Revivaltime Speaker C. M. Ward Interviews Dr. Wernher von Braun,” on page 26-27 of the June 26, 1966, issue of the Pentecostal Evangel.

Also featured in this issue:

• “Circuit-riding Chaplain,” by Richard D. Wood

• “I Discovered God in the Manned Spacecraft Center,” by David L. Johnson

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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Lowell Lundstrom: From Nightclubs to the Pulpit

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This Week in AG History — May 5, 1963

By Darrin Rodgers
Originally published on PE-News, 5 May 2016

At the age of seven, Lowell Lundstrom (1939-2012) decided he would become either a preacher or a famous entertainer. He became both, but not before experiencing the thrill of worldly success and seeing his life veer out of control.

Lowell’s grandmother gave young Lowell a book about the life of Jesus, which inspired him to dream about sharing Christ’s story with others. But he grew enamored with the fast-paced world of popular culture and soon abandoned the idea of entering the ministry.

Lowell spent countless hours as a youth sneaking into bars and nightclubs, where he learned how to play the guitar. At age 13, he won a talent contest in his hometown in South Dakota. He soon joined a Dixieland jazz band, and by age 14 he started his own rock and roll band.

Lowell seemingly had everything a worldly teenager could desire — clothes, money, popularity, and nightclub engagements. He tasted success, and it was sweet. One evening, he met a beautiful brunette girl at a nightclub who would change the trajectory of his life. This girl, Connie Brown, was raised in an Assemblies of God church, but she had fallen away from the Lord and had become a nightclub entertainer. She had certain standards and refused to do certain things that many of the other entertainers did. But deep inside, she felt dirty and knew that she had chosen a life of compromise.

Lowell and Connie bonded quickly. She started playing guitar in his band, the Rhythm-airs. Lowell and his band won contests, played on radio and television, and got gigs at dances and nightclubs.

Success bred sleeplessness and stress. Lowell was constantly on the road, driving from town to town. After he narrowly avoided death in a car crash, he realized that he was out of control. Scared that he would die, Lowell remembered his childhood faith and began to cry out to God.

The Holy Spirit began dealing with Lowell’s rebellious heart, but the young entertainer did not want to give up his sinful lifestyle. He started negotiating with God: “Ten years, Lord,” he prayed, “Just give me ten years to do what I want to, and then I’ll serve you.” After another car crash almost ended his life, Lowell grew disgusted with his sin and rebellion. He was only 17, but realized that he was heading toward an early death.

One Sunday night, Lowell had planned to take Connie to a movie. They instead went to an evangelistic service at Connie’s church, the Assembly of God in Sisseton, South Dakota. There, on April 7, 1957, Lowell gave his heart to the Lord. He cancelled his nightclub engagements and found a job picking rocks, the only work he could find in his rural South Dakota community.

Lowell and Connie began using their musical abilities for the Lord, singing in churches and sharing their testimonies. They found true peace and joy and wanted to share it with others. They prepared for ministry at two Assemblies of God schools — Lakewood Park Bible School (now Trinity Bible College, Ellendale, North Dakota) and North Central Bible College (now North Central University, Minneapolis, Minnesota).

After seeing Lowell’s drastic life transformation, Lowell’s entire family decided to follow suit and follow Christ. Lowell’s brothers, Larry and Leon, joined them in ministry, as did Connie and Lowell’s children. The Lundstroms became prominent Assemblies of God evangelists and traveled across the United States by bus, holding interdenominational evangelistic crusades.

Lowell and Connie Lundstrom were best-known in their home territory of the northern Great Plains, where they blended well into the Scandinavian culture. In countless small towns on the northern prairies, Assemblies of God, Baptist, Lutheran, and other churches cooperated in sponsoring the Lundstroms. An estimated one million people decided to follow Christ in the Lundstrom crusades, which spanned five decades.

Lowell recorded 30-minute weekly radio broadcasts, “Message for America,” which aired for 20 years on as many as 170 radio stations. He also served as president and chancellor of Trinity Bible College for 10 years. In 1996, after almost 40 years of itinerant ministry, the Lundstroms put down roots in suburban Minneapolis, where they founded Celebration Church (AG). After six decades of ministry, Connie and Lowell went to be with the Lord — Connie in December 2011 and Lowell in July 2012.

Lowell Lundstrom’s life beautifully demonstrates how God can redeem a person who has succumbed to the temptations of the world. At a young age, Lowell was faced with a choice to either follow God or follow the world. He tasted worldly success, but soon realized that his life was out of control. When he decided to follow Christ, he gave up his aspirations of making it big in the rock and roll scene. Lowell instead followed God’s call into ministry, where he used his gifts to lead countless people to find peace and joy in Christ.

Read Lowell Lundstrom’s story, “God, Leave Me Alone!” written by Betty Swinford, on pages 6-7 of the May 5, 1963, issue of the Pentecostal Evangel.

Also featured in this issue:

* “Christ is All,” by James A. Cross

* “Christ: The Master Teacher,” by Grace L. Walther

* “Light for the Lost: Tenth Anniversary Banquet,” by Everett James

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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Joseph Conlee: From Methodist Pastor to Drunken Vagrant to Pentecostal Educator

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This Week in AG History — December 19, 1936

By Darrin Rodgers
Originally published on PE-News, 17 December 2015

Old Joe Conlee (1853-1929) was a dirty, ragged drunk. He spent every penny on liquor and begged on the street corners in Los Angeles for money to feed his addiction. Then, in 1897, a man from Conlee’s past recognized the emaciated beggar with the matted beard and invited him to his home. That encounter changed Conlee’s life.

Joseph Conlee didn’t start out on the streets. He was born into an evangelical Methodist family and was brought up in church and Sunday School on the prairies of Iowa. His parents encouraged him to enter the ministry, and he earned a bachelors degree from the University of Iowa and a master’s degree from a Methodist seminary. He married a lovely Christian woman, Hattie, and accepted a small parish in Iowa. Conlee was a brilliant thinker and orator and soon moved up in the ministerial ranks.

Despite the outward appearance of spiritual maturity and success, Conlee’s heart was far from where it should be. In seminary, his professors taught him that much within the Bible is mere superstition, encouraging him to read modern theologians who denigrated the authority of Scripture. He drifted away from the faith of his youth, even while pastoring a succession of growing Methodist churches in the Midwest and in California. He rejected what he called the “emotionalism” of his Methodist upbringing, instead opting to view things from a more “balanced” approach that would allow him to “see both sides of the question.” Instead of professing faith, he essentially became a neutral observer of faith.

Finally, when Conlee was pastor of the Methodist Church in Pomona, California, he told his wife that he could no longer stand his own hypocrisy. He had already denied that the virgin birth of Christ and the miracles in the Bible could have occurred. One Sunday, in the pulpit, he resigned his pastorate and told his congregation that he no longer believed the Bible.

The gifted writer transitioned easily to secular employment. He became the editor of the Santa Ana Herald and proceeded to establish his own newspapers, the East Los Angeles Exponent and the Covina Argus Independent. He sold these papers for a small fortune and became an editorial writer for the Los Angeles Times and the Los Angeles Examiner.

However, Conlee soon lost his newfound wealth and employment due to his growing dependence upon alcohol. The celebrated pastor, publisher and journalist descended into inebriation, shuffling around in smelly rags. He became president of the Free Thinkers Association of California, an organization that promoted atheism. He gave lectures in which he would hold up his hand and challenge God to strike him dead. When nothing happened, he declared, “You see, friends, there is no God.”

But Conlee’s wife was a woman of prayer. She raised their five children without his love or support, and she prayed daily that her fallen husband would return to God. Then, in 1897 on a street corner in Los Angeles, Conlee encountered the man from his past who recognized him and invited him to his home. That man, a Christian doctor who had previously been a member of Conlee’s church, convinced Conlee that he needed a change in environment. Conlee agreed, and he ventured to Alaska, hoping to strike it rich in the Klondike Gold Rush.

In Alaska, Conlee discovered that life in the cabin “on the forty mile” — which described his location — was very lonely. He shared the small cabin with two other men — a Catholic and a spiritualist medium from San Francisco. Out of boredom, they began reading the small Bible that one of Conlee’s daughters had given to him. The medium became fascinated by the stories in the Bible, saying, “I had no idea there were things like that in the Bible.”

As they read the Bible more, their cursing and drunkenness became less frequent. Finally, after several months of Bible reading, the three men confessed to each other that they desperately wanted God to help them. They got on their knees and prayed loudly for hours, until they felt something happen on the inside of them. They then jumped up and started shouting, “Glory!”

Conlee returned to California in 1898, which was an answer to his wife’s prayers. He identified with the Pentecostal movement and ultimately became Dean of the Bible college operated by the Bible Standard Church (now New Hope Christian College in Eugene, Oregon). Conlee’s testimony was widely distributed in the form of a tract, The Lonely Cabin on the Forty Mile, which was published by Gospel Publishing House.

What does the life of Joseph Conlee teach Christians today? Theological liberalism, which undermines the authority of Scripture, led Conlee to reject Christ, which resulted in the loss of his family, fortune, and career. Theological liberalism naturally leads to spiritual death and the decline of families and culture. The same forces are at work in the world today, attempting to infiltrate evangelical and Pentecostal churches, just as they did in Methodist and other churches over 100 years ago. However, Scripture is God-breathed and continues to offer new life. Just as Conlee repented and regained his life, the Gospel continues to offer hope and new life to those who have faith, repent, and cast their burdens on Christ.

Conlee’s story was published in the December 19, 1936, issue of the Pentecostal Evangel. Read the article, “Christmas and Valentine’s Day in a Lonely Cabin,” by Charles S. Price, on pages 2-3 and 5 of the December 19, 1936, issue of the Pentecostal Evangel.

Also featured in this issue:

• “Tidings of Great Joy,” by Ernest S. Williams

• “How Far is Bethlehem,” by John Wright Follette

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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Maria Gerber: The Pentecostal “Angel of Mercy” During the Armenian Genocide in Turkey

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Maria A. Gerber (front row, third from left) with widows from Zion Orphan’s Home in Turkey

This Week in AG History — December 4, 1915

By Darrin Rodgers
Originally published on PE-News, 3 December 2015

An estimated 800,000 to 1,500,000 ethnic Armenians living in the Ottoman Empire (present day Turkey) were systematically rounded up and killed by Ottoman authorities between the years 1915 and 1918. The Armenian Genocide, as it came to be known, is the second-most studied case of genocide, following the Jewish Holocaust.

Newspapers around the world reported on the suffering endured by the mostly Christian Armenians. Right in the midst of the conflict was Maria A. Gerber (1858-1917), an early Pentecostal missionary who had established an orphanage in Turkey for Armenian victims.

Gerber was born in Switzerland, where she was raised with 11 siblings by Mennonite parents. As a child, she did not have an interest in spiritual things, because she saw her mother weep when she read her Bible. She thought that Scripture must be the cause of sadness.

Maria was a carefree child and loved to sing and dance. But, at age 12, she was stricken with multiple ailments, including rheumatic fever, heart trouble, tuberculosis, and dropsy. The doctor’s prognosis was not good — Maria only had a short time to live.

Fear gripped Maria’s heart. She had never committed her life to the Lord. She knew that if she died, she would not go to heaven. Maria cried out, “Jesus, I want you to save me from my sins.” Immediately, she felt peace deep inside her soul. She was ready to die.

But God had other plans for the young girl. Maria quickly recovered from her incurable illness, much to everyone’s surprise! Maria’s mother had been so confident that her daughter was on death’s doorstep that she had already given away all of her clothing. Her mother scrounged around and found clothes for Maria.

Maria shared her testimony of salvation and healing at school and in surrounding villages. She found her calling. She read Matthew 28:18 and sensed that verse was meant for her: “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me [Jesus]. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations…”

Maria’s faith deepened as she blossomed into a young woman. She received training as a nurse, but in her heart she wanted to become a missionary. In 1889 a remarkable revival featuring healing and speaking in tongues came to her town in Switzerland. In her 1917 autobiography, Passed Experiences, Present Conditions, Hope for the Future, Gerber recounted the rapturous praise and numerous miracles that occurred in that early Swiss revival.

The young nurse wanted training for missions work and, in 1891, she headed for Chicago, where she attended Moody Bible Institute. By the mid-1890s, she heard about massacres of Armenian Christians that were occurring in the Ottoman Empire. Maria and a friend, Rose Lambert, felt God calling them to minister to the Armenian widows and orphans.

Maria and Rose arrived in Turkey in 1898 and began working with the besieged Armenians. They began caring for orphans and purchased camel loads of cotton for widows to make garments for the orphans and for sale. Donors from America and Europe began supporting these two audacious women who had ventured into very dangerous territory to do the Lord’s work.

Maria, in particular, found support among wealthy German Mennonites who lived in Russia. In 1904, they funded the construction of a series of large buildings to house hundreds of orphans and widows. Zion Orphans’ Home, located near Cesarea, became a hub of relief work and ministry in central Turkey. When persecution of Armenians intensified in 1915, resulting in the extermination of most Christian Armenians from Turkey, Zion Orphans’ Home was ready to help those in distress.

Maria identified with the emerging Pentecostal movement as early as 1910. This should not be surprising, as she had experienced her own Pentecost 21 years earlier. The Assemblies of God supported her missions efforts, and numerous letters by Maria were published in the Pentecostal Evangel. Assemblies of God leader D. W. Kerr, in the foreword to Maria’s 1917 autobiography, wrote that he had known Maria for 26 years and that her story will encourage readers “to greater self denial and a deeper surrender.”

Maria suffered a stroke and passed away on December 6, 1917. Gerber’s obituary, published in the Pentecostal Evangel, stated that she was known as “the angel of mercy to the downtrodden Armenians.”

It would have been easy for Maria Gerber to ignore the persecution of Armenians. The massacres were on the other side of the world. She could have stayed safe in America or in Europe. But Maria followed God’s call and spent almost 20 years ministering to refugees who faced persecution and death. Few people today remember her name. But according to early Assemblies of God leaders, Maria Gerber personified what it meant to be Pentecostal.

Read one of Maria Gerber’s articles, “Great Results Seen in Answer to Prayer,” on page 4 of the December 4, 1915, issue of the Pentecostal Evangel.

Also featured in this issue:

• “Divine Love: The Supreme Test,” by Arch P. Collins

• “What Think Ye of Christ?” by M. M. Pinson

And many more!

Click here to read this issue now.

Read Maria A. Gerber’s obituary in the January 5, 1918, edition of the Pentecostal Evangel (p. 13).

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
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AG Missionary Katherine Voronaev Escaped USSR 65 Years Ago, Revealed Horrors of Persecution

Ekaterina Veronaev mugshot

Mugshot of Katherine Voronaev during her imprisonment in Soviet slave labor camps, circa 1930s

This Week in AG History — November 27, 1960

By Darrin Rodgers
Originally published on PE-News, 25 November 2015

Ivan and Katherine Voronaev, pioneer Assemblies of God missionaries to the Soviet Union, were exiled to Siberian prison camps in the 1930s and believed to be dead. But 65 years ago, Katherine was released and made her way to New York City. She shared her story in 1960 with Pentecostal Evangel readers, offering a rare glimpse into the life of persecuted Christians under Soviet rule.

The Voronaevs spent most of their adult lives as fugitives or in prison. Ivan and Katherine fled Russia, the land of their birth, in 1908 after Ivan was court-martialed and threatened with a politicized trial and likely death. His crime? Ivan, a young officer in the Tsar’s army, had recently converted to Christ and felt conviction that he should no longer fight as a professional warrior. He laid down his arms and told his superiors that, from then on, his only weapon “would be the Word of God — the Gospel of Jesus Christ.” The Voronaevs ended up in America in 1912 by way of Turkmenistan and Manchuria.

In the U.S., Ivan became a Baptist pastor and evangelist and ministered among Slavic immigrants in San Francisco and Seattle. In 1917, Voronaev moved to New York City to accept the pastorate of a small Russian Baptist congregation. Two years later, Voronaev’s daughter, Vera, was Spirit-baptized and spoke in tongues while attending Glad Tidings Tabernacle, an Assemblies of God church, with a friend. Voronaev began to study Scripture and became convinced that supernatural spiritual gifts did not cease, but continued to be available to Christians. Spiritually hungry, Voronaev prayed for and received a similar experience. In the summer of 1919, Voronaev and about 20 others formed a new Pentecostal congregation — the Russian Christian Apostolic Mission in New York.

Several months later at a home prayer meeting, Voronaev received a prophetic message, “Voronaev, Voronaev, go to Russia!” He ignored the message at first, but after he sensed the same message in his personal devotions, he made preparations to return to his homeland. This would not be an easy task. The Tsar recently had been overthrown, and political, religious, and social turmoil had produced much suffering in Russia. Voronaev joined the Assemblies of God and received official appointment as a missionary. With several Slavic families from his congregation, they made the arduous journey back to Eastern Europe.

Voronaev and his team of missionaries left the United States in 1920 and set up their headquarters in Odessa, Ukraine. They fanned out across the Soviet Union, preached the gospel, and established Pentecostal churches. In 1926, Voronaev organized the General-Ukrainian Union of Christians of Evangelical Faith, which provided fellowship for the growing number of churches. By 1928, the Union consisted of about 400 congregations with approximately 20,000 members.

U.S. Assemblies of God churches provided financial and prayer support, including money for bicycles for Slavic ministers. Voronaev regularly wrote English-language reports of the Slavic revival, which American supporters read in the Pentecostal Evangel.

The Voronaevs and their ministerial cohorts enjoyed about 10 years of freedom to evangelize across the Soviet Union. Then, in January 1930, authorities arrested all of the officers and many other leaders of the Union, including Voronaev.

Katherine Voronaev, in the 1960 Pentecostal Evangel article, recalled in painful detail how “the communists herded the 800 pastors and Christian leaders into freight cars as though they were cattle and shipped them to Siberia.” She continued: “The horrors of that journey were indescribable. They had no food nor water, no sanitation, no provision for rest, and poor ventilation. The survivors were then forced into slave labor.”

The Soviet authorities thought that the churches would die if their leaders were taken away. But new leaders emerged. Katherine Voronaev was among those who began ministering secretly, but three years later police came and arrested her and sent her to a slave labor camp located 2,000 miles away from her husband.

Katherine later made an appeal to be placed in the same slave labor camp as Ivan. The request was granted, and for three years they were able to live together in prison. They spent long days doing hard labor — Ivan in a forest and quarry, and Katherine doing cooking and scrubbing. But they could be together at night when, under the cloak of darkness, they would take long walks through the snow in a forest. They prayed and praised God during those times, and “heaven seemed very near.” Life was hard, but Katherine recounted that they were not unhappy. They had each other.

Meanwhile, the U.S. Assemblies of God made great efforts to secure the release of the Voronaevs. The Soviet government told the Americans that they would free Voronaev upon payment of a large sum of money. U.S. Assemblies of God members raised the money, which they gave to the Soviet government. Voronaev was temporarily freed in 1936, but almost immediately he was rearrested and was never heard from again.

Katherine was released from prison in 1935 and had a measure of freedom. For years she went from camp to camp, trying without success to locate her husband. She was imprisoned a final time in 1949, after she tried to write to her children who lived in America. She was charged with being a counterrevolutionary and a spy.

The Pentecostal Evangel article recounted Katherine’s time in solitary confinement: “Her captors tried to hypnotize and brainwash her, but without success. She would close her eyes and silently pray. Her rat-infested cell had a concrete floor upon which she was forced to sleep without any bedding and she was clad only in a few worn-out garments. She was watched by the soldiers constantly through a peep hole.”

Soldiers waited for Katherine to have an emotional breakdown, but she instead felt the presence of God and kept remembering God’s promise: “I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee.” Despite a year of brutal torture, the article recounted, “her spirit remained free and she kept a song in her heart.”

The 1953 death of Soviet leader Joseph Stalin resulted in greater religious freedom, and Katherine was released from prison. But there was still great fear of reprisal, and she had to be very cautious. A son living in California discovered that Katherine was still alive and, through the intervention of the Eisenhower administration, Katherine was allowed to leave the Soviet Union in 1960 and come to the U.S. Upon her death in 1965, she still didn’t know whether her husband was alive or dead. After the fall of Soviet Union, documents were discovered that Ivan Voronaev had died in a slave labor camp in 1937.

The Voronaevs’ story wasn’t unique. Persecution separated consecrated believers from nominal Christians. Gustav H. Schmidt, Assemblies of God missionary to Slavic lands, wrote in 1934: “Anyone who is zealous for Jesus in Russia is marked for arrest and this makes Christian activity hazardous. Therefore we find no halfhearted Christians in Russia…Such who are not fully consecrated will not be able to stand the strain for any length of time but will step over into the enemy’s camp.”

Communist persecution not only failed to destroy Christianity; it helped to create a strong and vibrant Pentecostal movement in the former Soviet Union. In 2014, there were over 1,135,000 Pentecostals in the former Soviet Union in churches that are in a fraternal relationship with Assemblies of God World Missions.

Beginning in the late 1980s, when Mikhail Gorbachev began to allow persecuted religious minorities to emigrate, many put down roots in the U.S. An estimated 300,000 Slavic Pentecostals from this recent wave of immigration now live in the United States. While most are in congregations that are either independent or loosely affiliated with one of several Slavic Pentecostal unions, many are deciding to join the Assemblies of God.

In 2002, several Slavic Pentecostal churches in California joined the Assemblies of God and formed the Slavic Fellowship, which provided both a structure for Slavs to organize themselves within the Assemblies of God and also representation on the Fellowship’s General Presbytery. In September 2008, leaders of the Slavic Fellowship, in addition to other Slavic Pentecostals interested in affiliating with the Assemblies of God, came together in Renton, Washington, and organized the National Slavic District.

The legacy of Ivan and Katherine Voronaev lives on in their spiritual descendants who now live in America. With deep faith burnished by decades of persecution, Slavic-American Pentecostals are poised to provide leadership in the broader church. And their leadership could not have come at a better time, as they have already proven their mettle in a culture that is hostile to biblical values.

Read the article by Ruth Demetrus, “Back from Siberia,” in the Nov. 27, 1960, issue of the Pentecostal Evangel.

Pentecostal Evangel archived editions are 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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