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Joseph Wannenmacher’s Healing: How a Gifted Violinist became an Assemblies of God Pioneer

This Week in AG History — October 29, 1949

By Darrin J. Rodgers
Originally published on AG News, 29 October 2020

As a young man, Joseph P. Wannenmacher (1895-1989) was a rising star in the Milwaukee musical scene. But a miraculous healing in a small storefront mission in 1917 forever changed his life, and he went on to become a well-loved Assemblies of God pioneer pastor. He shared his powerful testimony in the Oct. 29, 1949, issue of the Pentecostal Evangel.

Like many other Milwaukee residents, Wannenmacher was an immigrant. He was born in Buzias, Hungary, to a family that was ethnically German and Hungarian. The Wannenmachers moved to Milwaukee in 1903, but his father was unable to adapt to American ways so they returned to Hungary after 10 months. In 1909, they returned to Milwaukee to stay.

From an early age, music helped define Joseph Wannenmacher’s life. In Hungary, he was surrounded by some of the nation’s best musicians and became a noted violinist. In Milwaukee, at age 18 he organized and conducted the Hungarian Royal Gypsy Orchestra (named after a similar group in his homeland), which performed at many of the region’s top entertainment venues.

Wannenmacher seemed to have it all. He could afford fashionable clothing, a gold watch, and diamond-studded jewelry. But underneath his successful veneer, Wannenmacher was haunted by his own human frailties.

Wannenmacher knew that he was dying a slow, painful death. His flesh would swell, develop blisters, and rot. Doctors diagnosed his condition as bone consumption. His sister had already died of the same malady. Anger boiled up in Wannenmacher as he grappled with the unfairness of life. He developed a sharp temper and, try as he might, he could not find peace.

Wannenmacher was raised in a devout Catholic home, so he turned to his faith to help him deal with his physical pain and bitterness. He frequently attended church and offered penance, but these practices did not seem to help.

He then turned to Luther’s German translation of the Bible, which someone had given to him, and began reading it voraciously. In its pages he discovered things he had never heard before. He read about Christ’s second coming, salvation by faith, and Christ’s power to heal. Perhaps most importantly, he learned that God is love. Up until that point, he had conceived of God as “Someone away up there with a long beard and a big club just waiting to beat me up.” But then, at age 18, he began to discover the gospel for himself.

In the midst of this spiritual awakening, Wannenmacher’s health was weakening. He could barely hold his violin bow in his hand, and the pain was almost unbearable. Then one morning in 1917 he heard about a group of German-speaking Pentecostals who prayed for the sick. The next service was scheduled for that afternoon, and Wannenmacher made a beeline for it. He wrote, “It was a dilapidated place, but the sweet presence of God was there.”

The small band of believers had been fasting and praying that God would send someone who was in need of salvation and healing. The service was unlike anything Wannenmacher had ever seen before. He watched the people get on their knees and cry out to God. Their outpouring of genuine faith moved Joseph’s heart.

The pastor, Hugo Ulrich, preached that sinners could be saved simply by trusting in Christ. It seemed too good to be true, Wannenmacher thought. Faith then came into his heart, and he started laughing for joy. The pastor thought Wannenmacher was mocking him, but Wannenmacher didn’t care. At the end of the service, Wannenmacher came forward to the altar and experienced a powerful encounter with God.

Wannenmacher described his time at the altar: “the power of God just struck me and shook for fully half an hour…the more His Spirit operated through my bones, through my muscles, through my being, the hotter I became. The more God’s power surged through me, the more I perspired. The Lord simply operated on that poor, diseased body of mine.”

He described this experience as being in the “operating room” of God. Later in the service, as he knelt at the altar rail in silent prayer, it seemed like heaven came down. He recalled, “As I waited there in God’s presence … [God’s] hands went down my body from head to toe, and every spirit of infirmity had to go. I got up, and I was a new man.”

A few days later, Wannenmacher was baptized in the Holy Spirit. He soon launched into gospel ministry and shared his testimony wherever he went. He played his violin and sang gospel songs during the lunch hour at the Harley Davidson plant, where he sometimes worked. He testified about his healing in hospitals, street corners, and other places. Everywhere he went, he prayed with people, and many accepted Christ and were healed. Wannenmacher’s family jokingly referred to his violin as the “healing violin,” because numerous people experienced healing as he played songs such as “The Heavenly City.”

In 1921 he married Helen Innes and started Full Gospel Church in Milwaukee. He went on to found six additional daughter churches in the area. He also served as the first superintendent of the Hungarian Branch of the Assemblies of God, which was organized in 1944 for Hungarian immigrants to America. After pastoring Full Gospel Church (renamed Calvary Assembly of God in 1944) for 39 years, he retired in 1960.

Throughout his ministry, Wannenmacher emphasized the importance of the Word of God. In his Pentecostal Evangel article, Wannenmacher compared reading the Bible to the mastery of music. “You have to practice and play music over and over again before you have mastered it,” he wrote, “and you have to apply yourself to those wonderful teachings of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, too, in order to make them yours.”

While Joseph Wannenmacher went to be with the Lord in 1989, his legacy lives on in the churches he founded and in the people whose lives he touched. Calvary AG is continuing to reach people in the Milwaukee area and was renamed Honey Creek Church in 2015. Joseph and Helen’s three children, John, Philip, and Lois (Graber), were involved in Assemblies of God ministries. Philip served as pastor of Central Assembly of God (Springfield, Missouri) from 1970 to 1995. Philip’s daughter, Beth Carroll, serves as director of Human Resources at the Assemblies of God National Leadership and Resource Center. On the floor just above Beth’s office, Joseph’s “healing violin” is on display in the Flower Pentecostal Heritage Center museum.

Joseph Wannenmacher’s story reminds believers that history never really disappears. People, events, and themes from the past tend to resurface in the present, but it often takes discernment to see them. God radically transformed Joseph Wannenmacher’s heart and healed his body, and the world has never been the same.

Read Joseph P. Wannenmacher’s article, “When God’s Love Came In,” on pages 2-3 and 11-13 of the Oct. 29, 1949, issue of the Pentecostal Evangel.

Also featured in this issue:

• “Life’s Supreme Objective,” by D. M. Carlson

• “Ministering to the Needy,” by J. H. Boyce

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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From Ireland to New York City: Pentecostal Pioneer Robert Brown

BrownThis Week in AG History — March 6, 1948

By Darrin J. Rodgers
Originally published on PE-News, 8 March 2018

Robert A. Brown (1872-1948), with his wife Marie, founded Glad Tidings Tabernacle in New York City, which for many years was the largest congregation in the Assemblies of God. However, Brown began his life on the other side of the world and spent his youth far away from God. The March 6, 1948, issue of the Pentecostal Evangel published Robert’s life story.

Brown was born in a small town in Northern Ireland and grew into a tall, athletic, and popular young man. Seeking adventure, he moved to England and became a police officer. Brown went to the pubs, drank alcohol, and participated in the destructive habits of the world. He was an unlikely candidate to become a minister of the gospel.

One of Brown’s cousins in Ireland accepted Christ, became a zealous preacher, and began to pray for him. When Brown traveled back to Ireland to see his family, he decided to go hear his cousin preach. He thought he could make fun of his cousin’s newfound faith. But Brown was deeply impressed by his cousin’s earnest preaching and changed life. At the end of the service, his cousin came over to Brown and pleaded with him to turn his life over to God. Brown refused, but the Holy Spirit grabbed hold of his heart. The young policeman felt conviction for his sins and could not shake the sense that he needed to submit his life to God. For three days he experienced heavy conviction until, at last, Brown surrendered his life to the Lord in his family’s old Irish farm house.

Two of Brown’s close friends were also converted, and together the three young men decided to immigrate to America. They arrived in New York City in 1898. Brown studied for the ministry and was ordained by the Wesleyan Methodist Church. He displayed genuine faith and he lived out the gospel story in his lifestyle. He was a bivocational minister, working as chief engineer at a government building while also engaging in church work.

One day, in 1907, he decided to attend a service held a small Holiness mission in New York City. Two young women ministers, Marie Burgess and Jessie Brown (not related to Robert), led the service and were fearlessly preaching the Pentecostal message. Robert was moved by their preaching, but he refused to accept their contention that biblical spiritual gifts, such as speaking in tongues, were still available for Christians today. Yet he continued to attend their services, perhaps because of the spiritual power he sensed.

The meetings led by Marie Burgess and Jessie Brown grew in attendance. The growing congregation relocated to larger quarters, and the female preachers asked Robert to give the dedication sermon. He did, and two drunken bums accepted Christ that night. Robert still did not fully accept the Pentecostal message. He could not deny that God was present in the meetings. The gospel was being preached with miraculous results. Souls were being saved and bodies were healed.

Robert was asked to preach again, and he decided to preach on Acts 2:4 and the baptism of the Holy Spirit. As Robert preached, he grew under great conviction that he needed to experience the baptism in the Holy Spirit. He received the experience a little while later, on Jan. 11, 1908.

Love blossomed, and Robert’s ministry colleague became his wife. He married Marie Burgess in 1909, and they established what became Glad Tidings Tabernacle. Robert had significant ministry and personality giftings. But, according to the Pentecostal Evangel article, he continually “expressed contempt” for the thought that he should rely on his gifts rather than on the Holy Spirit. He considered his gifts “unworthy substitutes for the power from on High.”

Robert loved the character “Valiant-for-Truth” in John Bunyan’s classic book, The Pilgrim’s Progress . He would often quote Valiant-for-Truth’s famous line, “I am a pilgrim, and am going to the Celestial City.” Similarly, Robert viewed himself as a pilgrim in a strange land, destined for heaven where his true citizenship lay.

Robert Brown became an Assemblies of God executive presbyter in 1915 and served numerous leadership roles, in addition to pastoring one of the most influential churches. But the Pentecostal Evangel article recalled his spiritual influence as his greatest trait. Robert Brown, the article extolled, “always stood for the highest standards of righteousness and holiness.”

Read the article, “Called Home,” on pages 3 and 11 of the March 6, 1948, issue of the Pentecostal Evangel .

Also featured in this issue:

• “A Pentecostal Revival in the Congo,” by Edmund Hodgson

• “The Test of True Discipleship,” by Robert A. Brown

• “A Mighty Revival at C.B.I.,” by Kathleen Belknap

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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Confronted by 1960s Racial Tensions, Ohio AG Church Grew by Reaching out to Hispanics and Blacks

1965_08_08-PE

Pictured are pastors of the new churches and the mother church (left to right): S. R . Nodal (Templo Betel); Dana Dickson (Evangel Assembly, Sandusky); Keith Smith (Broadway Assembly); and R. E. Burel (Beulah Assembly).


This Week in AG History — August 8, 1965

By Darrin Rodgers
Published August 6, 2015

Fifty years ago, the community of Lorain, Ohio, was in the midst of a significant demographic shift. Thousands of immigrants from Cuba and Puerto Rico relocated to Lorain to work in the steel mills, and the African-American community was growing. Racial tensions existed in the historically white town of 60,000, as residents grappled with these social changes.

How should the church respond to racial tensions and community strife?  Keith Smith, an Assemblies of God pastor in Lorain, saw the changes in his community as an opportunity to share the Gospel and bring reconciliation. He led his church, Broadway Assembly of God, to seek out the newcomers and minister to their needs.

Members of Broadway Assembly canvassed the community, befriended the immigrants, and began a bus ministry so that those without transportation could come to church. The church began a Spanish-speaking ministry under the leadership of S. Reyes Nodal, an Assemblies of God pastor born in Mexico. Nodal’s ministry grew and became Templo Betel (Bethel Temple), the first Spanish-speaking Assemblies of God church in Ohio.

Broadway Assembly asked a Church of God in Christ pastor, Robert E. Burel, to lead an outreach to African-Americans. Under Burel’s leadership, a new congregation, called Beulah Assembly, formed and met in Broadway Assembly’s building. After about a year and a half, Burel led his congregation to affiliate with the Church of God in Christ.

Broadway Assembly grew significantly even as it was planting new churches in its own community. Sunday school attendance grew from 200 to over 600 in a few years. The church built a new building to accommodate its growing crowds and gave its old building to Templo Betel.

How should today’s church respond to demographic changes and social strife? When confronted by a similar situation fifty years ago, Keith Smith did not retreat into the comfort of his church building. He led his congregation to engage the community and reach out to Spanish-speaking immigrants and African-Americans.

Read the article about Broadway Assembly, “Mother Church Triples,” on page 15 of the August 8, 1965, issue of the Pentecostal Evangel.

Also featured in this issue:

  • “Witness for Christ,” by Fred Smolchuck
  • “Man Overboard!” by Charles T. Crabtree
  • “Be Not Silent,” by Bob Hoskins

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

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