Tag Archives: Isabel Flores

Latino and Latina Pioneers in the Assemblies of God

Temple Beth-El

Templo Beth-el Latin American Assembly of God (Weslaco, Texas), circa 1960

This Week in AG History —October 19, 1929

By Darrin J. Rodgers
Originally published on AG News, 18 October 2018

Hispanic ministers and churches have played an important role in the Assemblies of God (AG) for over 100 years. The Pentecostal message spread rapidly among Spanish-speakers, first along the borderlands in Texas among refugees from the Mexican Revolution and among Puerto Ricans. The AG ordained its first Hispanic minister in 1914 and created a conference for U.S. Hispanic churches (later known as the Latin American District) in 1918.

Eighty-nine years ago this week, the Pentecostal Evangel briefly noted that the Hispanic AG churches in the United States (with the exception of Puerto Rico) had formed the Latin American District. Over the decades, Hispanics forged their own identity, leaders, and churches within the AG. In 2017, over 23 percent of AG adherents in the United States were Hispanic.

The following vignettes offer a glimpse into the lives and ministries of several Hispanic AG pioneers. While Anglo missionaries to Hispanics, such as Henry C. Ball, Alice E. Luce, and Florence Murcutt, also were an important part of the story, the below stories feature Latino(a)s who helped to lay the foundation for the AG. Their testimonies offer a glimpse into the vibrant spiritual lives of our Pentecostal pioneers.

Antonio Rios Morin

Antonio Rios Morin (born ca. 1867), a former Mexican Revolution army officer, in 1914 became the first Hispanic to be ordained as an AG minister. He was converted in 1912 under the ministry of Mexican healing evangelist Enemecio Alaniz in a racially integrated Pentecostal home meeting in Houston. Morin joined with Alaniz and other Hispanic and Anglo Pentecostal ministers, evangelizing among the Mexican refugees in the borderlands of Texas. At the time, many refugees followed Spiritism or other occult practices. Many people were saved, healed, and delivered from demons under Morin’s ministry.

Juan Lugo

LugoJuan Lugo (1890-1984) was born in Puerto Rico and raised on the sugar plantations of Hawaii. In 1913, Lugo’s mother came into contact with Pentecostal missionaries from the interracial Azusa Street Revival who were en route to Japan and China. She accepted Christ and told her son, but he initially rejected her witness. When one of Juan’s co-workers who could not read also became a Christian, he asked Juan to read the Bible to him on breaks. Juan reluctantly agreed, and what he found in the Bible changed his life. He soon accepted Christ, was baptized in the Holy Spirit, and felt called into the ministry. In 1916, he returned to Puerto Rico, where he pioneered the first Pentecostal churches on the island. He established La Iglesia de Dios Pentecostal (Pentecostal Church of God), which was affiliated with the AG. He later moved to New York, where he helped establish Puerto Rican churches on the East Coast, which became the foundation for the Spanish Eastern District.

Dionicia Feliciano

FelicianoDionicia Feliciano (born ca. 1890) was the first Latina ordained by the AG. She and her husband, Salomon, were Puerto Ricans who, like Juan Lugo, were saved and baptized in the Holy Spirit in 1913 while working on sugar plantations in Hawaii. They became ordained Assemblies of God ministers in San Jose, California, in 1916. They returned to Puerto Rico, where they helped Lugo pioneer the young Pentecostal movement. In late 1916, they ventured to the Dominican Republic, where they served as the first Pentecostal missionaries to that nation. Dionicia was very active in church planting and evangelistic work.

Isabel Flores

Isabel Flores (a male Mexican-American pastor) and H. C. Ball co-founded the January 1918 organizational convention of AG churches and ministers, which was held in Kingsville, Texas. Flores was one of the earliest Hispanic AG ministers. Like many Mexican refugees, he faced significant cultural and legal challenges in America. In one such circumstance, Flores was arrested in May 1918 and incarcerated in the Jackson County jail in Edna, Texas. The reason for the arrest is unknown. An account published in 1966 in La Luz Apostolica simply stated, “It was wartime, and the officer did not speak Spanish and Isabel did not speak English.” Ball came to the aid of Flores and traveled to Edna, where he spoke with authorities and secured the prisoner’s release. Flores’ experience demonstrates that it was advantageous for Hispanic Pentecostals to form an alliance with Anglos of like faith.

Demetrio and Nellie Bazan

BazanIt would be difficult to overstate the impact of Demetrio (1900-1976) and Nellie Bazan (1895-1995) on the AG. Both Demetrio and Nellie felt called into the ministry and were ordained together in 1920, less than a month before their wedding. H. C. Ball, the Anglo AG missionary to Hispanics, saw potential in Demetrio for pastoral leadership and mentored him. Demetrio proved to be an effective pastor, evangelist, and administrator, and succeeded Ball in 1939 as the first Hispanic to serve as Latin American district superintendent. Bazan’s far-reaching vision and abilities helped the Hispanic constituency of the AG to grow significantly. Nellie was an important AG leader in her own right. She preached from the pulpit at least 30 times per year, engaged in extensive door-to-door evangelism, was a prolific author, and raised 10 children.

Jose Giron

GironJose Giron (1911-2001) succeeded Demetrio Bazan in 1959 as superintendent of the Latin American district, which grew by 1970 to encompass 403 churches, 827 ministers, and 21,000 members. In 1971, Giron led the district to divide into four smaller districts, laying the foundation for structures that allowed continued growth and better oversight and accountability. Giron had demonstrated strong evangelistic and church planting skills early in his ministry, and his careful yet forward-looking leadership skills proved invaluable to the AG.

Francisca Blaisdell

Francisca Blaisdell (ca 1885-1941) was born in Mexico and started preaching the Pentecostal message in 1915. She married an Anglo AG missionary, George E. Blaisdell. Francisca founded the Concilio Misionero Femenil (Women’s Missionary Council) in 1922 in Agua Prieta, Mexico. The purpose of the council was to encourage missionary work along the U.S.-Mexican borderlands. The Blaisdells moved to Arizona, and H. C. Ball and Juan Lugo ordained her as an AG missionary-evangelist in 1923. Francisca became a prominent Latina AG evangelist, but the council, which claimed 44,600 members by 2005, was perhaps her most significant achievement.

Concepcion (Chonita) Morgan Howard

Concepcion (Chonita) Morgan Howard (1898-1983) was a pioneer Latina Pentecostal evangelist and pastor. She accepted Christ and was baptized in the Holy Spirit in 1913 in the mining town of San Jose de las Playitas in Sonora, Mexico. Her father was Anglo, and her mother was Mexican. In 1919 she married an Anglo preacher, Lloyd Howard, who was pastoring a small Mexican congregation in Arizona. She was ordained by the AG in 1928 as an evangelist to Mexicans living along the Mexican-American border. In addition to her work as an evangelist and pastor, she served as the second president of the Concilio Misionero Femenil (1941-1962).

Roberto Fierro

FierroRobert Fierro (1916-1985) was a prominent Mexican-American AG evangelist who preached fluently in both English and Spanish. Fierro surrendered his life to Christ at 15 years of age, following his mother’s miraculous healing in a Pentecostal church. He soon felt a call to minister and enrolled in Bible college. Throughout the 1940s and 1950s, he preached throughout the United States and in Spanish-speaking countries to crowds that often numbered into the thousands. Countless people were converted and healed under his ministry.

Jesse Miranda

MirandaJesse Miranda (1937-present) is a respected Hispanic AG church leader and educator who in 1995 became the first Latino to be elected as an executive presbyter. Jesse began life in Albuquerque, New Mexico, the son of a lumber mill worker and a mother with a third-grade education. He started preaching at 19 and served as an instructor at Latin American Bible Institute from 1959 to 1978 and as superintendent of the Southern Pacific Latin American district from 1984 to 1992. Jesse became known as a bridge builder, serving as the founding president of the multidenominational Alianza de Ministerios Evangelicos Nacionales (AMEN) and as executive director of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference, the nation’s largest Christian Hispanic organization. Christianity Today dubbed him “the granddaddy of U.S. Latino Protestantism.”

Read about the formation of the Latin American District in the article, “The Thirteenth General Council Meeting,” on page 5 of the Oct. 19, 1929, issue of the Pentecostal Evangel.

Also featured in this issue:

• “A Sound of Rain,” by W. E. Moody

• “The Church’s Greatest Need,” by Charles E. Robinson

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: http://www.iFPHC.org

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2018 Marks the Centennial of the First Organization for Hispanic Assemblies of God Churches and Ministers

HC Ball

This Week in AG History — December 28, 1918

By Darrin J. Rodgers
Originally published on PE-News, 28 December 2017

The first organization for Hispanic Assemblies of God churches and ministers in the United States was formed in 1918. At the time, the Pentecostal movement among Hispanics was in its infancy and consisted primarily of scattered, unorganized missions along the U.S.-Mexican border. Two Assemblies of God conventions were held in Texas in 1918 — one in January and a second in November. These conventions united Hispanic Pentecostals and laid the foundation for one of the largest and fastest growing segments of the Assemblies of God.

Hispanics forged their own Assemblies of God identity — developing indigenous leaders, schools, and governance structures — which gave believers a voice in a society where they were often marginalized. Asambleas de Dios congregations now dot the American landscape. In 2016, 22.2 percent of U.S. Assemblies of God adherents (718,785) were Hispanic.

The January 1918 convention was organized by Isabel Flores (a male Mexican-American pastor) and Henry C. Ball (an Anglo missionary to Mexicans). They ministered among the 300,000 refugees from the Mexican Revolution who lived along the borderlands in Texas. These refugees, uprooted from their families and their native land, often lived in squalid conditions. They had an uncertain legal status and, in the eyes of many observers, not much of a future.

While the broader American society often rejected the Mexican refugees, Pentecostals reacted differently. Flores, Ball, and other Pentecostal ministers fanned out, offering food, shelter, and medical assistance to those who were hurting. They viewed the refugees as a heaven-sent opportunity to share the gospel, which they did in both word and deed.

The first superintendent of the newly organized Hispanic work was Ball — probably chosen because as an Anglo he was able to navigate the difficult legal and cultural issues facing the Mexican refugees. On at least one occasion, he helped free a refugee pastor who had been imprisoned on false charges. Ball was himself imprisoned on suspicion of being a German spy during World War I because of his work with the refugees, who were viewed as a national threat during war time.

Despite legal, political, and economic tensions, Ball maintained his focus on helping the Pentecostal movement among Hispanics to mature and grow. He stressed the importance of developing indigenous leaders who could serve as pastors, evangelists, and missionaries to Hispanics in the United States and across Latin America.

Ball developed these themes in an article in the Dec. 28, 1918, issue of the Pentecostal Evangel. In the article, Ball reported on the November 1918 convention, noting that the Hispanic believers were united in doctrine, that there was a spirit of “sweet cooperation,” and that the churches aimed to be self-supporting and to ultimately send missionaries to their countries of origin. This vision for indigenous leadership was more fully realized in 1939, when Demetrio Bazan succeeded Ball as the first Hispanic leader of the Latin American District Council of the Assemblies of God.

The vision to bring the gospel to suffering Mexican refugees ultimately helped to transform the American church. Those refugees became the seeds from which a resilient Hispanic Pentecostal movement was birthed. Today, Hispanics and other ethnic minorities are helping to fuel the continuing growth of the Assemblies of God in the United States.

Read H. C. Ball’s article, “A Report of the Spanish Pentecostal Convention,” on page 7 of the Dec. 28, 1918, issue of the Pentecostal Evangel.

Also featured in this issue:

• “A Plea for Unity,” by A. P. Collins

• “Peace on Earth, Good Will toward Men,” by Raymond T. Richey

And many more!

Click here to read this issue now.

Photo caption: The first graduating class of Latin American Bible Institute, San Antonio, Texas; 1928. Front row (l-r): H. C. Ball, Sunshine Ball, and 2 unidentified. Back row (l-r) Benito Mendez, Manuel Bustamante, Ruben Arevalo, Samuel Robles, Juan C. Orozco, Horacio Menchaca, Dario Lopez, Enrique Rosales, and Josue Cruz.

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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Cross-Cultural Ministry in 1922: Mexican Refugees in Texas Reach Out to African Americans

P23628

By the 1930s, Hispanic Assemblies of God congregations had been organized across America. This photo is of a girls Sunday school class, Templo Cristiano, San Antonio, Texas, in June 1930 or 1931.

This Week in AG History — July 8, 1922

By Darrin J. Rodgers
Originally published on PE-News, 5 July 2017

The small town of Edna, Texas, was home to an early Assemblies of God congregation of Mexican refugees, whose members engaged in evangelistic work to African-Americans, even while their own legal status was uncertain.

This fascinating story of cross-cultural ministry came about because of an emerging social crisis. Over one million refugees from the Mexican Revolution came to the United States between 1910 and 1920. Many of the newcomers lived in makeshift camps, rife with disease and crime, located along the borderlands. Overwhelmed by this humanitarian crisis, local residents often did not know how to react. Social and political tensions flared in Texas and elsewhere.

Assemblies of God churches and ministers, seeing the unfolding tragedy, committed themselves to offer physical and spiritual assistance to the newcomers. Many Mexican refugees accepted Christ and formed small Asambleas de Dios congregations across the borderlands.

American Assemblies of God leaders were able to assist refugees who faced significant challenges. In one instance, Isabel Flores, a prominent Pentecostal leader among the Mexican refugees, was arrested in May 1918 and incarcerated in the Jackson County jail in Edna. The reason for the arrest is unknown. An account published in 1966 in La Luz Apostolica simply stated, “It was wartime, and the officer did not speak Spanish and Isabel did not speak English.” Henry C. Ball, an Assemblies of God missionary to the Mexicans, came to the aid of Flores. Ball traveled to Edna, where he spoke with the authorities and secured the prisoner’s release.

This brush with the law demonstrated that it was advantageous for Mexican immigrants to work with Americans. Earlier that year, Flores and Ball together had organized the Latin American Conference (later renamed the Latin American District), which brought existing Mexican Pentecostal congregations into the Assemblies of God.

Ball’s status as a native-born American, however, did not prevent him from encountering problems. The Assemblies of God, like many other premillennial American evangelicals, took a pacifist position during World War I. Ball’s work with Hispanics and his church’s pacifism caused government officials to view him with suspicion. Ball was arrested in Brownsville, Texas, on suspicion of being a German spy, but he was soon released.

As superintendent of the Latin American Conference, Ball traveled extensively and ministered among the Mexican immigrants.

In 1922, Ball returned to Edna, Texas, where he found an unexpected surprise. In a July 8, 1922, article in the Pentecostal Evangel, Ball reported that the Hispanic congregation maintained an active outreach to African-Americans, despite the language barrier.

The congregation met for worship in a private home located about three miles from Edna. Ball noted that about 30 Mexicans gathered for worship in a large room, and that an additional group of African-Americans joined them. The African-Americans, Ball observed, “have learned to sing the Spanish songs with the Mexicans, even though they know very little Spanish.”

Ball stated that the African-Americans “are anxious to hear Pentecost preached in their own language.” He lamented that “a white man could hardly preach to them in this part of the country,” presumably referring to Jim Crow laws that prevented whites and blacks from mixing.

The Mexican refugees could have used their own plight as an excuse to keep to themselves and to concentrate on building up their own community. But this marginalized group instead reached out to others who were likewise excluded from the benefits of mainstream American culture. Instead of dwelling on what they could not do, they found an area of ministry in which they had an advantage over white Americans. The Mexican immigrants were not subject to Jim Crow laws and could freely minister to African-Americans. When the Mexican immigrants sought to share God’s love with others, their seeming cultural disadvantage became an advantage.

Read the article by H. C. Ball, “The Work Prospering on the Mexican Border,” on page 13 of the July 8, 1922, issue of the Pentecostal Evangel.

Also featured in this issue:

* “Whose Faith Follow: Important Lessons Learned from a Pentecostal Revival [Irvingites] of Nearly a Hundred Years Ago,” by A. E. Saxby

* “Very Fine Needlework,” by Grace E. Thompson

And many more!

Click here to read this issue now.

Read about the arrests of Isabel Flores and H. C. Ball in “Historia de los Primeros 50 Años de las Asambleas de Dios Latinas,” on pages 2 and 12 of the April 1966 issue of La Luz Apostolica.

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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