This Week in AG History — July 16, 1961
By Ruthie Edgerly Oberg
Originally published on PE-News, 14 July 2016
When Mabel Dean (1884-1961) sensed God’s call to be a missionary to Africa, she was 40 years old. An unmarried, unassuming bank clerk in Chicago, she did not seem to be the ideal missionary candidate. But God opened unexpected doors, and she became a pioneer Assemblies of God missionary to Egypt.
When John W. Welch read Mabel Dean’s application for missionary appointment in 1924, he wrote across the top, “I would judge her to be a good helper for someone but not qualified to assume control.” Welch, who served as general chairman (now called “general superintendent”) of the Assemblies of God, apparently had good reason for this statement. The missions board felt that Dean lacked many of the skills that would be helpful on the mission field. Furthermore, at age 40, it might be difficult for her to learn a new language.
All of Dean’s life, people did not expect her to amount to much. Despite what others said, Dean believed that she had a mandate from God for missions work in Africa. She later stated, “I was the only homely one in my family. Yet I was the one that He chose for His work.”
Dean’s missionary story began with a vision from the Lord on her daily train commute. She saw Jesus standing with a small stone in his hand. He threw the stone across the ocean and said to her, “That small stone is you. I want you to go to Africa.” She pondered the vision but did not share it with anyone. It was at the very next church service that her pastor, Kelso R. Glover of Stone Church in Chicago, approached her and said, “Sister Dean, obey whatever God is telling you. Say ‘Yes’ from your heart.”
It was not long before Hattie Salyer, a missionary on furlough, visited Stone Church. After hearing Dean’s story, she exclaimed, “Why don’t you come with me to Egypt?” Taken aback, Dean replied, “But I feel that God has called me to Africa.” Smiling, the missionary replied, “But Egypt is in Africa!”
On October 1, 1924, Dean arrived with Salyer in Cairo, Egypt, where she assisted in a small school for children run by missionaries. Soon after their arrival, Salyer succumbed to illness, leaving her inexperienced assistant to continue on alone. Dean, who was used to contributing roles, was thrust into a position of leadership.
Two years later, Lillian Trasher, an Assemblies of God missionary who had begun an orphanage in Assiout, Egypt, encouraged Dean to open a work for children in the small village of Minia, located 70 miles north of Assiout. Bringing with her one small girl named Salma, Dean moved to Minia, where she started a Sunday school for street children.
After the move to Minia, Dean felt the urge to broaden her evangelistic work. She began praying for God’s guidance regarding how to begin. Meanwhile, a revival was taking place in Trasher’s work in Assiout. Six young girls from Trashers orphanage felt God leading them to go into surrounding villages and tell others about Christ. Trasher sent them north to work with Dean. These six girls, along with little Salma, became the first of Mabel’s evangelistic teams. She sent them out two by two into the villages around Minia. The girls were soon joined by several young men who began preaching under Dean’s guidance. Dean soon had 20 evangelistic teams engaged in church planting.
Dean proved to be an effective leader, despite the missions board’s initial concerns. However, the board’s apprehension about her linguistic abilities proved valid. Dean never did master Arabic. Her practice was to teach her workers enough English so that she could disciple them personally, then send them out to preach in their native language.
Dean believed in the power of prayer, and she would pray while her students preached. When the residents of one village, Izbet, responded to her workers with indifference, Dean told them, “Do not waste your time and strength there now. I will make this a matter of prayer.” Soon after she began praying, representatives from the village requested that a team return to Izbet and even offered to pay the costs for the establishment of a church.
Dean ran a faith mission. She always seemed to have more faith than money. But God always seemed to provide just enough money at just the right time. Dean kept the mission’s money in a tin can. When a need arose, members of her ministry team could go to the can and retrieve the needed funds. When the can was empty she took it to the Lord in prayer, trusting Him to refill it. In spite of this uncertain funding method, she was never afraid to spend money. She told her workers, “God’s money is like water in a faucet. You have to let it run to receive what’s coming next.”
Dean’s attitude about money and God’s provision was demonstrated when one of her gospel workers lost a five pound note on a trip into town to buy supplies. The young lady returned in distress, but Dean encouraged her to not cry. She told the girl that perhaps a very poor man had been praying for money, and God was using their loss to meet his need.
When Mabel Dean passed away at her mission house on June 4, 1961, at age 77, she had served 37 years in Egypt. She was one of a handful of early Assemblies of God missionaries who had never taken a furlough to return home to the United States.
Philip Crouch, fellow missionary to Egypt, lauded Dean for helping to develop “one of the strongest indigenous works in Egypt.” By the time of her death, Dean’s teams of young workers had established 15 churches that owned their own buildings and about 30 other active congregations meeting in rented facilities. The “little stone” that Jesus wanted to throw across the ocean had become a foundation stone for a ministry that continued long after her death.
Read Dean’s obituary, “Missionary Called Home,” on page 9 of the July 16, 1961, issue of the Pentecostal Evangel.
Also featured in this issue:
• “Tragedy on a Thailand Canal,” by F.A. Sturgeon
• “Going Up to Jerusalem,” by Don Mallough
• “A Day in the Life of a Missionary’s Wife,” by Mrs. O.B. Treece
And many more!
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