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Arvid Ohrnell: Pioneer Assemblies of God Prison Chaplain

Ohrnell

Arvid Ohrnel standing (left) with a man in a prison uniform at a banquet; circa 1955

This Week in AG History —November 9, 1958

By Glenn W. Gohr
Originally published on AG News, 08 November 2018

Arvid Ohrnell (1891-1963), who served as the first National Prison Chaplain for the Assemblies of God in the U.S., was born in Vadstena, Sweden. He was bullied in his youth, so he began lifting weights and exercising in order to defend himself. His plan worked, and he was able to escape further bullying. After seeing how children and grown-ups can be mistreated, he decided to dedicate himself to helping outcasts and the downtrodden. He committed his life to Christ at age 14.

In 1911, Ohrnell entered school at H. S. Enkoping and studied theology, psychology, mathematics, penology, journalism, and languages. He was baptized in water in 1915, and the next year he was baptized in the Holy Spirit.

In 1916, Ohrnell lived in Gothenburg and began preaching the gospel. The fall of 1917 he moved to Uppsala and opened a butcher shop. One day a man from Långholmen Prison in Stockholm came to the door. He had just been released from prison, and he was looking for a job. Ohrnell gave the man food and provisions to help his family and also helped him to find employment. This was his first contact with prisoners. He came to realize that it was very difficult for ex-prisoners to gain people’s confidence and to be accepted back into society.

Ohrnell attended Bible school at the Filadelfia Church, the flagship Pentecostal congregation in Stockholm, and was ordained there on Dec. 2, 1919. Soon after this, he pioneered churches in Gustafs, Borlange, and Palsboda, Sweden.

Next he felt called to pursue opportunities in journalism. He wrote articles for newspapers in Norway, Denmark, Germany, and Austria. He also was instrumental in the creation of a prison division for the Swedish Pentecostal movement. Because of his work in penology, he completed five books on prison work, two of which were used as texts in European universities. He published a number of pamphlets and booklets, including In the Evening of Time and Cell No. 3: A Prisoner’s Life Stories, as well as several Bible study courses. His works have been published in English, Swedish, Norwegian, and Spanish.

His prison work carried him to Germany and eventually to Prague, Czechoslovakia, where he was advised by a friend that he could have a much greater influence among outcasts and prisoners if he were to minister in a democratic society. So in 1925, Ohrnell immigrated to the United States.

He arrived in Chicago and began holding services for a group of Swedish people. Later he served as chairman of the Independent Assemblies of God (a Pentecostal group formed by Scandinavian-Americans) and was assistant editor of their newspaper. While in Chicago, he met Anna Astrid Larson, a Swedish immigrant herself. She was a 1924 graduate of Rochester Bible School. They were married in 1929. In 1933 he moved to Seattle, Washington, where he pastored the Philadelphia Church and also visited the local prisons.

By 1935, he had gained so much respect in the institutions that he visited, that the governor of Washington appointed Ohrnell as the state prison chaplain. This was the opportunity of a lifetime. As state prison chaplain, he was not content just to preach to inmates. He wanted to educate them while in confinement and help with their rehabilitation upon release. He took a personal interest in every inmate he met. He eventually interviewed thousands of prisoners and accompanied 32 men on their “last walk” to the place of execution. Twenty-seven of these had accepted Christ while in prison.

Ohrnell transferred his ordination to the Assemblies of God in 1937. After 16 years as chaplain for Washington State penal institutions in Walla Walla and Monroe, he accepted a position as the first national prison chaplain for the Assemblies of God in 1951. He saw this as an opportunity to extend his work to hundreds of prisons and thousands of inmates. He developed and expanded prison ministry in the Assemblies of God. He wrote extensive letters to inmates and their families, as well as to prison and government officials. He prayed and counseled with inmates in many states, distributed countless Bible study courses, and became a true friend to prisoners everywhere. Refusing to ever retire, he worked tirelessly on behalf of outcasts and prisoners until his death in 1973.

Sixty years ago, in an article titled, “Touring the Prisons,” National Prison Chaplain Arvid Ohrnell gave a report of visiting 11 state prisons, three county jails, and 40 Assemblies of God churches during a four-month period. Ohrnell left Springfield, Missouri, in May 1958 and did not return until the end of September. He preached, gave out hundreds of Bibles, as well as hundreds of Bible study courses, and Freedom leaflets, and a few Bible dictionaries. Glowing testimonies were reported in each place he ministered. Today, Chaplaincy Ministries are a part of AG U.S. Missions.

Read “Touring the Prisons,” by Arvid Ohrnell on pages 16-18 of the Nov. 9, 1948, issue of the Pentecostal Evangel.

Also featured in this issue:

• “Israel’s 10th Anniversary,” by Louis H. Hauff

• “Turning the Wide-Angle Lens on Latin America,” by C. L. Carden

• “The Importance of Prayer,” by J. Bashford Bishop

And many more!

Click here to read this issue now.

Pentecostal Evangel archived editions courtesy of the Flower Pentecostal Heritage Center.

Further information can be found in “Arvid Ohrnell: The Prisoner’s Friend,” on pages 8-13, 30-31 of the Fall 1997 issue of Assemblies of God Heritage magazine.

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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Lewi Pethrus: Swedish Pentecostal Pioneer

This Week in AG History — Aug. 3, 1958

By Glenn W. Gohr
Originally published on AG News, 3 August 2018

Sixty years ago delegates from the U.S. Assemblies of God as well as representatives from many other Pentecostal organizations were preparing for the Fifth World Conference of Pentecostal Churches scheduled to convene in Toronto, Canada, at the Coliseum Arena of the Canadian National Exhibition, September 14-21, 1958.

An article in the Pentecostal Evangel announced that the opening speaker on Sunday morning would be Lewi Pethrus, the well-known pastor of the Filadelfia Church in Stockholm, Sweden. Even though Pethrus had hosted the fourth Pentecostal World Conference in Stockholm three years earlier, it was important to introduce him to the readers of the Evangel.

Lewi Pethrus (1884-1974) was a former Baptist pastor in Sweden who became the leader of Pentecostalism in Sweden. The article gave an overview of his highly successful ministry. It said at that time he was 74 years old and the pastor of “what is believed to be the largest Protestant church in Europe.” His church was organized in 1910, starting with 29 members. By 1958, according to the article, the church had an “adult voting membership of 7,000 and has a major responsibility in the support of 400 overseas missionaries.” The building could seat more than 4,000.

In addition to his preaching activities, the article said Dr. Pethrus, in 1916, “initiated the publication of Evangelii Harold (Gospel Herald), a religious weekly with a circulation of 60,000.” It was reported that in 1945, in collaboration with Karl Ottoson, a Swedish industrialist, Pethrus “founded Dagen (The Day), a daily secular newspaper which in 1958 had a circulation of 25,000 and was sold on newsstands throughout Sweden.”

He also founded the Filadelfia Church Rescue Mission, the Filadelfia Publishing House, and the Filadelfia Bible School.

In an effort to assist Christians in money matters, in 1952, Pethrus took the lead in establishing a savings and credit bank which could help to finance many church projects. Pethrus also won a moral victory in 1955 when the Swedish government radio system held a monopoly on broadcasting. They reserved the right to censor content of religious broadcasts and also forbid the establishment of any private radio station. Lewi Pethrus took steps to organize an independent radio association to broadcast from Tangier, North Africa. The government tried to block his efforts, but when the matter was discussed in the Swedish Parliament, after much debate, he received approval to use this radio station to send broadcasts into Sweden.

IBRA Radio (now IBRA Media), international Christian broadcasting and media group founded by Lewi Pethrus, currently broadcasts Christian programs to more than 100 countries, including Sweden.

Lewi Pethrus continued as pastor of the Filadelfia Church until his retirement later that same year in 1958. He remained an active voice in the Pentecostal movement until his death in 1974 at the age of 90.

Read more about Lewi Pethrus in “Swedish Leader to Preach at World Conference,” on page 15 of the Aug. 3, 1958, issue of the Pentecostal Evangel.

Also featured in this issue:

• “Crisis in the Classroom,” by Charles W. H. Scott

• “Pentecostal Outpouring in Rangoon,” by Glen Stafford

• “A Man With a Jug of Water,” by Victor R. Ostrom

And many more!

Click here to read this issue now.

A pictorial report of the “Fifth World Conference of Pentecostal Churches” can be found in Oct. 26, 1958, issue of the Pentecostal Evangel on pages 8-11.

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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Prominent Novelist Sven Lidman Shocked Sweden by 1921 Conversion to Pentecostalism

Lidman_728
This Week in AG History–March 12, 1927
By Darrin Rodgers

Also published in PE News, 12 March 2015

When Sven Lidman (1882-1960), one of Sweden’s most prominent authors, accepted Christ as Savior and was baptized at the leading Pentecostal church in Stockholm in 1921, it seemed as though the entire nation took notice.

Lidman was born into great privilege. He received a classical education and he earned a law degree from the University of Uppsala. He spent several years in the military and then studied the Italian language and literature. By 1920, he was an acclaimed author and had published 13 books and collections of poetry.

In fact, Lidman could have been considered a renaissance man. His writing explored family issues and sexuality, philosophy and ethics, and religion and politics. He cultivated relationships with the leaders of his day, and his early life was steeped in worldly pleasures.

Despite Lidman’s background, his conversion to Christ was not entirely unexpected. For years, he had experienced a deep spiritual struggle. He felt deep inner longings that could not be satisfied with brandy, tobacco, and women. He openly shared this struggle through his pen, most notably by authoring in 1920 an annotated translation of St. Augustine’s Confessions . Lidman closely identified with this fifth century Christian theologian who abandoned a life of youthful sin and who used his testimony to proclaim the transformative power of the Gospel. Lidman would soon follow in Augustine’s footsteps.

However, it came as a shock to many that Lidman cast his lot with the Pentecostals. Lidman could have easily joined a respectable Lutheran congregation of the State Church of Sweden. Instead, Swedish Pentecostal leader Lewi Pethrus baptized him at the Filadelfia Church.

Lidman’s conversion was widely covered by the nation’s press and became an ongoing topic of conversation at dinner tables across Scandinavia. The Christian press in other corners of the world also trumpeted this news.

Why did Lidman join the Pentecostals? Lidman’s conversion to Pentecostalism, according to a March 12, 1927, Pentecostal Evangel article, occurred because “Lidman is no half-way man.” Lidman would not settle for anything less than genuine, historic, biblical Christianity. “He believes in the power of Christ’s blood and redeeming death to save from sin,” the article continued. “He believes in a whole dedication to the Christian witness.”

Lidman rejected the notion that his conversion consisted merely of “a series of processes in the subconscious.” Rather, he maintained that “real conversion” to Christ was “the consequence of meeting with a supernatural power.” True Christians who have encountered and submitted to God’s power, Lidman wrote, are living sacrifices. “It is only upon the whole offering on the Lord’s altar that His fire falls,” he declared.

Lidman illustrated this theology of full consecration with his own testimony. At first, Lidman was not willing to surrender all of his ways to God. Early in his Christian life he defended his use of brandy and tobacco. But he recounted how his mind changed after an encounter with a man who had suffered the ravages of alcoholism. He realized he could not calmly stand before an alcoholic and say, “Drinking is an adiaphoron, a matter of indifference, and not a sin per se.” He could no longer in good conscience say, “There are many splendid and real Christians who are not abstainers.” Lidman came to believe that saving faith should permeate every aspect of a Christian’s life. Lidman submitted his destructive habits to God, and God took away his desire for alcohol and tobacco.

Although Lidman was an intellectual, he grew disenchanted with certain intellectual fads of his day. He had the independence of mind to challenge prevailing cultural assumptions and instead wanted something real. And reality, for Lidman, was the living Christian faith that he found in the Pentecostal church. The Pentecostal baptism in the Holy Spirit, he wrote, “is a full-blooded reality and no pale intellectual ideal.”

Lewi Pethrus asked Lidman to become editor of the leading Pentecostal magazine, Evangelii Härold . Lidman accepted and served in that position from 1922 until 1948. Lidman became a popular Pentecostal preacher, and countless people accepted Christ through his voluminous writings. Lidman became the second best-known Pentecostal in Sweden, after Lewi Pethrus.

The article concluded by noting that Lidman encouraged both education and heartfelt faith. While some “rationalists” and “revivalists” seemed to believe that faith and understanding are mutually exclusive, Lidman asserted that Christians need both. “I know not how the forces of cold and darkness can ever be driven from the heart save through revival Christianity. They can never be cultivated away,” he wrote. “But after revival has gone ahead with its spring break-up of ice and frost the work of education begins.” According to Lidman, education is a work of the Spirit.

Sven Lidman’s profound influence on Swedish Pentecostalism may have faded from the memory of many American Pentecostals, but his testimony and writings continue to challenge readers to seek the fullness of God. Lidman had the world but found it wanting. Like Augustine before him, the Swedish novelist and intellectual found that only Jesus could satisfy his deepest longings.

Read the article, “The Witness of a Swedish Novelist,” on pages 4 and 5 of the March 12, 1927, issue of the Pentecostal Evangel.

Also featured in this issue:

* “Reminiscences of a Faith Life,” by Marie Burgess Brown

* “African or Scriptural Brick,” by Arthur S. Berg

* “The Blood,” by J. Narver Gortner

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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