The Azusa Street Mission Revival
By Fred J. Foster
FROM HOUSTON TO LOS ANGELES
It was 1906, and W. J. Seymour, a black minister, had just received an invitation to conduct a meeting in Los Angeles, California. Not realizing the significance of this appeal, he pondered the strange happenings of the past few weeks. He had been attending the Houston Bible School, conducted by C. F. Parham, and was convinced that although he had thought he was baptized in the Holy Spirit, he actually was not. Being a Holiness preacher, he testified to being saved and sanctified, and considered this the Holy Ghost experience. Now, upon close observation of the Word of God, and a severe scrutiny of the experience of those in the Bible School, he realized that he was not filled as the early church had been. Earnestly he began seeking the Lord to be filled as the disciples of old were.
Now today, this letter of invitation had come. It was from a small black Nazarene church, to whom he had been recommended by a black sister who had recently visited in Houston, and who had been deeply impressed with the humility, preaching and capability of Seymour. Upon arrival in Los Angeles, she had mentioned him to her church, which at the time was seeking an evangelist.
Feeling God in it all, Seymour made necessary arrangements, and caught a train into the unknown west. Sunday morning was to be the first service, and with the turn of events it would also be the last. The preacher chose as his text Acts 2:4, and proceeded to tell the congregation that the Scriptural evidence of receiving the baptism of the Holy Spirit was speaking in another language as the Spirit gave the utterance, just as the early church had done on the day of Pentecost.
This ignited a wave of protest, and when Seymour returned for the afternoon service, the door was locked against him. The verdict was that the new doctrine was heresy, and if he was to preach it he would have to preach elsewhere.
As yet he had not received the Holy Ghost either, but he knew that if he preached anything he must preach this truth. Alone in a strange city, with a message no one seemingly wanted, he slowly turned away, but resolved as to the course he must take.
A man standing there, by the name of Lee, couldn’t bear to see him turned away homeless, and invited him to his home. It was an uncomfortable feeling for Seymour and the Lees–he penniless, and they, only out of courtesy, with an unwanted guest. (1)
After several days of praying together, the Lees began talking to their guest, and then a Baptist couple, Richard and Ruth Asberry, invited Seymour to conduct prayer meetings in their home at 214 Bonnie Brae Street.
Things began happening in these prayer meetings, as hearts hungrily sought the blessings of God. Then on April 9, 1906, Lee and six others were rapturously filled with the Holy Ghost, speaking in other tongues. Like a prairie fire it began sweeping out to others, and for three days and nights the service continued, with hundreds of all races pushing into the little house to see what was going on.
Many, as they would step inside, would commence to speak in other tongues, so powerful was God’s presence. One testimony by a woman healed of cancer said, “People came from everywhere. By the next morning there was no getting near the house. As the people came, they would fall under the power, and the whole city was stirred. The sick were healed and sinners were saved just as they came in.” (2)
Then on April 12, 1906, the man who had started it all was mightily baptized in the Holy Spirit. It has been said that during this three–day service the house actually shook under the violent praising of a hungry people. (3)
THE BEGINNING AT AZUSA STREET
After Seymour had received his filling, he realized they must move from the house, as the crowds were so large. A diligent search was made, and there was found at 312 Azusa Street an old building which had formerly been a Methodist church. The two story frame building had recently been a tenement house on the second floor, and on the lower floor was one large room. Located in the vicinity of a tombstone shop, some stables and a lumber yard, no one would complain of all-night meetings.
This was to be the building to house the great three-year revival.
Frank Ewart said, “The writer contacted many of the preachers and workers at Azusa Street in those early days. The news spread far and wide that Los Angeles had been visited by a sweeping revival after the order of that which struck the world on the Day of Pentecost. The conditions that are counted necessary for a real revival were all wanting. No instruments of music were used. None were needed. The choir was substituted by what was called the ‘Heavenly Choir.’ This singing service was literally inspired by the Holy Ghost. This was perhaps the most supernatural and amazing thing about the meetings.
“Bands of angels have been seen by those under the power of the Spirit at such times of heavenly visitation. Here was one choir without a discord. No collections were taken, but eyewitnesses said that
Brother Seymour would go around with five and ten dollar bills sticking out of his pockets, which people had crammed in, unnoticed by him. Food was brought in from day to day for the workers, but no one inquired as to its source. God was recognized as the giver of all, and received all the glory and praise.” (4)
One witness, writing of that momentous day, said: “Travelers from afar wend their way to the headquarters at Azusa Street. There they find a two-story white washed store building. You would hardly expect heavenly visitations there unless you remember the stable at Bethlehem. But here they find a mighty Pentecostal revival going on from 10:00 o’clock in the morning until 12:00 o’clock at night. Pentecost has come to hundreds of hearts.” (5) While services were not in progress many were in prayer, so day and night the deep heart-searching, soul-stirring and genuine devotion was felt at Azusa Street Mission.
One of the astonishing and outstanding things about these meetings was the numbers from so many different churches attending. From everywhere, and from almost all churches in existence, they would come. It had to be what they experienced from God and what they were learning about Him, as there was nothing else to draw them.
“Considering the nature of the services, this success was quite remarkable. Seymour, the recognized leader in the early months, was most unpretentious and humble. He generally sat behind two empty boxes, one on top of the other. He usually kept his head inside the top one during the meeting in prayer. There was no pride there. (6) The speakers, sermons, and subjects were not scheduled in advance, and the meetings followed no formal program. Those in attendance never knew what was coming, since everything was seemingly done more or less spontaneously.” (7)
THE SECRET BEHIND IT ALL
There was a secret behind all this, though. There always has to be. God does not come with torrents of blessings unless the price has been paid. In this case, there was to be no missing of the mark.
“A prominent place was given to prayer. The people customarily gathered for an undirected period of prayer before the services commenced. Seymour, upon finishing preaching, would fall upon his knees and begin to pray. Without encouragement, the congregation would follow for long periods of supplication.” (8)
Faith for healing ran high, and seekers for healing were usually taken upstairs and prayed for in the prayer room. Many were healed there. There was a large room upstairs that was used. A brother fittingly describes it this way: “Upstairs there is a long room furnished with chairs, and three California redwood planks laid end to end on backless chairs. This is the Pentecostal upper room where souls seek the Pentecostal fulness and go out speaking in tongues.” (9)
“For three years the revival continued, going on day and night without a break.” (l0) No one had dreamed of such an outpouring of the Holy Spirit, especially in such a humble place, but in that period of time people from every continent visited this mighty heaven-sent revival. Nothing like this, with such far reaching significance, had ever happened in the twentieth century Pentecostal movement, and for this reason the Azusa Street revival is commonly looked upon as the stroke God used to spread the influence of the baptism of the Holy Ghost experience to much of the United States and several countries of the world. “After some time, Seymour was replaced by men of more natural ability, and the races no longer mixed in services, but the flame was spreading far and wide.” (11)
“The pioneers at Azusa paid a price for their Pentecostal experience. They fought a fierce battle with the pride that asked, ‘Can any good thing come out of such a grotesque situation?’ They survived the inevitable doubts that plagued them during moments when fanatical elements threatened to take control. They stood firm against the storm of opposition that swept down upon the little group. It was because of these lionhearted men and women, whose hunger for God and intellectual honesty caused them to accept the Pentecostal message when it was despised by every branch of Christendom, that Pentecost is fulfilling its destiny today.” (12)
Thwart, “Phenomenon of Pentecost,” p. 37.
2 Frodsham, “With Signs Following,” p. 32.
3 Brumback, “Suddenly From Heaven,” p. 36.
4 Ewart, “Phenomenon of Pentecost,” p. 40.
5 Frodsham, “With Signs Following,” p. 33.
6 Bartleman, “How Pentecost Came to Los Angeles,” p. 58.
7 Kendrick, “The Promise Fulfilled,” p. 66.
8 Frodsham, “With Signs Following,” p. 34.
9 Ewart, “The Phenomenon of Pentecost,” p. 42.
10 Pentecostal Evangel, April 6,1946, “When the Spirit Fell,” p.7.
11 Bartleman, “How Pentecost Came to Los Angeles”; Frodsham, “With Signs Following,” p. 35-40.
12 Brumback, “Suddenly From Heaven,” p. 47.
THE ABOVE MATERIAL WAS TAKEN FROM 20TH CENTURY PENTECOSTALS, AND PUBLISHED BY WORD AFLAME PRESS, 1980, PAGES 56-62. THIS MATERIAL IS COPYRIGHTED AND MAY BE USED FOR STUDY & RESEARCH PURPOSES ONLY.