The Miracle Of Azusa
By Wayne E. Warner
It was 1907, and Chicago pastor William H. Durham had traveled halfway across the country by train on a personal mission. He had read about an outpouring of the Holy Spirit in Los Angeles, and he wanted to see it for himself Not only that-he wanted to experience the blessing and anointing for Christian service that others said they received there.
Had Durham read and believed reports in the Los Angeles Daily Times, he would have stayed in Chicago. Scorn and ridicule dripped from the Times reports, which told of a “new sect of fanatics breaking loose” in
what the reporter called a “tumble-down shack” in the industrial area at 312 Azusa St.
“The devotees of the weird doctrine practice the most fanatical rites, preach the wildest theories and work themselves into a state of mad excitement in their peculiar zeal,” read the front-page story of April 18, 1906.
Fortunately, Durham wasn’t willing to trust secular reporters for spiritual discernment. He arrived in Los Angeles hungry for spiritual renewal.
Turning off San Pedro Street onto the short block of Azusa Street, he picked up his pace until he stood before the old, two-story building at NO. 312. Once an African Methodist Episcopal church and later a stable, the Azusa Street Mission wasn’t much to look at, as the Times reporter had written. But the appearance meant little to the Chicago preacher.”As soon as I entered the place, I saw that God was there,” Durham wrote.
Hundreds of people were there, too; yet he noted that it appeared nobody was in charge. “The Holy Ghost seemed to have perfect control. My soul melted down before the Lord,” he said.
Durham was only one of thousands who traveled to Los Angeles in that first decade of the new century to humble themselves, fall on their faces at the old plank altar, “tarry” in God’s presence and receive the Pentecostal experience of the baptism in the Holy Spirit.
A day at the Azusa Street Mission could begin at 9 a.m. and run continuously until after midnight. Even then some were reluctant to go home and would stand under a street light to talk about the Lord and
what was happening.
Nobody knew what to expect in a service because they believed that the Holy Spirit, as Durham said, was in charge of every detail. Vigorous singing and hand clapping could abruptly end after only 15 minutes; at other times it would shake the rafters and stir the neighborhood for two hours or more. Favorite songs included “The Comforter Has Come,” “Fill Me Now,” “Joy Unspeakable’ and “Love Lifted Me.”
A.C. Valdez, an eyewitness, said the crowd at times seemed to forget how to sing in English. “Out of their mouths would come new languages and lovely harmony that no human being could have learned,” he
At other times the congregation became as quiet as Quakers, reverently waiting on God with only sobs and whispers. it was common fare to hear testimonies of how God drew people to the mission-sometimes by visions for a threefold purpose: to save them, sanctify them and baptize them in the Spirit.
Such was the case one Sunday morning when 2i-year-old Ernest Williams came to see what was going on. “The front of the mission was packed with seekers and persons trying to assist them,” he wrote, describing the altar call at the end of the meeting. Williams, who had been taught that he was already sanctified and baptized in the Spirit, questioned what he saw; yet he was spiritually hungry.
“On the brink of turning away, a great check came over my spirit,” he said. “Then I began to seek earnestly.”
Williams was baptized in the, Holy Spirit a few weeks later. He entered the ministry and later served the Assemblies of God for 20 years as the general superintendent.
A Cradle of Expectancy
This month marks the 90th anniversary of the earthquake and fire that took 503 lives and caused $350 million in damages to the city of San Francisco on April 18-19, 1906. Pentecostals and charismatics like to picture the outpouring of the Holy Spirit in Los Angeles during the very same week as a spiritual earthquake-but with a much happier ending.
To acknowledge that happy ending and understand the significance of the Azusa Street Revival, we must look at the times and at some of the main characters in what has been called the greatest outpouring of the Holy Spirit in history.
Although Charles Fox Parham’s Bible studies and prayer meetings in Topeka, Kansas, during the winter of 1900-01 are considered the beginning of the modem Pentecostal movement, it was from Los Angeles five years later that the movement was launched into worldwide recognition.
Parham, an itinerant preacher and a former pastor of Methodist churches, formed the Pentecostal teaching that included what was called the “initial evidence,” meaning that people who are baptized in the Holy Spirit will speak in tongues. That experience, Parham taught, was to give power for Christian service, as illustrated in Acts 1:8 and other passages.
During his itinerant preaching in the Midwest, Parham went to Houston, where he set up a short-term Bible school. Although Texas practiced segregation, Parham allowed a young black Holiness preacher named William J. Seymour to sit in the doorway of the meetings so he could hear the Pentecostal teachings. That friendship would play a pivotal part in the spread of Pentecostalism a few years later.
Meanwhile, in Los Angeles-a growing City Of 230,000-a mounting number of believers were keeping in touch with what was happening in faraway Wales. There, the great Welsh Revival was affecting Europe and countries around the world. At prayer meetings in homes and churches across Los Angeles from 1904 to 1905, believers were growing in their faith that God would move in their city, too.
Frank Bartleman, a writer who chronicled Azusa events, wrote prophetically in 1905: “Los Angeles seems to be the place and this the time, in the mind of God, for the restoration of the church.”
Into this cradle of expectancy came the unknown and humble Seymour, a son of slaves. He had been invited to Los Angeles to assist a black pastor, Julia Hutchins, in her Holiness mission.
To Seymour it was a “divine call.” He assumed the Holiness church could hardly wait to hear his message that speaking in tongues is the initial evidence of the baptism in the Holy Spirit-though he had not yet spoken in tongues himself.
He was wrong. In fact, he found himself locked out of the church. But the message burned in his soul. He found an audience in the Edward Lee home where he was staying, and then at Richard and Ruth Asberry’s
home at 214 N. Bonnie Brae St.
There, integrated congregations prayed for revival, and they learned of speaking in tongues from Seymour.
On April 9, as Seymour was about to leave the Lee home for the Asberry house, Edward Lee engaged him in a conversation about speaking in tongues. Afterward, he and Seymour prayed, and Lee received the baptism in the Holy Spirit. That news shot the levels of faith and excitement to new highs over at North Bonnie Brae Street. Soon several in the Bible study spoke in tongues. Bigger crowds than ever gathered in the Asberrys’ home. The house, which still stands, could hardly handle all the people. In fact, there were so many on one occasion that the porch caved in.
That’s when finding a bigger and safer building became necessary. Within a week, a pulpit, an altar and benches-all makeshift–graced what the Times called the ‘tumble-down shack.” The building at 312 Azusa St. soon had new tenants. And the rest is history.
‘This Is That’
Although the newspapers ridiculed Seymour and called him ‘an old colored exhorter blind in one eye” (he was 35 when he arrived in Los Angeles), Seymour rode out the persecution and became the primary leader in the Azusa Street outpouring.
Some would say that Seymour and the outpouring at the mission were successful because he urged the people to lift up Jesus. “Don’t go out of here talking about tongues; talk about Jesus,” he would say.Others believe the key was Seymour’s humility. “It was the wonderful character of this man whom God had chosen that attracted the people to keep coming to the humble meeting,” wrote Azusa staff member and former newspaper reporter Glenn A. Cook.
Still others point to Seymour’s belief in the unity of the body of Christ. Unlike Houston and other Southern cities, Los Angeles did not practice segregation.
Still it was unusual to see blacks, whites, Hispanics, Asians and other groups worshipping together under the same roof, as they did on Azusa Street. An early photo of the staff shows blacks and whites, men and women-all in leadership. Educational, financial and social standings meant little to Seymour and the faithful.
“It is not an insignificant fact that a black man, W.J. Seymour, provided [Azusa’s] leadership,” Azusa scholar Cecil M. Robeck Jr. wrote recently, “and that everyone sensed a form of equality as sisters and brothers seeking God together.”
Despite the apparent good the services were accomplishing, trouble began to brew. When huge crowds began to attend the services, ministers of other churches warned their parishioners to steer clear of Azusa Street. Some tried unsuccessfully to get the police to shut down the mission.
Joseph Kelley, a missionary to the Philippines who was in the United States at the time, came to the meeting to expose the “tongues business.” But he went away with more than he bargained for. Because he made the mistake of stating his purpose when he arrived, the humble but bold Pentecostals focused their prayers on him and his “wrong spirit.”
One Spirit-filled woman approached Kelley and began to speak in a language she did not know. Kelley nearly fell off his chair. She had spoken the language of a hostile Philippine tribe located in the interior of Mindanao where he had ministered!
After Kelley humbled himself and repented, a second woman came to him and spoke in another Philippine dialect, assuring him “this is that”which was foretold in Scripture (see Acts 2:16, KJV). Kelley “prayed through,” as it was called, and received the baptism in the Holy Spirit.
Walking the Talk
Those who came to 312 Azusa St. between 1906 and 1909 heard Christ’s Word to His disciples to love one another. They heard messages emphasizing repentance, salvation, worship, healing, deliverance from demonic possession, holy living and baptism in the Spirit.
They were stirred, as well, to evangelism and practical ministries outside the church. They took literally the command to go out into “the highways and hedges” of Los Angeles and other cities.
Azusa eyewitness A.C. Valdez, who later became a well-known evangelist, told of his mother’s ministry to prostitutes and Skid Row alcoholics. “My mother visited the slums, playing her guitar and singing sacred songs. [She] heard the troubles of many lonely and depressed people and usually introduced them to Christ,” he said.
other women would arm themselves with Bibles and anointing oil and walk from house to house looking for people in need. When they found a sick mother, they would anoint her and pray. Then they would volunteer their services in the name of the Lord, doing the dishes, cleaning the house and looking after the children.
George Studd, who had been a member of the famous English cricket team, the “Cambridge Seven,” and the brother of missionary C.T. Studd, was drawn to the Azusa meetings-though not by the gifts or outward
manifestations. “It was the grace and the Christlikeness which I saw on the baptized ones whom I knew,” Studd wrote. He was baptized in the Spirit and gave away his inherited fortune to Christian causes.
Cecil H. Polhill, a second member of the Cambridge Seven and a missionary with China Inland Mission, learned of the Azusa Street Revival and came to visit Studd in 1908. Polhill too was baptized in the Spirit. He took away a blessing from the old mission but left one as well: He paid off the building’s indebtedness.
Nobody will ever know all those who were drawn to 312 Azusa St. or the thousands who were touched by the fire of Pentecost and then scattered to the ends of the earth. But among them were:
Lucy Farrow, the “anointed handmaid” who was born in slavery but with Seymour brought the Pentecostal message from Houston and later took it to Liberia;
Clara Lum, whose reports in the Azusa Street Mission’s Apostolic Faith paper whetted the spiritual appetites of people worldwide;
Florence Crawford, who after hearing God say to her on a dance floor, “Daughter, give me thine heart,” served the mission during the early months and then took the message to Portland;
Charles H. Mason, who received the baptism in the Holy Spirit and turned the Church of God in Christ into a Pentecostal blaze;
Gaston B. Cashwell, who returned to the South with the Azusa message and saw several Holiness organizations turn Pentecostal, including the Pentecostal Holiness Church, the Fire Baptized Holiness Church and the Pentecostal Free-Will Baptist Church;
Contractor Arthur Osterberg, who helped clean out the old mission and built the altar and benches, and then later became superintendent of the Southern California District of the Assemblies of God;
Jennie Evans Moore, reportedly the first woman in Los Angeles to speak in tongues, who became an effective Azusa minister and evangelist, and later the wife of William Seymour;
Those who assisted at the Azusa mission or took the fire to other missions in Los Angeles, such as Elmer Fisher, William Pendleton, George Eldridge, Louis Osterberg, George Berg, Glenn Cook, R.J. Scott and scores of others.
A Flood of the Spirit Obviously, the revival was neither a complete restoration of the church nor the “latter rain” promised prior to the return of Christ. Few from that generation are now alive, and we yet wait for Christ’s return. But despite its failings and human mistakes-common to every awakening-Azusa was a revival of major proportions.People sought God as they had never done before. The Bible came alive to them. Thousands were convicted and came to Christ. Segregationists saw that “the color line was washed away by the blood,” as Bartlemansaid.
Believers were baptized in the Holy Spirit and received power for service. And a widespread movement was, launched to reach out to lost and hurting people around the world.
The fire that blazed on Azusa Street from 1906 to 1909 radically affected its generation. The good news is that the flames are still burning.
WAYNE E. WARNER is the director of the Assemblies of God Archives in Springfield, Missouri, and was formerly a pastor. He is the author of Kathryn Kuhlman: The Woman Behind the Miracles and the editor of a compilation of sermons by Smith Wigglesworth, The Anointing of His Spirit, both published by Servant.
THE ABOVE MATERIAL WAS PUBLISHED IN THE APRIL 1996 ISSUE OF CHARISMA MAGAZINE, PAGES 37 – 41. THIS MATERIAL IS COPYRIGHTED AND MAY BE USED FOR STUDY AND RESEARCH PURPOSES ONLY.