Into All the World: Azusa Missionary Efforts

For the earliest Pentecostals, the outpouring of the Holy Ghost signaled God’s greatest restoration of apostolic power to the end-time Church. Spirit-baptized believers responded with urgency to the call to carry the Full Gospel message to the uttermost parts of the earth. While some well-intentioned messengers ultimately failed in their missions due to poor planning, lack of resources, and unanticipated language and cultural barriers, we certainly cannot fault these zealous saints who were willing to forsake all to spread the news of salvation abroad.

Azsua served as an important center of Pentecostal missionary work. Like the Jerusalem of Pentecost, turn-of-the-century Los Angeles was a multicultural metropolis with men “out of every nation under heaven” (Acts 2.5). Many visitors to Azusa recognized the languages of their homeland spoken by ecstatic believers; and initially, tongues were viewed as a tool that missionaries would be able to effectively use on the foreign field: “The gift of languages is given with the commission, ‘Go ye into all the world, and preach the Gospel to every creature’” (AF, Sep 1906, 1). In several cases, Spirit-filled believers were able to supernaturally communicate with immigrant communities. Both “Sister Anna Hall” and “Brother Lee” were able to preach the Gospel to Russians (AF, Sep 1906, 4). Initially, such empowerment was interpreted as a permanent linguistic gift for missionary work, and some launched for distant lands persuaded that they would be able to communicate the gospel through tongues: “God is solving the missionary problem, sending out new-tongues missionaries on the apostolic faith line, without purse or scrip, and the Lord is going before them preparing the way” (AF, Nov 1906, 2). Though this proved an unsuccessful assumption, there are many documented cases of glossolalic evangelism during the early period of Pentecostal revival.

Missionary support was an important priority for the Azusa believers. As early as 1906, The Apostolic Faith, official publication of the Azusa Street Mission, reported that “Hundreds of dollars have been laid down for the sending of missionaries and thousands will be laid down” (AF, Sep 1906, 1). Formal offerings were not taken, but congregants gave liberally as the Holy Spirit moved. During one Azusa service, $1200 was raised in fifteen minutes in response to the burden of Alfred Goodrich Garr and wife Lillian to carry the Pentecostal message to India (Wacker 49). These sorts of spontaneous offerings funded many of the Azusa missionaries.

Some who received the Holy Ghost baptism at Azusa were already established missionaries. S.J. and Mrs. Mead had been in Central Africa since 1885. At Azusa, these seasoned missionaries “recognize[d] some of the languages spoken as being dialects of Africa” and made plans to return to Africa with the Pentecostal message “when God has fully equipped them,” undoubtedly a euphemism for Spirit baptism (AF, Sep 1906, 3). Bro. B. Bernsten, missionary to China, received his Pentecost at Azusa and returned with zeal to Tai-ming-fu, Chih-li (AF, Jan 1908, 3).

There are numerous reports of Azusa saints being called and dispatched to foreign lands. Thomas P. Mahler left for Africa despite a prophecy delivered by A.H. Post that predicted his ultimate demise: “’I have anointed this dear one with my Spirit, and he is a chosen vessel to me to preach the gospel to many, and to suffer martyrdom in Africa’” (AF, Sep 1906, 4). Bro. Mahler was not deterred by the news and did indeed die in the field (Wacker, 83). Another band, which included Andrew Johnson, Louise Condit and Hoosier Lucy Leatherman left for the Jerusalem (AF, Sep 1906, 4). Bro. and Sis. Eric Hollingsworth left for Sweden in December 1906, and Sister Lucy Hutchins, who originally locked her mission doors against William Seymour, left for Liberia preaching the power of Pentecost (AF, Dec 1906, 3). In addition to these, a veritable worldwide diaspora flowed from Azusa, including H.M. Turney (Honolulu), Sisters Gammon, Nelson, and Mary Johnson, companions of A.G. and Lillian Garr (India and China), the Iversons (Africa), Adolph Rosa (Portugal), and Thomas B. Barratt (Norway).

The original group of Azusa missionaries birthed other ministries as the fire spread worldwide. A.A. Boddy, a vicar from Sutherland, England, received the message from T.B. Barratt in Norway and led a mighty Pentecostal revival in his homeland. The Apostolic Faith published additional reports from far-flung affiliates in Ireland, Australia, Ceylon, Canada, Scotland, and Egypt. From the tiny, dilapidated mission at 312 Azusa Street, God sent forth laborers into the vineyard, full of the Holy Ghost. These selfless saints were fearless, faithful, and unflappable in their commitment to the Great Commission. In the words of a favorite Azusa anthem: “O spread the tidings round, wherever men are found, the Comforter has come!”

Wacker, Grant. Heaven Below: Early Pentecostals and American Culture. Cambridge, Mass: Harvard University Press, 2001.

Matthew Shaw is a librarian at Ball State University. He lives in Muncie, Indiana with his wife, Brandi, and his four sons. He attends River of Life Church.

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