Oral Roberts: The (almost) Missionary to Palestine

Oral Roberts has a famous life story.  In fact, he rehearsed this story over and over in his preaching and in his five autobiographies.  But there is one story that has never been told. Oral Roberts was almost a missionary to Palestine.

Oral Roberts was ordained in the Pentecostal Holiness Church  by Bishop Dan T. Muse at the age of 18 and launched out as an evangelist in 1936.  He married Evelyn in 1938 and after a few years of struggling as a traveling evangelist, Roberts decided to try pastoring in 1941.

OR family 1941sm

By fall of 1942, Roberts was pastoring the Pentecostal Holiness Church in Shawnee with great success. He also enrolled in Oklahoma Baptist Unviersity because he wanted more education. But after a couple years,  Oral began to feel restless (as he often was in this time) and left Shawnee in 1945 to pastor a church in Taccoa, GA. It was a disaster and just a week later, Roberts decided to return back to his home town of Ada in Oklahoma.

Not having a church to pastor and struggling with two small children, Roberts apparently turned to a new calling. The October 18, 1945 Pentecostal Holiness Advocate made this announcement.

“Rev. G. Oral Roberts came before the Board having been called to labor in Palestine. The names of Mr. and Mrs. Roberts are being placed upon the list of our accepted missionaries for Palestine.”

In January 1946, Roberts enrolled in East Central State College in Ada to prepare for his new found calling as a missionary to Palestine. He also traveled on weekends to to revivals to try to provide for his family

It is unclear how long Roberts had been thinking  about being a missionary. We do know he  had a lifelong fascination with Israel. In 1941, Roberts wrote his second book, Drama of the End Time which talks about Israel’s role in Bible prophecy, a subject he often preached about. In his later ministry, Roberts had a ministry to Israel and even printed Hebrew Bibles to distribute in the Holy Land. (See Eric Newberg’s great article here). The post WWII momentum toward the creation of a state of Israel may have also played a role in that calling.

But apparently, that calling was short lived. By the end of the month of January, Roberts appears to have abandoned that calling as he accepted a call to pastor in Redford, Virginia, likely at the suggestion of his friend Bishop J. A. Synan who had been holding evangelistic meetings at the church. Roberts stayed only two months in Virginia and moved back to Oklahoma.

He never mentioned being a missionary again. Instead he  returned to evangelistic work and helped to found Southwestern Pentecostal Holiness Bible College in Oklahoma City, OK. He  re-enrolled in Oklahoma Baptist University to finish his degree in preparation to serve as faculty at the college. In September 1946, Roberts moved to Enid and enrolled in his third college, Phillips University.  Of course, as the famous story goes, in June 1947 he left the church and started his healing ministry. And the rest is history.

To my knowledge, Roberts never mentioned wanting to be a missionary in any of his tellings of his life story.  In fact, in the 1995 autobiography, Expect a Miracle, Roberts talks about that time frame and his troubles in Taccoa, but never mentions wanting to be a missionary to Palestine. He admitted he struggled with depression and feelings of emptiness in ministry during this era. One has to wonder if he was simply trying to find happiness and thought that being a missionary would fulfill that need?  Why didn’t he go?  No one knows for sure.

What we do know is that for three short months, Oral Roberts was almost a missionary to Palestine.  And by all accounts he was headed that direction.  But apparently God had another plan. I am personally glad He did.  Had he gone to Palestine, the world would have missed out on his world-wide healing ministry and most importantly, Oral Roberts University.

 

 

Aimee Semple McPherson and the Spanish Influenza In Tulsa

In conducting my earlier research on Pentecostals and the Spanish Flu in 1918-1919 (that has since gone viral around the world through Influence Magazine ), I had wondered if there was anything about the epidemic tied to Tulsa. At that point, my searches had come up empty. However, I decided to look back on some early Pentecostal magazine articles that I had saved that mentioned Tulsa. What  I found is amazing.

Right in the middle of the ‘Spanish Influenza’ epidemic, around January 1919, a young up-and-coming evangelist by the name of Aimee Semple McPherson came to Tulsa. She was invited by  S. A. Jamieson, the pastor of 5th and Peoria Assembly, to come to Tulsa on her way to Los Angeles to conduct a meeting.

The sudden onset of the influenza in Tulsa prompted Jamieson to try to postpone the meeting since Tulsa city officials closed all public meetings. But, McPherson testified that the Spirit urged her to come to Tulsa anyway and “Start immediately,”   Turns out, the same day she arrived the ban on church gatherings was lifted and immediately she started holding services!

Report from Bridal Call, January 1919

The meeting went 22 days and was wildly successful as the Assembly of God church doubled in size. McPherson was a rising star in the Pentecostal circles and her ministry lived up to her reputation. Many came to the Lord and were healed.  One of McPherson’s strategies was to drive her “Gospel Car” around town in between meetings to pass out tracts and minister to people.

According to her own account, while she was in Tulsa, she traveled the streets ministering to “epidemic victims.” Afternoons and evenings, McPherson and her band of workers would roll through the streets and stop to minister to people on the street corners. Men and women came to Christ right on the sidewalk, as many as 20 at a time.

Throughout her two weeks in Tulsa, she testifies the that the calls to come minister to those who were sick with the influenza were “ceaseless.” She says,

“The epidemic still raging, and many having been weakened and afflicted, we stood hours at a time praying of the sick, and Jesus helped those who came to him.”

While there were no testimonies of healing reported, the fact that McPherson ministered to so many in Tulsa is a great delight to discover.

From Tulsa, McPherson stopped in Stroud and Oklahoma City on her way back to LA.  McPherson agreed to return to Tulsa in May of 1919 to hold another revival. This time she would return to a packed 3000 seat Tulsa Convention Center. This became one of the most important meetings that built the Pentecostal community in Tulsa.

As I said in my last blog, I think it is right for churches to close and to obey current regulations to protect people.  However, I am also thankful that McPherson listened to the Spirit to come, not knowing what would happen. Turns out the Spirit’s timing was perfect.   Had she not listened and the epidemic deterred her from coming in January of 1919, Tulsa may have missed out on one the of the greatest events that established the Pentecostal community in Tulsa.

 

 

Oklahoma’s Pentecostal History: Lamont

A  tiny town of 500 in north-central Oklahoma was at one time responsible for the Pentecostal revival’s spread across many parts of Western Oklahoma from 1907-1908. That tiny town was Lamont, Oklahoma. This video tells the story of Lamont and the revival of 1907-1908 that impacted the Pentecostal Movement in Oklahoma.

Lamont was the location  for the Fire-Baptized Holiness Association of Benjamin Harden Irwin in Oklahoma at the turn of the 20th century. Irwin was a holiness revivalist that taught there were three experiences: salvation, sanctification, and a fire baptism in the Holy Spirit. in 1902, the FBHA disbanded and the Lamont church was left without a group to associate with.  In 1907, Glenn A Cook left the Azusa Street Mission in Los Angeles to come to Lamont to hold meetings. There he found a group of Holiness believers (likely FBHA believers) who were hungry for the Pentecostal experience. Cook stayed two weeks with great success.  After Cook left, several other early Pentecostal leaders also came including J.H. King and G.B. Cashwell.  During the next two years, believers from all over Oklahoma came to Lamont to experience the power of the Holy Spirit. The revival moved elsewhere by 1910, but the little town of Lamont certainly made a big impact.

Here is Cook’s report from the January 1908 issue of the Apostolic Faith Newspaper.

A Directory of Early Pentecostal Papers

Since I began my studies in Pentecostal history, have come to love early Pentecostal literature. All of the students in the Bangor PhD program engage the early papers from across the spectrum of the Pentecostal movement in their dissertations. This process of “reception history,” or the examining the first hand testimonies and teachings of early Pentecostals, has given me a great love of these papers.  Almost every major Pentecostal group and leader had their own multi-page weekly or monthly paper filled with teachings, missionary reports, and testimonies of people being saved, sanctified, healed and baptized in the Holy Spirit. Through reading these papers, one can immerse themselves in the world of early Pentecostalism in a way that is not possible in any other medium.

The practice of publishing Pentecostal periodicals was not limited to early Pentecostals; it has continued to be an important part of our moment, continuing into the healing revivals of the 1950’s and into the Charismatic Renewal of the 1960s–1970s. In my role as director of the Holy Spirit Research Center at Oral Roberts University, I serve as a steward of many of these treasures in our own collection. It is one of my favorite parts of my job.  I love to thumb through the pages and read what God was doing is all corners of the earth through all of these different groups.  The HSRC has one of the most diverse holdings of Pentecostal and Charismatic literature in the world. It truly is a special place.

As I have worked to familiarize myself with the various papers and the groups who published them, I have wondered if anyone had ever made a comprehensive list of early pentecostal papers.  So far, I haven’t found one. However, I was delighted to find a list of early Pentecostal papers in one of the early papers called The Pentecost, a paper published by A.S. Copley and J.R. Flower from Indianapolis, Indiana.

In several of the 1908 editions of The Pentecost, Copley listed all of the early papers associated with the Apostolic Faith Movement.  There are, of course, many more papers in this era. But I have yet to find in these early papers a comprehensive list like this one.  Some of these titles are lost to history. Some are available to researchers through the Consortium of Pentecostal Archives: https://pentecostalarchives.org/collections/    I am hoping this list can become a seed of a comprehensive list to come.

The following is a list of papers from the  The Pentecost 1.2 (December, 1908), 12. I also attached the image and the PDF of the page containing the list. (Information in parentheses was added by me)

  • The Pentecost – Indianapolis, IN, A.S. Copley; J.R. Flower
  • The Pentecostal Witness – Zion City, IL, Thomas G. Atteberry
  • The Latter Rain Evangel – Chicago, IL, William H. Piper
  • The New Acts – Alliance, OH, (Levi Upton)
  • Household of God – Dayton, OH
  • The Bridegroom’s Messenger – Atlanta, GA, (G.B. Cashwell)
  • The Apostolic Witness – Dallas, OR
  • Trust – Elim Home, Rochester, NY
  • The Apostolic Faith – Houston, TX, (W.F. Carothers)
  • The Apostolic Faith – Portland, OR, Florence Crawford (formerly of  Azusa Street Mission, Los Angeles, CA, William Seymour)
  • The Pentecostal Record and Outlook – Spokane, WA, H.R. Bursell
  • The Apostolic Standard – Beulah Home, Doxey, OK
  • The Christian Assembly – Cincinnati, OH
  • The Pentecostal Trumpet – Denver, CO
  • The Midnight Cry – Seattle, WA
  • The Latter Rain – Watertown, NY, J.E. Sanders
  • The Spirit of Truth – Emsworth, Hants, England, W.L. Lake
  • Confidence – Sunderland, England, A.A. Body
  • The Cloud of Witnesses – Bombay, India, Max Wood Moorehead
  • Pentecostal Truths – (Chinese) Hong Kong, China, Mok Lai Chi
  • The Apostolic Light – (Japanese) Tokyo, Japan, M. L. Ryan
  • God’s Latter Rain – Johannesburg, South Africa, (John G. Lake)
  • Spade Regen – Amsterdam, Holland, G.R. Polman

I hope this list is helpful to those interested in the literature of this era. I also hope together we can better document the papers of the early Pentecostal movement.

1908_12 Directory of Pentecostal Papers

A Summer Update

It is July and I haven’t mentioned much lately about the progress on my PhD. I have had several people ask about my PhD and am I done yet.  Well, the answer is yes and no.  I finished writing my dissertation back in March and my supervisor has read it and given the OK for it to be submitted.  However, I am actually trying to submit a year earlier than my acceptance letter had indicated. So, even though I am done, I am still waiting for Bangor to approve me to submit. We are trying to work through the red tape as we speak. Meanwhile, I am just sitting here waiting, thesis in hand.  So please pray with me that I can receive favor to submit as soon as possible. After that, I can proceed on with the Thesis defense process and finally move on.  (Although at times I miss working on my thesis!)

On another note, I am also please to announce that as of August 1st, I am officially the new director of the Holy Spirit Research Center. While this was a large part of my job when I came to ORU in November, I didn’t receive my official appointment until a few weeks ago. I am so excited about this opportunity. I cannot imagine a job I would enjoy more than being the director of the HSRC.  I simply love what I do and feel so privileged to be the steward of what is perhaps the largest and most comprehensive collections of resources on the Holy Spirit in the entire world.  I praise God for his grace in bring this opportunity my way and am grateful to Dr. Mark Roberts for believing in me. I stand on incredibly strong shoulders as I take over this responsibility.

Finally, I am very excited about some other writing projects I have been working on.  I have three pieces on Oral Roberts coming out later this fall in a special edition of Spiritus: ORU Journal of Theology in recognition of the centennial of Oral’s birth.  The first is a bibliography of Oral’s works that is intended to provide scholars with a list of items we have at ORU that are available for Oral Roberts studies. The second is a historical piece I wrote with Vinson Synan about an early account of Oral’s healing that was published in the Oklahoma Pentecostal Holiness newspaper, in which his account is curiously different than his later recollections of his healing from tuberculosis.  The third article is a study of the role that the baptism in the Holy Spirit played in shaping the healing ministry of Oral Roberts.  I am so excited about these pieces and look forward to producing more studies of Oral and Oral Roberts University in the future.

What can I say except I feel really blessed right now. This season of my life is a good one for me and my family.  I am pleased to agree with Oral Roberts; “God truly is a good God.”