“Our history is filled with the power of people’s transformation stories.”
On July 1, 2017, we will be celebrating our 150th birthday as a nation. I admit, studying Canadian history was not among the top 100 things I appreciated in my Grade 10 history class. I found it monotonous compared to the tales of European monarchs and wars, or to the history of our tumultuous neighbours to the south. However, my perspective has evolved into a deep appreciation for the rich history of this country. Our shared historical narrative is filled with exciting stories of adventure, risk, heroism, and iconic moments that have galvanized us as a nation. And, as Michael Clarke points out in his book Canada, Portraits of Faith, many of the stories that helped shape our nation involved people of faith.1 Sadly, we also share in some very dark moments. Our collective actions have not always been a source of national pride.
The year 2019 will mark the 100th anniversary of the PAOC, and we have a similarly rich history to celebrate. Over the past few months, I’ve reacquainted myself with Thomas Miller’s book, Canadian Pentecostals, A History of the Pentecostal Assemblies of Canada. Reading the stories of people like Hebden, Chambers, Argue, Ward, McAlister, Purdie, Upton, Cantelon and Price has given me a deep appreciation for the history of our Fellowship. There was, in each person’s story, a burning desire to share the Story—no matter what the cost. Missions and evangelism were at the heart of the movement. Their personal encounters with the Holy Spirit compelled them to share their story with all who would listen.
One of the remarkable aspects of those pioneer Pentecostals was their willingness to experiment with new ways of spreading the gospel. Radio was in its infancy in the 1920s, but far-sighted men and women recognized its potential for reaching the masses. In 1924, Dr. Charles Price broadcasted his Sunday sermons. In Winnipeg, Watson Argue and a group of young people conducted regular services over a local station at 10 dollars per airing. In 1929, Clifford Nelson began weekly radio broadcasts in Lethbridge called the “Sunshine Evangel Hour,” which continued for 25 years. R. E. McAlister’s radio programs from London reached all of Southwestern Ontario. Technology and innovation provided new platforms to proliferate the gospel message. 2
Our early pioneers—including people like Gus Story, whom Miller calls “zealous laymen”—were also willing to go to the hardest unreached areas of the country. He writes:
“Pentecostal pioneer Walter McAlister fondly recalled the story of Gus going to the secretary of the Canadian Bible Society in Saskatoon and asking him which was the ‘hardest’ community in the province. When told it was Herschell, Gus went there, visited all the homes and farms, invited people to the meetings, and began to preach. As McAlister put it, ‘Gus was more a farmer than a preacher himself, but he had a great desire to see souls saved.’ One of the converts from those meetings was Jim Routley, whose family considered him the ‘black sheep.’ Jim Routley afterwards entered the Pentecostal ministry.” 3
Frank and Mable Harford had a vision to take the gospel to people living in logging and fishing camps, mining towns and native reservations along the Pacific coast of British Columbia. Miller tells us: “When their vision was presented to the District Conference in 1939, both leaders and laymen responded generously with financial support. A grant from the PAOC in Toronto enabled the Harfords to purchase a 32-foot fishpacker which they converted into a ‘Gospel Boat.’ Harford became the ‘Skipper’ who took the full gospel to needy souls along the West Coast.” 4
Women also played a key role in the early days of the Pentecostal movement. In the early 1920s, two Halifax women attended Aimee Semple McPherson’s meetings and brought back news of the Pentecostal awakening. Mattie Crawford, a Spirit-filled Baptist evangelist, held a two-week campaign in Halifax in 1925. “Thousands attended her services and many were converted, healed and baptized in the Spirit.” 5
Miller tells the story of Evangelist Ray Watson, who had been a bank robber before his conversion. In Bathurst, New Brunswick, he put up a large banner proclaiming his transformation “From Bank Robber to Pulpit” and began holding services in an empty rented store. “The local clergy refused to co-operate, but the services soon became the talk of the people in the shops, the mills, and even on the streets. Numbers of curious listeners were soon converted, filled with the Spirit, and baptized in water. Altogether, there were an estimated 150 converts in the city as result of the two-week campaign.” 6
Our history is filled with the power of people’s transformation stories. Which brings us to the present. We can all share our transformation story. Greg Laurie, in his book Tell Someone, says, “Everyone who has put his or her faith Jesus Christ has a testimony. Granted, some are more dramatic than others, but every story is valid, including yours…. A person can argue all day with you about certain facts. But they cannot argue with your personal story of how you came to faith.” 7
My home church in Burlington has started producing two-minute videos of people’s transformational stories. They are being shown every two weeks as part of the worship gatherings, shared on social media platforms, and are engaging people in our community on multiple levels.
Laurie reminds us, “Our story is the bridge, not the destination. The point of sharing your story is so you can tell His story: His love for humanity, His death on the cross, and His resurrection from the dead.” 8
As we approach our 150th birthday as a nation, there are countless stories to be told. And we, as a Fellowship of churches, stand on the spiritual stories of our past—stories of farmers and fishermen, boxers and bank robbers. Why not add your own story of transformation to the narrative and let it have an eternal impact?
Just open your mouth and tell someone.
Brian Egert is Mission Canada director and assistant to the general superintendent of The Pentecostal Assemblies of Canada. He and his wife, Beverly, live in Burlington, Ont.
- Michael D. Clarke, Canada, Portraits of Faith, 2nd ed. (Reel to Real, 1998).
- Thomas W. Miller, Canadian Pentecostals: A History of the Pentecostal Assemblies of Canada (Mississauga: Full Gospel Publishing House, 1994), 144.
- Ibid., 142.
- Ibid., 148.
- Ibid., 167.
- Ibid., 168.
- Greg Laurie, Tell Someone (Nashville: B&H Publishing Group, 2016), 81.
- Ibid., 87.
Image ©istockphoto.com. This article appeared in the May/June 2017 issue of testimony, the bimonthly publication of The Pentecostal Assemblies of Canada.