THE AZUSA STREET REVIVAL

Greetings! It’s time to take a break from looking at what God will do in the future and, instead, look at what He’s done in the past. Are you ready for a second post on the Azusa Street Revival? The manifestations of God’s power that took place during the revival were so spectacular that word of it spread far and wide. People from all over the world made their way to a little rundown shack of a building to see the mighty works of God. And mighty they were. Not only were there miraculous healings, but the Shekinah glory was present at every meeting. Streams of people flocked to the meetings in search of the baptism of the Holy Spirit with the evidence of speaking in tongues. And they were not disappointed. Keep reading.

THE AZUSA STREET REVIVAL

Second in a Five-Part Series
By Karen Thompson

William Joseph Seymour

For a little over three years, the mighty Azusa Street Revival took place in an old dilapidated, two-story building located in an industrial section of the city. It was originally built for an African Methodist Episcopal church. When they moved out, it was next used as a livery stable, a storage building, a tenement house, and other uses. Situated in a very humble location, the power of God was displayed for all to see in that rundown building. One of the most astonishing displays of His glory were the many people who witnessed fire on top of the building. One time, someone called the fire department to report the building was going up in flames. But when the firemen showed up, they saw no fire. In fact, there was no fire, no smoke, and not even the smell of smoke. Yet, many people said they saw the fire. The people inside the meeting heard that firemen had arrived to put out the fire. William Seymour and other famous evangelists like John G. Lake and F. F. Bosworth went outside to explain to the firemen that the fire people were seeing on top of the building was fire from heaven!1 Pretty amazing!

William Seymour’s Beginnings

The man God used to spearhead this revival was William Joseph Seymour, an African American, holiness preacher. He was a humble man with humble beginnings. Five years after the Civil War, Seymour was born on May 2, 1870, to Simon and Phyllis Seymour in Centerville, Louisiana, emancipated slaves who raised their eight children in extreme poverty.

After the Civil War (April 12, 1861–April 9, 1865), the slaves were freed following the ratification of the 13th amendment which abolished slavery in the United States. But that didn’t end the trouble for black people. As a backlash to the 13th amendment, the south immediately rebelled by enacting Jim Crow laws which legalized racial segregation. The laws were harsh and cruel and would remain intact for 100 years. The Jim Crow era is the world into which William Seymour was born. To escape the racist south, Seymour moved north to Indianapolis in 1895 when he was 30 years old. He attended a Methodist Episcopal Church and became a born again Christian. In 1901, Seymour came down with smallpox and as a result, lost vision in his left eye. He felt his reluctance to answer the call to ministry was the reason why he was afflicted. Nonetheless, he answered the call to ministry in 1901.

He bounced around for a while, moving from place to place. In the process, he met Charles Parham. Parham is known as the Father of the Pentecostal Movement. At the end of the year 1900, he and the students at his Bible school were responsible for ushering in the baptism of the Holy Spirit and the supernatural gift of tongues. Parham answered the call of God to preach this message to the world. Everywhere he preached this message, supernatural signs and wonders followed. There was a powerful revival taking place on the East Coast and Midwest.

In 1905, Parham moved to Houston and opened a Bible school, teaching and preparing students for the work of the ministry. In 1906, Seymour talked to Parham about becoming a student of his Bible school. Being that Seymour was a black man, attending Parham’s Bible school was a violation of Jim Crow laws that said whites and blacks were not to mix. Parham found a way around the laws by having Seymour sit on a chair just outside the classroom door. A humble man and hungry for God, Seymour agreed to the arrangement. Seymour was excited about Parham’s teaching about the baptism in the Holy Spirit, so much so that he began to seek God for the blessing himself.

Seymour Received an Invitation

Seymour had only been with Parham’s school for a month when he received an invitation to pastor a holiness mission in Los Angeles. The mission was founded by a woman named Julia Hutchins, who was planning to leave on a missionary trip to Liberia. Because Seymour had not yet received the baptism of the Holy Spirit, Parham didn’t think he was ready to accept the invitation. Seymour went anyway.

He packed his bags and arrived in Los Angeles on February 22, 1906. Two days later, he preached his first message at the mission. Even though he had not yet received the baptism in the Holy Spirit, his first message to the congregation was about the baptism in the Holy Spirit and the gift of tongues. Differing on a theological point, Julia Hutchins was not pleased with Seymour’s message. Seymour discovered she no longer wanted him to pastor the mission through very unorthodox means. The next time Seymour went to the mission to preach, he found the mission doors had been padlocked! 

He asked Hutchins why the doors were padlocked. That’s when Hutchins expressed her theological concern. Unfortunately, she and Seymour could not come to an agreement, so Seymour was removed from the mission pastorate. Now not only does he not have a mission, he doesn’t have a place to live! Seeing his predicament, a man named Owen Lee invited Seymour to stay with him. Lee agreed to let Seymour begin a prayer meeting at his home. The prayer group was successful and quickly outgrew Lee’s house, so they moved the prayer meeting two blocks away to the larger home of Richard Asberry, located on Bonnie Brae Street.

The members of the prayer group agreed with Seymour on the subject of the baptism in the Holy Spirit. So they all came together in agreement and began to seek for the baptism in the Holy Spirit. All the while, the prayer group continued to grow in size.

How the Revival Broke Out

On April 9, 1906, Seymour was about to leave and go to the Asbury meeting place when Mr. Lee asked him to pray for him for healing. Afterward, Mr. Lee shared with Seymour about a vision he had the night before. In it, he said the 12 apostles came to him and explained how to speak in tongues. Mr. Lee then asked Seymour to pray with him to receive the baptism in the Holy Spirit. Seymour prayed and to the delight of both men, Mr. Lee received the baptism and began to speak in other tongues! This was the first time someone had received the baptism after Seymour prayed with him.

Absolutely thrilled by what had just happened, Seymour and Lee rushed to the meeting at the Asbury’s home and related what had just happened. After the retelling, everyone’s faith was stirred. Seymour then preached his message from Acts 2:4: “And they were all filled with the Holy Ghost, and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance.” When he was done with his message, the power of God fell on those present and Seymour and seven others were slain in the spirit and fell to the floor. Just like the book of Acts, they all began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance! 3

When the Asbury’s young daughter witnessed this, she ran out of the house. Both terrified and excited, she began to spread the word of what was happening at the Asbury’s home on Bonnie Brae Street. People from the neighborhood began to gather in the Asbury’s yard to see what was happening. That’s when those inside the house went outside onto the porch and Seymour began to preach the Pentecost message.

And then a most astonishing thing happened. A woman named Jennie Moore (who would one day marry William Seymour) began to play beautiful music on an upright piano and sing in the Hebrew language. Here’s the thing… Up until that time, Jennie had never played the piano in her life! Nor could she speak in Hebrew! It was a bona fide miracle! And it wasn’t a one-time thing. She retained the ability to play the piano for the rest of her life!

The news about what had happened went out and an even larger crowd gathered on Bonnie Brae Street the next night. The crowd listened to Seymour preach from a homemade pulpit situated on the porch. The meeting continued nonstop, twenty-four/seven, for three days. No one left. People came from everywhere. It was nonstop praying, singing, and shouting to God. Throughout the three days, people were falling under the power of God and being baptized in the Holy Spirit and praying in other tongues.

There were so many people that it was impossible to get close to the house. Those that were near enough to the house began to climb onto the porch which resulted in it caving in. Thankfully, no one was hurt. Within just one week, the continuous prayer and praise and worship meeting became much too large for the Asbury’s home. The people crowded out into the yard and then flowed into the street.

In fact, the power of God at the Bonnie Brae meetings flowed into the surrounding area, a block away to Beverly Boulevard. The people walking across the street would fall out in the Spirit and began to speak in tongues. There were so many people laid out on the street that it created a traffic jam… a 1906-turn-of-the-century traffic jam made up of horses and buggies. The horses refused to step over all the people laid out in the street. It all resulted with the police telling them they couldn’t hold meetings at Bonnie Brae anymore.

They had to find another location quickly. A search was made of the area and they found a rundown, abandoned two story building on Azusa Street.

Thus, the Azusa Street Revival began!

In the next post, we’ll talk about the revival when it moved to Azusa Street!

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