It always brings me great pleasure when we take the time to celebrate Black History Month. While there are many people who argue against such a celebration, the history behind Black History reveals a conscious need to share with others the many contributions of African Americans in this country. In doing so, we remind ourselves that racism and discrimination are great evils that must always be addressed and eradicated, both from our minds and our hearts. No entity in the Earth has a better need to remove this stain of sin than that of the Church. In honor of Black History Month, I want to share with my readers the remarkable story of William J. Seymour, a Pentecostal Apostle.
The son of former slaves, William Seymour was born in 1870 in Louisiana. His father served in the Civil War, after the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation. He grew up in extreme poverty, and experienced first-hand the injustices that surrounded people of color. He learned to read and write, and eventually took his knowledge beyond Louisiana. By 1905, he began his mission of knowing the truth behind Pentecost and the moving of the Holy Spirit.
In that same year, William Seymour joined Charles Parham’s Bible school in Kansas. Parham was the founder of the Apostolic Faith Movement, where he taught his students about the baptism of the Holy Spirit with the evidence of speaking in tongues according to Acts 1-2. In spite of its Christian foundation, the school was subjected to segregation laws, which affected Seymour’s ability to sit in the classes with the other students. But this did not dissuade his strong desire to know more. Rather than leaving the school, he sat outside the building and heard the lessons through the opening door. His ability to acquire knowledge rapidly enabled Seymour to begin teaching others. Soon, he and Parham would hold joint meetings in other areas, ministering on the power at Pentecost.
In 1906, exactly 110 years ago, Seymour was invited to Los Angeles to preach about the baptism of the Holy Spirit. Although he had not received the infilling at the time, he believed so strongly in it that others were eventually compelled to believe, and therefore they received. While many rejected him because they did not understand this message, a few received him because they hungered for a revival. After being rejected from preaching further in the church that invited him, Seymour abode with Edward Lee, a janitor; and this is where he would eventually lead a small group of African Americans in prayer. Their hunger and thirst for God touched Heaven, and many were baptized in the Spirit and began to speak in other tongues. Soon, hundreds of people, both White and Black, flocked to the home where Seymour preached, and revival sparked.
Before long, the numbers grew too large for the small house, and the people then moved to 312 Azusa Street in Los Angeles. Reporters and other critics came to the meetings where the people spoke in “weird babel of tongues.” And what was meant to mock the movement eventually brought greater attention to it. Soon, thousands crowded the church building on a daily basis. Services were held seven days a week, three times each day…a total of 21 services each week! This revival for God continued for three years. Seymour’s messages were eventually transcribed and prepared in publications, which spread throughout the nation. A great number of God’s Generals received their call and the baptism as a result of Seymour’s meetings. He was a spiritual leader and father to men and women, boys and girls, Black and White. In his meetings, “The blood of Jesus washed the color line away.” Such a great testimony of the goodness of God!
As with so many revivals, the end of this great era came; but not without having its profound effects. At the time, Seymour prophesied that in 100 years, the Lord would send another revival, greater than what was seen in the early 1900s. That time is now!
It is recorded that as many as 600 million people were brought into the Kingdom of God as a result of the Azusa Street Revival, a movement started by an African American man’s desire to see the true riches of God. A man that the world counted as less than human. A man who society deemed as godless. This man embraced the call of God, and through his humility and shame, became an Apostle of Pentecost to California, to the United States, and to the entire world.
We must remember that it is not what is on the outside that matters, but what is inside that counts. And as we seek to fulfill the will of God, we must remain humble, for then we will experience such an outpouring as that in Seymour’s day.
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