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My Trip to Azusa Street
"Actually finding Azusa Street was remarkable—even more significant was what the Lord said to me there."

Mission impossible

It wasn't until we had begun our search for Azusa Street that my friend told me he was horrible at directions. With me acting as navigator in the passenger seat, and being equally inept at directions, I thought finding the actual Azusa Street was akin to "Mission: Impossible"! Mixing 18 million people, thousands of streets and at least 60 minutes of travel time to get to "Little Tokyo" (the section of Los Angeles where Azusa Street can be found) was sure to be a recipe for disaster.

… one might imagine it differently than it really is. Azusa Street was dumpy and messy …

After two wrong turns onto interstate highways that took us the wrong direction and two stops for directions we found ourselves in the general area of Azusa Street but for all intents and purposes we had been unsuccessful in our search … or so we thought. "O.K. we're lost, thanks anyway—it was worth a shot," I said to my friend, "just pull in here, turn around, and we can get on with our day." Little did we know that by pulling into the first available side-street to make a three point turn, we would be poking the nose of our rental car into the most significant spot in the history of the Charismatic-Pentecostal movement.

"Look at the street sign, this is it, we've found it!" I exclaimed. We found it by fluke, yes, but found it none the less. My friend, an ordained church consultant for the United Church of Canada, was less enthused about finding Azusa Street as he was about getting off the ultra-busy Los Angeles highways.

While the driver regained his composure in the car, I was respectful of the piece of land onto which my feet would now be placed. Having heard about Azusa Street for most of my life I was eager to get out on my own and look around, but what I found was disappointing. Azusa Street is a short (200 feet) street, a stub of road poorly kept, dotted by old buildings and hidden away behind factories—nestled in the heart of an industrial park. Azusa Street should not necessarily be surrounded by a well-manicured boulevard but one might imagine it differently than it really is. Azusa Street was dumpy and messy, crowded with 18-wheelers; the conversations amongst those who drive them punctured that calm Los Angeles morning.

This was it!

But this was it: Azusa Street! Where, in April 1906, a black Methodist preacher by the name of William Seymour relocated his revival services after his house meetings at 214 North Bonnie Brae Street became packed out. It was here where the Pentecostal fire fell boldly and mightily and where the services lasted from 10 A.M. every morning and continued until 12 A.M. the next day for three years. It was here that services were described as "a continual upper room tarrying … like a continual camp meeting or convention (where) all nationalities met on a common level"

It was at this very street, "where men and women flocked to these meetings from all parts of the globe" and upon this hallowed ground that "the Lord graciously healed many sick bodies, where people were slain under the power of God and arose speaking in new tongues. It was in these meetings where you saw the Holy joy of the Lord upon their countenances." It was at Azusa Street where a Los Angeles Times reported stood and described those being blessed, in his words, as "breathing strange utterances and mouthing a creed which it would seem no sane mortal could understand." The reporter went onto write:

"The newest religious sect has started in Los Angeles where the devotees of the weird doctrine practice the most fanatical rites, preach the wildest theories and work themselves into a state of mad excitement in their peculiar zeal."

It seems revival is so easily misunderstood by the world.

It was to Azusa Street, in 1906, where "R.E. McAlister, a young holiness preacher attended the meetings out of personal interest, and was possibly the first Canadian to receive the Pentecostal baptism." After returning to Canada, it was this same man, R.E. McAlister, who established the first Pentecostal Assembly in Kinburn, Ontario, near Ottawa in 1911—the old white 'A-frame' building still stands today.

Those who attended the Azusa Street revival were not numbered among society's upper echelon; not the rich, famous or influential of their day but rather a "rag tag assembly of fringe groups, first known as the 'Apostolic Faith,' (who) emerged from store-front missions and second-storey halls to attract the notice of the religious world with its surprising growth." Indeed, the surging growth of the Pentecostal/Charismatic movement has been the leading phenomenon in Christendom since the beginning of the 20th century and it started at Azusa Street.

Few people are still alive today who remember the Pentecostal outpouring of the Spirit at the Azusa Street Mission. But certainly the world has seen the results of that powerful series of meetings.

Themes of Pentecost

According to author Grant McClung, early Pentecostalism featured these basic elements:

  • Priority of event

  • A mood of expectancy

  • Fullness of life in the Holy Spirit

Without a doubt those who experienced the revival in Acts 2 exhibited these characteristics: placing a priority upon events where Christ is exalted, coming with a mood of expectancy and awe toward the presence and power of God and desiring to live a life enjoying all the fullness of the Holy Spirit.

Certainly we would all agree that these elements from Pentecost were consistent with the Azusa Street revival. But can we claim these elements as describing our churches today?

Remember the early Church

For about 400 years the early Church ran well. About that time they backslid into the Dark Ages. They had lost the Holy Spirit's anointing, there was an absence of spiritual gifts, no power, little joy—all seemingly was lost. The Church "became a prodigal, left the Father's house, and settled for feeding swine." They had stopped going forward and were now wandering in circles. Satan learned he could not destroy the early Church by killing them; for every martyr another two would spring up. So he offered them titles, positions, salaries, expense accounts, profits of many kinds-and they fell for it. We must avoid the same trap today at all costs!

Whenever we stop going forward and keep on the offensive for God, we stop and die as a people. It is obvious that a movement no longer functions as a movement when it stops moving—be it the Holiness movement, the Pentecostal movement, or any other. To ensure the blessings of Pentecost, and Azusa Street for that matter, we must move on with God in unity; and keep our priorities in check. We must work for the kingdom of God as a whole and not as individuals. This is a major lesson from the early Church.

The still small voice

While standing on Azusa Street, it was as if the Lord asked, "Why have you searched to find this place when you can have revival in your own church?" In my quietness that day the Lord scolded me. The Lord went on to say, "this was a divine outpouring that ignited Pentecostal fire in the United States, are you prepared to pay the price to see it continue in Canada?" The serenity of the moment was pierced by a honking horn. My friend wanted to get going. After hearing this from the Lord, I wanted to get going too.

My church will only experience another Pentecost if I am willing to pay the price and provide leadership to that end. Our fellowship of churches will only experience another Pentecost if we congregations are willing to pay the price to see it happen. Every church leader, both clergy and laity will have to come before God with a mood of expectancy and anticipation that He will meet us. As McClung aptly states, early Pentecostalism was "Christianity standing on tip toe expecting something to happen."

By finding Azusa Street, God said to me, and it is apropos for all of us: "Stop searching for God where He was, because when you find it, you may be disappointed," just as I was disappointed with a messy, congested Azusa Street. Anticipate the presence of God in your church services and in your life. Cultivate anticipation for God and allow Him to move powerfully in your midst. Seek God where He may be found and when you meet Him you will never forget it.

Richard Burton is the Senior Pastor at Calvary Pentecostal Church in Carleton Place, Ontario.

Originally published in Testimony, March 27, 2003.




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