Archive for April, 2010

Agnes Ozman and the Topeka Outpouring

27 April, 2010

On January 1, 1901, Agnes Nevada Ozman became the first member of the student body at Bethel Bible College in Topeka, Kansas to receive the baptism of the Holy Ghost and speak in tongues. Her experience historically marks the beginning of modern Pentecostalism and becomes a significant flashpoint from which the initial revival spread through the school, which produced the first band of Pentecostal workers, who spread their message throughout Kansas to Texas and beyond.

According to her autobiography, What God Hath Wrought, Agnes Ozman was thirty years old when she received the Holy Ghost. In many ways, her experience at Bethel was the culmination of a lifetime of spiritual seeking. As a girl, she had attended a Methodist Church with her family and appreciated “the joy, rejoicing and shouts of victory.”

At the age of 20, Agnes Ozman became very ill with La Grippe (influenza) and pneumonia. At the worst point of her illness, Ozman believes that she “traveled the way to heaven” but was sent back on the strength of her Methodist pastor’s prayers, who believed God had more in store for this young Christian woman. After much prayer, Agnes did miraculously recover. Fully convinced that God had spared her to accomplish a greater purpose in her life, Agnes centered her life on her faith. She joined the Young Women’s Christian Association (YWCA) and participated in a Bible study group where she learned the “Bible teachings” on water baptism, the Second Coming of Christ, and divine healing.

In 1892, she joined Thomas Corwin Horton’s Bible school in St. Paul, Minnesota. Horton was a Presbyterian, who was deeply involved in the work of the YMCA. Horton was also strongly fundamentalist, and his school was permeated with his dispensational premillennialist ideas, which must have greatly inculcated Ozman.

In fall of 1894, Horton announced his intention to take up evangelism, and Ozman again began looking for another Bible school to attend. She settled on Albert B. Simpson’s Bible School in Nyack, New York. Simpson was the founder of the Christian Missionary Alliance and maintained a strong position on Wesleyan holiness, teaching students that after conversion there remained a second crisis of sanctification that removed the carnal nature and which he equated with the baptism of the Holy Ghost.

Eventually, Agnes returned to her family in Nebraska. On her way West, she stopped at John Alexander Dowie’s Chicago work and received prayer and healing from “chills and night sweats.” In Nebraska, Agnes Ozman continued the type of mission work that she had done in New York and encountered Charles Fox Parham, who was holding meetings in Kansas City. Parham, a former Methodist Episcopal minister who stressed divine healing, planned to open a Bible College in Topeka, Kansas. Ozman fleeced the Lord for her fare and received two separate donations of $5.00 from “one sister.” Certain that God was directing her to Topeka, she purchased train tickets and arrived at Bethel Bible College, along with some other Kansas City companions, in October 1900.

At Bethel, Ozman achieved the zenith of her spiritual experience, receiving the baptism of the Holy Ghost during a late-night tarrying service at the school. In a 1922 letter to Eudorus N. Bell, Ozman claims that she did not understand tongues to be the evidence of the Spirit prior to her infilling: “Before receiving the Comforter, I did not know that I would speak in tongues when I received the Holy Ghost for I did not know it was Bible. But after I received the Holy Spirit speaking in tongues it was revealed to me that I had the promise of the Father as it is written and as Jesus said.” She continues:

The next morning after receiving this mighty gift, I was accosted with questions about my experience the night before . . . I pointed out Bible references to show that I had received the Baptism as 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 . . .

Agnes Ozman’s initial experience was particularly unique in the annals of early Pentecostalism. Even after a night’s sleep, Ozman was unable to speak English the following morning. According to Parham, her speaking in tongues continued for three days. Attempting to communicate with the inquisitive students, she says that she motioned for a pencil: “When I began to write, I wrote characters of other languages and joyed [sic] with the Lord talking in tongues. Some of the writing has been interpreted and is a wonderful message.” Parham believed the characters to be Chinese. In an interview with The Kansas City Times, Parham also claimed that other Spirit-filled students were now able “to write by inspiration.”

The night after commencing speaking in tongues, Ozman’s utterances were understood by a Bohemian, who heard her speaking in a service at the school’s mission in downtown Topeka. This incident confirmed to the Parham and his students that at least some of the tongue-speaking were intelligible foreign languages. Certainly, Parham believed that this was the method by which the Spirit would aid the Church in the evangelization of the earth.

When the Bethel school disbanded, Agnes Ozman continued Gospel Missions work. Later, she met and married Philemon M. LaBerge, and both were ordained ministers of the General Council of the Assemblies of God. Like so many early pioneers of Pentecostalism, she consistently demonstrated an insatiable hunger for God and a desire to be completely surrendered to the work of His Kingdom. Her experience at Bethel became a powerful precedent for the fledgling Apostolic Faith movement and encouraged many others to wade into the deeper waters of Spirit-filled revival. Despite the fact that she never received the revelation of the Mighty God in Christ, Agnes Ozman’s role as a key player in the recovery of the apostolic teaching of tongues as the Bible evidence of Holy Spirit baptism should not be forgotten. The cloven flames of Pentecost have spread from the Bethel’s turrets in Topeka to a global wildfire, and the power of the Holy Ghost, evidenced by speaking in tongues, which first ignited in the soul of a thirty-year-old pioneer of the plains, now burns in the hearts of multiplied millions.

Frank W. Sandford and the Holy Ghost and Us Society

8 April, 2010

In the summer of 1900, Charles Fox Parham, founder of the Bethel Bible School in Topeka, Kansas, the birthplace of the modern Pentecostal Movement, journeyed throughout the United States visiting various Christian utopias and Bible centers in an effort to identify a community which replicated the Apostolic experience of the New Testament Church. One stop on this spiritual odyssey was Frank Sandford’s commune in Durham, Maine called Holy Ghost and Us Society. Sandford’s work, which he founded in the 1894, emphasized missionary work, sanctification, divine healing, and eschatology, which must have resonated deeply with Charles Parham, who had left the Methodist Episcopal Church to pursue these selfsame teachings. Ultimately, Frank Sandford, like so many other utopian leaders, turned out to be a religious megalomaniac and a dogmatic despot. His Holy Ghost and Us Society was embroiled in deep controversy, and Rev. Sandford was eventually imprisoned for his radical abuse of power and people.

Frank Weston Sandford, who was born in Bowdoinham, Maine on 2 October 1862, graduated from Bates College and attended seminary at Cobb Divinity School, a Freewill Baptist institution. He was ordained and assumed the pastorate at the Baptist Church in Topsham, Maine. He also became the principal of the Topsham schools (Fogarty 88).

Despite his Baptist training, Rev. Sandford became greatly interested in the Higher Life Christian movement and eventually embraced the Holiness teaching of Dwight Moody, founder of the Moody Bible Institute in Chicago, and A.B. Simpson, organizer of the Christian Missionary Alliance. Sandford became a confirmed premillennialist and adopted an impassioned vision of end-time missionary evangelism. In 1893, Sandford claims to have received a brief directive from God: “Go!” In response, he resigned his position at the Baptist Church and organized the Holy Ghost and Us Bible School. In 1894, Sandford and his associate Charles E. Holland broke ground in rural Durham, Maine for the headquarters of his commune, which Sandford claimed as ground zero for the “World’s Evangelicazation [sic] Crusade on Apostolic Principles.” (“Holy Ghosters . . .” 11).

In 1896, Sandford completed the centerpiece of the Holy Ghost and Us compound, the Temple of Truth. The magnificent buildings were constructed by students at the commune at a price of $100,000. Above the Temple flew the flags of the United States and Britain, along with a third banner representing Israel (Fogarty 88). These standards symbolized Sandford’s acceptance of the notion of British Israelism, or the belief that Anglo-Saxons are the direct descendants of the Jewish diaspora and are the rightful heirs of God’s promises. Interestingly, Charles Parham also embraced this idea and was an avowed Zionist.

At the time of Parham’s visit to Sandford’s work, the commune was in its heyday with over 600 residents. Eventually, branch missionary centers were established in New York and Jerusalem, Palestine. But as the intensity of the work increased, so did Sandford’s hubris. One detractor listed Sandford’s outrageous self-assignations as:

Apostle, prophet, overseers of the world’s evangelization, baptizer of all God’s true sheep . . . Elijah—the restorer of all things; and forerunner of the Messiah’s second advent; David, who is to rule the whole earth and prepare the throne for the Messiah; the ‘Branch’; High Priest of the Melchisedech priesthood; and first and chief of the two witnesses . . . (qtd. in Fogarty 91-92)

Conditions in the Holy Ghost and Us Society greatly deteriorated after 1900. Sandford began requiring frequent extended fasts from both food and drink, generally lasting 72 hours. Only pregnant mothers and the sick were permitted to break declared fasts after 36 hours. Even babies were denied food or drink during periods of abstinence (Fogarty 90-91).

In 1904, Sandford was indicted after the death of Leander A. Bartlett, a fourteen-year-old boy who died on 25 January 1903 of diptheria while being forced to fast. According to court records, Bartlett was also denied medical attention because of Sandford’s belief in divine healing (“State of Maine v. Frank W. Sandford”). Ultimately, Sandford was acquitted of manslaughter charges, but he was fined $100 for cruelty to his son, John, who was also forced to participate in communal fasts (Fogarty 92).

Sandford’s most serious trouble involved missionary excursions on the opulent yachts owned by the Holy Ghost and Us Society, aptly named Kingdom, a sobriquet for the Durham community, and Coronet, taken from one translation of Revelation 6:2: “ . . . and a coronet was given unto him, and he went forth conquering and to conquer.” In July 1910, the captain of the Kingdom, A.K. Perry, was arrested after a civil suit was brought against Perry and Sandford by Mrs. Florence Whittaker, wife of one of Sandford’s missionaries, who claimed that she and her four children were detained on the yacht against their will after returning to the United States from a missionary trip to Palestine. (“Special to the NYT” 7 ).

In October 1911, Sandford’s demise was sealed when the Coronet arrived in Portland, Maine after several months at sea with a starving crew and passengers. According to reports, all were reduced to a skeletal state by starvation. Six died and were buried at sea during the voyage, and Rev. Sandford was arrested for the death of one Charles Hughey. He was tried, convicted, and sentenced to ten years in the federal prison in Atlanta, Georgia. At his sentencing, the delusional Sandford reportedly smiled and said: “I am glad to be just where I am. I am still in His work, and as soon as I reach my new level I shall begin to dig in. In fact, I am even now engaged in my work” (“Sandford to Serve . . . “ 5).

Frank Weston Sandford was released from prison in 1918 and died in 1948 in relative obscurity. His missionary society waned considerably following his arrest, but the church continues today as Shiloh Church in Durham, Maine. Sandford’s vision of worldwide evangelism was never fully realized by the group he formed. But, Charles Fox Parham, who may have adapted some of Sandford’s earlier ideas in the establishment of his own Bible school in Topeka was instrumental in igniting and stoking the missionary fire that spread the Pentecostal message around the globe. Though Parham admired Sandford’s efforts, he returned to Kansas persuaded that Sandford’s work was about to be eclipsed by an even greater Apostolic restoration. On 1 January 1901, the Spirit fell at Bethel Bible College, and the Holy Ghost and Us was indeed superceded by God’s greatest end-time work—the Holy Ghost in Us!

Sources:

Fogarty, Robert S. All Things New: American Communes and Utopian Movements, 1860-1914. Chicago: Univ of Chicago Press, 1990.

“HOLY GHOSTERS STARVING :Red Star Liner Lapland Sends a Boatload of Food to the Coronet.. ” New York Times (1857-1922) 2 October 1911 ProQuest Historical Newspapers The New York Times (1851 – 2006), ProQuest. Web. 12 Dec. 2009.

“SANDFORD TO SERVE TEN YEARS IN PRISON :Shilch Leader Smiles as He Is Sentenced for Causing Six Deaths on Yacht Coronet. STARTS FOR ATLANTA, GA. Gets Maximum Imprisonment on One Count, Five Others Continued -Crowd Bids Him Good-Bye.. ” New York Times (1857-Current file) 19 December 1911 ProQuest Historical Newspapers The New York Times (1851 – 2006), ProQuest. Web. 12 Dec. 2009.

Special to The New York Times.. “HOLY GHOSTER ARRESTED :Master of Sanford’s Barkentine Kingdom Under Bonds on Mrs. Whittaker’s Suit.. ” New York Times (1857-1922) 26 July 1910 ProQuest Historical Newspapers The New York Times (1851 – 2006), ProQuest. Web. 12 Dec. 2009.

STATE OF MAINE v. FRANK W. SANDFORD. SUPREME JUDICIAL COURT OF MAINE, FRANKLIN 99 Me. 441; 59 A. 597; 1905 Me. 3 January 3, 1905, Decided.