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ELT and EP photo in Hot Springs
Holding a historic picture from the 1914 gathering in Hot Springs, current members of the Assemblies of God Executive Leadership Team and some Executive Presbyters pose in the same place as the original photo.

Approximately 300 people gathered in Hot Springs, Arkansas, on April 10-11, 2014, to celebrate the centennial of the Assemblies of God. Echoes of the statements from the founding general council, where another 300 ministers gathered in the same place exactly 100 years earlier, could be heard throughout the two-day event.

The centennial celebration, sponsored by the AGTrust, featured seven speakers and a night of gospel music and worship. The celebration concluded with a pilgrimage to the site of the former Grand Opera House, where the first general council was held, to re-create the iconic photograph of the founders of the Assemblies of God.

One hundred years ago, Hot Springs had a reputation as a wild town, known for its alcohol, prostitution, gangs and drugs. When the founders of the Assemblies of God met at the Hot Springs Grand Opera House for the first general council, they had to pass by the saloon at the front of the building in order to attend the meetings in the auditorium. The centennial celebration was held in a more sanctified setting — the spacious First Assembly of God, Hot Springs, Arkansas, pastored by Larry Burton.

The centennial celebration drew people from across the United States. Jean and Magalie Rebecca, a husband and wife who pastor Haitian Assembly of God, Dorchester, Massachusetts, were excited to be able to participate: "We grew up in the Assemblies of God in Haiti. The Assemblies of God is a worldwide family, and we wanted to represent Haitians in Hot Springs."

Attendees also included descendants of some of the participants in the first general council, held April 2-12, 1914. Bonnie Olsen, the granddaughter of founding Assemblies of God minister Oliver P. Brann, felt right at home. She commented, "I experienced faith-filled services and the power of God this week. I wish I could experience this every day!"

General Superintendent George O. Wood opened the celebration on Thursday by recounting the five reasons for the formation of the Assemblies of God as enumerated in the century-old "Call to Hot Springs." Each speaker continued in this vein, expounding on why the founding principles of the Assemblies of God remain compelling today. Greg Mundis, executive director of Assemblies of God World Missions, shared about the heritage of missionaries who suffered, sometimes unto death, to bring the gospel around the world. Assistant General Superintendent Alton Garrison preached on the bedrock importance of the Word of God.

Hot Springs prayer
Many men and women came forward for healing during the centennial service held at First Assembly of God in Hot Springs.

True to Pentecostal form, the afternoon service included an extended time at the altar. Hundreds of voices were raised in fervent prayer, and people flooded the altars and aisles in the church. Following a time of prayer for specific areas of ministry, Garrison asked those present in need of healing to come forward for prayer. Vocal spiritual gifts were manifested, and several people later testified of physical healings.

Wilfredo de Jesús, pastor of New Life Covenant Church, Chicago, Illinois, encouraged those who are carrying on the Pentecostal legacy to fight complacency in their spiritual lives. "It is essential to build a bridge," he asserted, "so that the younger generation can learn about the power of the Holy Spirit from the older generation." He illustrated this principle with the biblical example of Elijah, the older prophet, who discipled Elisha, the younger prophet. De Jesús pointedly observed, "Elijah and Elisha were from different generations, but they walked together."

Thursday evening, gospel musicians Johnny Minick and Russ Taff led participants in three hours of rousing worship. The music included songs from each decade of the last 100 years. About 40 people - including Wood and Garrison — even participated in a Jericho March, which is a spirited procession around the church in a single file during the worship service. The practice originated in Kentucky Presbyterian camp meetings during the Second Great Awakening and had been adopted by some early Pentecostals.

On Friday morning, three younger ministers spoke — Rod Loy (First Assembly, North Little Rock, Arkansas), Rob Ketterling (River Valley Church, Apple Valley, Minnesota) and Aaron Cole (Life Church, Milwaukee, Wisconsin). They described how Assemblies of God founding ideals are being carried out today and also envisioned the future of the Fellowship.

Following the Footsteps of the AG Founding Members
Attendees of the centennial event make their way up to where the iconic "photo of 300" of the original founders of the Assemblies of God was taken in 1914. Once there, a new centennial photo was taken in the exact same place, re-creating the century-old photo.

The celebration culminated in a pilgrimage to the site where the Hot Springs Grand Opera House once stood. The 300 attendees viewed the new historic marker in honor of the Assemblies of God centennial, which was placed in the sidewalk near Mountain Valley Spring Company, located at 150 Central Avenue. They proceeded to climb the winding trail behind the site of the former Grand Opera House until they reached a small clearing where the iconic photograph from the first general council had been taken.

J. Don George, an Assemblies of God senior statesman and founding pastor of Calvary Church, Irving, Texas, called the centennial event in Hot Springs "a historic occasion that will be long remembered." He noted that the event was relatively small in comparison to the larger centennial celebration slated to be held in Springfield, Missouri, on August 5-10, 2014, in conjunction with the World Assemblies of God Congress. "As a movement we are called to generational, gender, cultural and racial diversity," George stated. When thousands of visitors from across the United States and the world descend on Springfield in August, this diversity will be on full display.

Commemorative Plaque
A historic marker, indicating the historic location of the site of the founding convention of the Assemblies of God, was placed in the sidewalk on Central Avenue in Hot Springs.

The men and women who met in Hot Springs 100 years ago laid a foundation for a cooperative Fellowship that would help Pentecostals to more effectively evangelize the world. One hundred years later, the Assemblies of God has more than 3.1 million adherents in the United States and more than 66 million worldwide.

The centennial gathering offered both a celebration of the past century and a vision for the future. According to George O. Wood, the Assemblies of God, throughout its history, "has been marked by purpose and passion." He explained, "Our purpose is embedded in our doctrine, mission, values and strategies. Our passion comes from the work of the Holy Spirit who continues to empower us to do the greatest work of evangelism the world has ever seen." Wood predicted, "The future for the Assemblies of God is truly as bright as the promises of God."

 

 


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God at work: transforming tragedy into testimony

Wed, 23 Jan 2013 - 3:31 PM CST

Full Gospel Church -- damage
Ruined drywall, carpeting and other water-logged items begin to pile up outside a side door of the Full Gospel Church of Island Park.

It wasn't a good day.

Pastor Peter Conforti and the members of Full Gospel Church (AG) of Island Park, New York, were left shocked, speechless - struck to the core. When Hurricane Sandy hit the Northeast late in October 2012, damage was expected . . . , but this. This was much more than anyone imagined.

With many of his congregants from the hard-hit areas of Island Park and Long Beach, Pastor Conforti suddenly found his church of 250 had almost instantly dwindled to 60 as some members had their homes totally destroyed or made at least temporarily uninhabitable. And unknown to them at the time, the area would mostly be without power - with the exception of generators - for the next three weeks or more.

The church building didn't escape the wrath of Hurricane Sandy either. Four feet of water sat in the parking lot with a foot of standing seawater inside the building. The parsonage (located in Long Beach) was also heavily damaged by the flooding.

"The church was on higher ground, so we never thought it would be flooded," Conforti says, a sense of disbelief still evident in his voice. "But the sanctuary, fellowship hall, kitchen, Christian education wing - all had water standing in them. When the water receded, we took out the carpet, pews . . . anything even remotely close to the floor was finished, because the sea water is so corrosive and full of bacteria, it made a mess of everything.

"One of the first things that hit me," Conforti continues, "was how inclusive the damage was - it was everybody, everybody [in the community] was under water - basements, first floors and even higher than that. Everyone was scrambling trying to find places to live, or to come back to, but for many, everything was gone."

But even as things seemed to be going from bad to worse, as freezing temperatures and a snowstorm were expected to hit the area with power still out, God was already at work.

"Convoy of Hope was here within 24 hours," Conforti says, "setting up a relief distribution center at a nearby elementary school. People also came down from the New York District office, including Chaplain Don Schneider, and churches came to help and show their support in a big way."

Yet, as Convoy of Hope began distributing emergency relief supplies, Conforti says something odd began to happen.

Full Gospel Church -- sign
People, anonymous and known, began to drop off all kinds of supplies at the church for victims.

"For some reason, people just started coming by the church and dropping off clothing and furniture for people in need," Conforti says. "Within days, we were a clothing distribution center."

As the community reeled, Conforti and Full Gospel Church became a constant. The community knew where to go for aid. After three weeks, power was restored, and the church unexpectedly transitioned again.

"When the power came back on, Samaritan's Purse contacted us - they wanted to use our church for a staging area," Conforti says, conveying his surprise. "I tried to explain that our church interior was nothing more than cement floors and exposed beams where the drywall had been ripped out. But they assured us that the church would be fine."

And so it was.

Joining with Full Gospel Church and chaplains, Samaritan's Purse brought in teams to go into homes, rip out the damaged drywall, dry out the home and then spray it for mold - at no cost.

It wasn't long before word spread about what Samaritan's Purse and Full Gospel Church were doing. More and more people came to the church to sign up for a team to come to their homes.

"The sole purpose of the Samaritan's Purse outreach was to show people God's love in a tangible way," Conforti says. "We were there as well, with chaplains from the Billy Graham organization, helping people deal with the loss and frustrations they were experiencing."

As the teams ministered to people with their attitudes and physical labor, the spiritual doors began to open. "People were asking, 'Why are you here?'" Conforti says. "And we told them, 'We're here to help you and show you God loves you, knows what you're going through and to trust Him.'"

Conforti explains that prior to Hurricane Sandy, the church had many walls and stereotypes to overcome in order to reach the community. But following the storm, where the church and ministries displayed the love of Christ through being a servant to the community, people were suddenly more receptive and open.

"Our first week of services, we had about 60 people here," Conforti says. "The next, we had about 120."

However, since the beginning of the Samaritan's Purse outreach into homes, Conforti says about 80 people have accepted Christ as their Lord and Savior. The church is also running 250 again - but the congregation is made up of a lot of new faces as many of the original families have still been unable to return to their homes or have moved from the area.

Conforti doesn't believe the church could have ever made this kind of impact upon its community through evangelism, crusade meetings or programs.

"I don't see how," Conforti says. "Even if we went door-to-door in this community - half the doors would never be opened and those that did open, once they heard where we were from, they would never listen."

He explains that once people come to realize the offer to help is legitimate and they aren't asking for anything in return, attitudes change.

"Many have seen acts of love before," Conforti observes, "but for a person to go down into a crawl space loaded with mold and scrape it out for a total stranger? That's love. And people are responding to a demonstration of love they've never seen before!

Full Gospel Church -- interior
Stripped of the "amenities" of most churches and acting as a storage area for donations, Full Gospel Church has found God doing incredible things in the community as the church places the community's needs ahead of its own.

"We prayed as a church for many years to be a lighthouse to the community and to see people come to the Lord," Conforti says. "Look at what God is doing! People know us and not in a negative way - 'You're the church that's helping the community even though you have damage to your building.' Only God can do that. He's the One that's changing hearts and minds - even when we still have concrete floor, blue tarps and wet dry wall around us."

Author: Dan Van Veen

Editor's note: Convoy of Hope is also helping families with recovery by working through churches, in conjunction with local recovery efforts and case managers, to provide insulation and sheetrock. The church is following up on Samaritan's Purse contacts with a team of 12 people and is also developing small groups to meet within the community. For those desiring to help, contact Convoy of Hope, the New York District Office or the church for additional information.

 

Keywords: AG churches

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