The remarkable ministry of Leona Williams started with a miracle in 1921. She was 8-year-old Leona Berndtson then, the daughter of Swedish immigrants. Before her eyes, her mom received Christ and was completely healed of both asthma and tuberculosis.
Two years later Leona’s mother, Florence, along with Leona and her younger brother, Norman, packed their Model T Ford and drove from Denver to Los Angeles. Their trek would bring them closer to the person who had shared with them the message of hope and healing, Aimee Semple McPherson, and to a new spiritual home, Angelus Temple.
Leona reflected on her humble beginnings in her book, A Heart for the Lost: “Mother began to assist Sister Aimee at Angelus Temple, and I grew up seeing the mighty hand of God on the thousands of people who were touched at the temple. Early on I knew I would also serve God in some capacity.”
And serve God she did. As a student at Life Pacific College (also known as LIFE Bible College), she met Karl Williams. A year after graduation, in 1935, the couple married and moved into ministry, pastoring the Foursquare church in Norwalk, Calif.
Their first child, Mary Louise, was born in 1939, and their second daughter, Norma Lee, was born six years later. Family was central to Leona’s life but ministry never suffered. Whether teaching in the local church or taking numerous missions trips to encourage Foursquare missionaries, the family ministered together.
Their first missions trip occurred before Mary Louise was born. Karl and Leona decided to meet a young Leland Edwards and his family in Panama. Three years later, they went to Puerto Rico, where they saw the need for a Foursquare work. They rented a store, cleaned it up and held evangelistic crusades. By the time they left, a new church had been birthed.
Dozens of other trips followed in nations around the globe. Karl and Leona’s heart for the lost only deepened. These experiences also solidified a growing hunger to provide God’s written Word to the mission field.
Leona faithfully served as president of United Foursquare Women from 1969-1976. As she and her husband grew older, however, the opportunity to fulfill their desire to produce gospel literature arrived.
After recovering from surgery, Karl, according to Leona, “was feeling old, left out and passed by.” Not one to feel sorry for himself, Karl took his needs to prayer and heard a clear reply: “The next 10 years will be the best years of your life.”
Using the equipment left from a disbanded press, Karl and Leona started up their new ministry venture in a small garage in Downey, Calif. In May 1981, Foursquare Missions Press (FMP) was born.
With a dedicated group of volunteers and the support of a few friends and churches, FMP began to grow. Karl and Leona put their hearts and finances into the ministry, with Karl speaking and compelling others with his passion, and Leona serving in the office, writing missionaries and national leaders, translating tracts into Spanish and keeping meticulous files.
Many milestones were reached: 50 million tracts sent. One million tracts to a single country. Twenty-five languages printed. Soon, with better equipment and a larger staff, the unthinkable goal of 100 million was achieved in 1995. FMP had become what Karl and Leona had envisioned: a major resource for the Foursquare family around the world.
After Karl’s death in 1996, Leona took an even more active role at FMP and began volunteering four days a week. Whether she worked in the office, communicated with donors or contributed her wisdom and experience, her presence was a steady and guiding influence.
Leona shared Karl’s heart for lost souls and a keen desire to get the message of God’s hope in as many languages and to as many people as possible. Her lifetime of dedication to ministry was recently honored by her alma mater, Life Pacific College. And just weeks before her death on July 9, 2006, she received an honorary doctorate to an extended standing ovation in the very place where it all began, Angelus Temple.
One of Leona’s ongoing desires was to see FMP literature distributed to Vietnam. She learned before her death that the ministry was finally getting the opportunity to commit large resources to this nation.
To honor this mission, Leona’s family has established the Leona Williams Legacy Fund, which will annually support a special literature project. The first project will be Leona’s longtime dream to assist some 200 underground/house churches in Vietnam.
One communication well-expressed Leona’s global reach by stating a clear truth: “There are countless souls that will come up to you and Karl in heaven and thank you for the sacrifice that you have made to get the Word to them.”