On the evening of March 10, 1933, Long Beach, Calif., was struck by a severe earthquake that resulted in millions of dollars in damage and the loss of some 120 lives. I was 11 at the time and recall how moved I was when Aimee Semple McPherson mobilized Angelus Temple to reach out to victims.
While government agencies struggled to respond in Long Beach, Foursquare’s founder challenged volunteers to load their cars with food and clothing, and to go help people they didn’t even know. They were among the first on the scene, and some survivors tell me Sister McPherson’s group offered the only help they received after the earthquake.
This is my recollection of the ministry of Aimee Semple McPherson, and over the many years of my life, others have verified the same impact on their lives, as well.
Our family attended the Foursquare church in Stockton, Calif., where I grew up, and my mother played the piano in our church as well as for other churches when they invited her. One such invitation came when Sister McPherson held a crusade in Stockton. Local pastors were also invited, and Sister [as she was often called] even had reserved seating for them on the platform.
Some of the ministers resisted and refused to attend. More of them showed up, some out of full support and others simply to find out what in the world was happening to their parishioners. I’ve heard it said that ministers often showed up to fight at Sister’s meetings—but they stayed to pray.
For a while, my mother played piano at a Congregational church in Stockton whose pastor became a good friend of our family’s. Early in his ministry, Dr. Price had been quite evangelical, but he drifted away from fundamental doctrines of the faith. When a mild-mannered, stoic man in the congregation returned from Sister’s meeting filled with the Holy Spirit, Dr. Price decided it was time to put a stop to the nonsense.
He attended another of Sister’s meetings, this one in nearby San Jose. He even sat on the platform with the other ministers. He intended to resist the message she preached, but the Spirit of God moved mightily during that meeting. By the end of Sister’s sermon, Dr. Price knew he had been leading his people in the wrong direction.
Sister McPherson’s impact on the lives of others made a direct impact on me.
Sister gave the invitation for salvation, and Dr. Price bolted to his feet. A fellow minister grabbed his arm and told him to sit down. “Sister was calling on sinners to stand, not the ministers!” the man told him. Dr. Price stood anyway and responded, “I’m the worst sinner in the place!” He was powerfully filled with the Holy Spirit that night and went on to have a fruitful ministry of divine healing.
All of these incidents impacted my life and made it easy for me to respond to the call of God to serve Him. After I was discharged from the Air Force in 1945, I attended L.I.F.E. Bible College (now called Life Pacific College) in Los Angeles in preparation for what would be a lifetime of pastoral and evangelistic ministry.
Harold Helms, who would later pastor Angelus Temple and serve as Foursquare interim president, was our class president. Calvary Chapel Founder Chuck Smith also was a student in our class. In fact, I played receiver for the college football team, and Chuck was our quarterback.
My wife, Betty, was a registered nurse working at St. Vincent Medical Center in downtown Los Angeles. She introduced me to one of the nuns who had fond memories of Sister visiting the hospital at Christmas to pray with the staff. After all, they were all women in ministry, and she wanted to support their work. The nun told me how much the other sisters appreciated the visits, and she even showed me the Bible that Sister gave her.
All of these incidents impacted my life and made it easy for me to respond to the call of God to serve Him. After I was discharged from the Air Force in 1945, I attended L.I.F.E. Bible College in preparation for what would be a lifetime of pastoral and evangelistic ministry.
In 1952, I served the pastorate of the Foursquare church in Oceanside, Calif., though I had to work an outside job to pay the bills and feed our 3-month-old baby. I took a job at Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton, crushing rocks alongside about 20 rough-and-tumble marines who didn’t care much about spiritual things. They found out I was the pastor of a church that had been founded by a woman, and the relationship really went south. The ridicule and harassment were nearly unbearable until, one afternoon, the foreman came to my aid.
He gathered the crew and said, “Look, I don’t know much about Dick or the Bible or religion. What I do know is that the little lady who started his church went to bat for my family, and that’s good enough for me.”
He went on to say that his father had been a fireman in Los Angeles, and that firemen were not paid very well. Sister McPherson took a stand for the department, and pressured city hall on behalf of firemen and their families. My foreman said his father’s pay was increased on three separate occasions, and he attributed each one directly to Sister’s influence.
Once again, Sister McPherson’s impact on the lives of others made a direct impact on me. It is indeed a luxury for me to share these awesome memories, to crystalize my thoughts about Sister’s ministry and influence on my life, and on the lives of others I have known. To God be the glory. Great things He has done!