Somewhere around my eighth year, Mother’s popularity took us to New Rochelle, N.Y., where she was scheduled to preach. Our hosts showed us to our rooms in a big, beautiful house that I thought was the grandest home I had ever seen. While there, I came down with double pneumonia after battling the same flu that had taken thousands of lives in a great epidemic.
Health agencies closed schools and churches for a time to keep the disease from spreading. Mother was ill and very distressed that my grandmother, Mother Kennedy, had been right: Life on the road was too stressful for a little girl like me, and if we were ever to have a normal, healthy life, we needed a home. Mother began to pray for direction.
Of course, Mother prayed for me, too. While others were dying of the disease, God healed me. Following our meetings in New Rochelle, Mother told us kids and Mother Kennedy that God was going to give us a home. We had received invitations to conduct meetings in Los Angeles and in Tulsa, Okla., and it didn’t take long before we had a full itinerary of other stops in between where Mother would share the gospel.
We bought an eight-passenger Oldsmobile and made preparations for a cross-country ministry tour—Rolf and me in the very back seat, and Mother and Mother Kennedy in the front. Mother brought along a stenographer, as well, who was a big help to her as she refined the 30 messages she used while on the road.
From a donated missionary barrel, Mother got a hip-length military jacket, and Mother Kennedy found a bearskin coat she thought would be useful when temperatures dropped to freezing. Travel by car could be treacherous, but Mother was not concerned. She packed a small tent on top of the car, and camp cots for Rolf and me.
Warm clothes and blankets kept us from freezing, and a handy shovel helped us dig out when the car got stuck in the mud. Mother also made sure we had plenty of rags to tie around the tires in case of a blowout so that we could get through to the next town. As kids, Rolf and I didn’t think much about the dangers of the journey, and Mother trusted God for protection and provision.
We arrived in Tulsa, staying for about three weeks, and I attended public school. All the kids there said I spoke like a New Yorker, and I felt dreadful about the whole experience. We stopped in many other places along the way where Mother preached the gospel and told people about God’s plan for our family to relocate to Los Angeles and establish an evangelistic center that would reach the masses around the world.
It seemed nothing could stop us on that trip to California. Even when the radiator froze solid, God answered our prayer for deliverance: Along came a steam engine; the man blew a blast of hot water on our radiator, which melted the ice, and we were on our way again.
We had received invitations to conduct meetings in Los Angeles and in Tulsa, Okla., and it didn’t take long before we had a full itinerary of other stops in between where Mother would share the gospel.
A kind couple, Mr. and Mrs. Blake, had invited us to Los Angeles, and when we arrived just before Christmas that year, they showed us to our rooms in their lovely home. They were wonderful hosts to our family as we settled into our new city.
Mother Kennedy arranged to rent Victoria Hall, a sizable room that sat above some shops downtown, where Mother could preach. The people loved her, and within a few weeks, she had preached all of her sermons. One night she shared the testimony of how God healed me in New Rochelle, and spoke of how she had promised Rolf and me a house of our own.
A woman interrupted from the back of the hall, requesting to say something. Mother acknowledged her only to find out the woman wanted to donate a tract of land she had just won in a contest so we could have a house. Mother was overwhelmed, but before she could go on, a man stood, pledging to dig the foundation, and another promised to complete the electrical work. Before the service concluded, nearly every detail of the construction was committed, and a great celebration broke out at God’s faithfulness.
Rolf had hoped for rose bushes and a canary, and I wanted a fireplace. The “House That God Built” had everything we had dreamed. We loved our new place, and Rolf and I often sang the popular WWI song “Little Grey Home of the West” in honor of our home that the Lord gave us.
Mother Kennedy discovered that the Philharmonic Auditorium was available for rent for $100 a day. “You might as well fish for whales as fish for minnows,” she said, and she booked the auditorium. Mother filled that auditorium and nearly every other place she preached in the U.S. and around the world.
When Angelus Temple opened in 1923, it was among the largest venues of its kind in the world, with 5,300 seats and filled to capacity every time the doors were opened. It didn’t take very long before Mother and her little family would become some of the most notable citizens in the history of the City of Los Angeles.
This article is adapted from a video interview prior to Roberta Semple Salter’s passing in 2007.