I traveled with Aimee Semple McPherson, founder of The Foursquare Church, on her Transcontinental Gospel Car Tour from Oct. 24 – Dec. 21, 1918. The evangelistic journey started on the East Coast and concluded in Los Angeles.
I had known “Sister,” as we called her, since hearing her preach at a meeting in my hometown of Worcester, Mass., on Sept. 18, and God allowed me the privilege of serving as her stenographer during the nearly 6,000-mile coast-to-coast automobile journey.
Everywhere we went, onlookers were fascinated by the appearance of the spanking-new, eight-cylinder Oldsmobile that carried seven passengers in three bench seats. It was painted a deep maroon. Wide letters of gold spread across the hood announced, “National Pentecostal Evangelist,” just so people would see us coming. One side of the car bore this warning: “Jesus is coming soon—get ready!” On the other side was the question: “Where will you spend eternity?”
Sister drove our little troupe that included her mother, Minnie Kennedy, and her children, Roberta (age 8) and Rolf (age 5). I rode in the front passenger seat, taking notes for Sister’s sermons and Bridal Call magazine articles, typing up the manuscripts at night as we rested in private homes, rented rooms or by campfire at wide places in the road.
Meetings were packed in basement halls, public theaters and outdoor arenas as Sister preached about the baptism with the Holy Spirit. She prayed for the sick, and they recovered. Best of all, she transformed the lives of sinners who sought the grace of God and His forgiveness through salvation in Jesus Christ.
Our original itinerary was rescheduled because of the deadly influenza outbreak in fall 1918. This necessitated a bit more time in the Northeast before heading west. Local ministers welcomed the opportunity to host the evangelist for unplanned and powerful meetings.
While driving in New York City, I was taken by the number of flags flying overhead and the traffic on the streets. Sister spoke to a packed house at the Harlem Casino and in the basement hall of Brother Paul Vondrann, who also helped us prepare for our westward tour.
Sister and Roberta fell ill and were near death, in my estimation, while we stayed in New Rochelle, N.Y. Roberta remained so for nearly one week until Sister’s constant, fervent prayers brought deliverance and health once again to our midst.
I will never forget Sister’s children. Such a delight. As we ferried from New York to Staten Island and then New Jersey, Roberta and I rode in the third seat of the Oldsmobile, playing with her doll, Dorothy. Roberta and I would have many adventures together traveling to the faraway land of Los Angeles, a place neither of us had ever seen before. Though the places and people looked different to us, Sister loved each one the same and influenced us to share the Father’s love equally with them all.
Traversing Pennsylvania, we crossed the Allegheny Mountains on October 27 and washed up in a pretty little brook beside the road. After 175 miles, we stopped briefly in Greensburg for pie and ice cream. Then, we pitched camp for the night just outside Pittsburg on land owned by steel magnate Andrew Carnegie.
The following morning, a convoy of soldiers in camouflage autos were stopped on the roadway. We met the men, and shared gospel tracts and copies of the Bridal Call magazine with them. They were pleased when we offered them New Testaments along with our gratitude for their service of our nation. Similar scenes played out in places like Cecil, where we gave tracts to coal miners.
We faced bad roads; I watched Sister routinely repair flat tires, put on snow chains, nurse along a leaky radiator and complete mechanical repairs to get us to the next town with a garage. When we truly needed the expertise of a mechanic, God led us to just the right person or place.
On Nov. 3, and coming into Jacksonville, Ill., a funeral procession passed as we sat helpless by the roadside. Several carriages in the procession slowed to a crawl so they could stare as Sister struggled with a tire without any assistance. She often said God was all she needed.
This is Part 1 of a two-part feature.