The Gospel Car

One of the unique accomplishments of Mother’s life was a transcontinental gospel tour from the East Coast to Los Angeles in the days before Angelus Temple or The Foursquare Church.

Our “Gospel Car” was a beautiful 1918 8-cylinder Oldsmobile powerful in its day and spacious. With three bench seats, it had plenty of room for nearly everything our family needed as we made our way cross-country to our new home in Los Angeles.

The Gospel Car was a church in itself. We strapped folding chairs to the sides and carried our own tents for revival meetings. When we stopped in a town for services, it did not take long to set up, with the help of supportive church people who were anxious for a visitation of God.

The vehicle was also our home. We slept on the bench seats when weather did not permit us to use our tents and cots on the side of the road. The “trunk” that hung on the back was our kitchen, and contained dishes, pots, pans and everything we needed to prepare and serve meals.

Mother thought of everything when she packed the Gospel Car, and we did not lack for anything as we traveled. What we did not have, we did not miss.

Old clothing tied around the tires gave us traction in snow or mud. When the makeshift snow chains did not work, Mother would walk to the nearest farm or town, praying for helpful folks who might drag the car out and send us on our way again.

I woke up one morning to find Mother standing at the edge of a small river crossing the road. She had a long stick and was measuring the depth of the water to be sure it was safe for us to cross.

We carried portable gas cans on the running boards of the Oldsmobile and would stop at regular intervals to fill the tank, ensuring we never ran out of gas. Filling stations were not a common sight when we traveled long stretches of road between towns.

Mother’s 1918 Oldsmobile, the Gospel Car, was our home and our church on the road. Our two-month transcontinental journey covered 6,000 miles, and God’s faithfulness made the entire journey possible.

In one town, we had to stop the car at the base of a hill beside a riverbed. When we started up the hill again, our brakes gave out, and we began rolling backwards toward the river. Mother and we kids prayed aloud for God to help us, and He did. We bounced against a dead tree stump at the edge of the road, which saved us from plunging into the river. God did miraculous things like that all the time for us as we traveled in the Gospel Car.

Roads in those days were not what they are today, and travelers often banded together to safely get through difficult areas. I remember traveling across the hot desert of the Southwest. We met total strangers on the side of the road and formed a caravan of 10 or more cars that traveled across the dry, hot desert together.

It was the rule of the road, I suppose, that total strangers would help each other like that. If one became stranded, the others lent their help to get the stranded motorist back on the road again.

When we made our transcontinental tour from the East Coast to Los Angeles in 1918, our little family talked a lot about what our new home would be like. It was nearing Christmas, and Mother wanted to do something for my sister, Roberta, and me.

Keeping the Gospel Car moving

I will never know how Mother pulled this off, but as we motored through the desert, Roberta and I noticed a tall cactus that had been decorated like a Christmas tree. At the base of the cactus, we found wrapped Christmas presents labeled for Roberta and me. It was thrilling for us to see a little glimpse of Christmas in the midst of an arid desert.

We often referred to ourselves as modern-day Children of Israel during Mother’s gospel travels. As we left the desert and climbed the mountains into Southern California, we realized we had reached our own Promised Land.

Pausing in the San Bernardino Mountains at the Rim of the World, we looked down from the mountain peak to view our new home along the Pacific Coast. We had safely arrived in what would become our new home with many memories and adventures to share.

Mother’s 1918 Oldsmobile, the Gospel Car, was our home and our church on the road. Our two-month transcontinental journey covered 6,000 miles, and God’s faithfulness made the entire journey possible.

This article is adapted from a video interview prior to Rolf K. McPherson’s passing in 2009. To read Sister Aimee’s own account of traveling in the Gospel Car, click here.

(1913-2009) was the son of Foursquare’s founder, Aimee Semple McPherson, and served as president of The Foursquare Church for more than four decades.