Note: This article was originally published in the April 1996 issue of Charismamagazine.
When 88-year-old Elsie Mason was born, Teddy Roosevelt was president of the United States and the American West was still being tamed. Arizona and New Mexico weren’t even states yet. The automobile assembly line had just been invented, but paved roads were still uncommon. Women wore floor-length skirts and couldn’t vote. Only rich people had telephones.
The term “Pentecostal” was rarely used to describe any group of Christians. Although Holiness churches taught that believers should seek a spiritual experience they called “sanctification,” it was a revival in Topeka, Kansas, in 1901, and the subsequent and more far-reaching Azusa Street Revival of 1906, that popularized the belief in the baptism of the Holy Spirit. Azusa triggered a Pentecostal movement that today represents some 430 million people worldwide.
Mason, the widow of Charles H. Mason—founder of the Church of God in Christ—is one of several older Pentecostals who remember the early days of camp meetings, tent revivals and backwoods persecution. By talking with her, and with nine other elderly saints, Charisma has collected a treasure chest of oral history…
Pauline Parham, 86, grew up hearing about the Pentecostal outpouring that occurred in 1901. Her father-in-law, Charles Parham, led that revival, which proved to be a forerunner of the Azusa movement. She remembers that Parham rented a beautiful building in Topeka for $40 a month to house his Bible school:
… Forty students lived there. They planned an all-night prayer meeting for New Year’s Eve, and a woman named Agnes Ozman asked Dad Parham to lay hands on her and pray for her to receive the baptism in the Holy Spirit.
He said he couldn’t pray for her since he hadn’t received it yet, but she said just do it anyway in the name of the Lord. She was actually the first one to receive the gift of tongues.
The meeting went for three days—day and night—and she could hardly speak English because the Lord gave her another language. The fame of this meeting went throughout the community, and many newspaper reporters came. When they interviewed Agnes Ozman, she responded in the Chinese tongue she had received. For three days she could only speak in Chinese.