One might not think that a poor district of downtown Los Angeles would be the site of possibly the greatest spiritual awakening of all time. Unglamorous for other reasons, Azusa Street, Los Angeles, would become honored for the great move of God which happened there and which spread around the world. The Azusa Street Revival, which began in 1906, had the humblest of beginnings. It initially broke out in a prayer meeting in the home of a poor family. In the wake of Azusa, the world would never be the same.
God moved there in the home of the poor family, among the praying congregants, and their numbers grew until another facility was needed to hold the meetings. On Azusa Street, in the downtown industrial district, an old abandoned, two-story, frame building was rented to house the meetings. The name Apostolic Faith Gospel Mission was painted on the side of it and people from many different backgrounds and varying cultures came together to seek and experience God. Participants came to the Mission at just about any hour of the day or night and heard messages on sin, salvation, holiness and the baptism of the Holy Spirit. The sounds of prayer and worship coming from inside the Mission carried out into the streets and everyone was talking about the Azusa Revival. The revival produced a seemingly unending stream of testimonies of changed lives. The newspapers also ran stories on the revival. Other unusual phenomena accompanied the meetings. Eyewitnesses on the street reported seeing a glow emanating from the building and heard sounds that were similar to explosions coming out of it. On more than one occasion, the fire department came to the mission building because fire was seen rising from it. However, upon arrival, it was found that there was no natural fire.
The revival spread quickly throughout America and, by the end of 1906, it had spread to Norway. In 1907 it reached Germany, Italy, Holland and South Africa. Pentecostalism has continued to spread. Today, there are over 200 million members of denominational Pentecostals and another 200 million Charismatics. One out of every four professing Christians in the world is either Pentecostal or Charismatic.1
One man who was both an eyewitness and a participant in the Azusa Revival was Frank Bartleman. He gives this account of the meetings: Brother Seymour generally sat behind two empty boxes, one on top of the other. He usually kept his head inside the top one during the meeting, in prayer. There was no pride there. The services ran almost continuously. Seeking souls could be found under the power almost any hour of the day or night. The place was never closed or empty. The people came to meet God – He was always there. Hence a continuous meeting. The meeting did not depend on the human leader. God’s presence became more and more wonderful. In that old building, with its low rafters and bare floors, God broke strong men and women to pieces, and put them together again for His glory. It was a tremendous overhauling process. Pride and self-assertion, self-importance, and self-esteem could not survive there. The religious ego preached its own funeral sermon quickly. No subjects or sermons were announced ahead of time, and no special speakers for such an hour. No one knew what might be coming, what God would do. All was spontaneous, ordered by the Spirit. We wanted to hear from God, through whomever He might speak. We had no respect of persons. The rich and educated were the same as the poor and ignorant, although the former found it much harder to die to self. We only recognized God. All were equal. No flesh might glory in His presence (1 Corinthians 1:29). He could not use the self-opinionated. Those were Holy Spirit meetings, led by the Lord. It had to start in poor surroundings to keep out the selfish, human element. All came down in humility together at His feet. They all looked alike and had all things in common, in that sense at least. The rafters were low; the tall must come down. By the time they got to Azusa, they were humbled, ready for the blessing. The fodder was thus placed for the lambs, not for giraffes. All could reach it. We were delivered right there from ecclesiastical hierarchism and abuse. We wanted God. When we first reached the meeting, we avoided human contact and greeting as much as possible. We wanted to meet God first. We got our heads under a bench in the corner in prayer, and met men only in the Spirit, knowing them “after the flesh” no more (2 Corinthians 5:16). The meetings started themselves, spontaneously, in testimony, praise, and worship. The testimonies were never hurried by a call for “popcorn.” We had no prearranged program to be jammed through on time. Our time was the Lord’s. We had real testimonies, from fresh heart-experiences. Otherwise, the shorter the testimonies, the better. A dozen might be on their feet at one time, trembling under the mighty power of God. We did not have to get our cue from some leader; yet we were free from lawlessness. We were shut up to God in prayer in the meetings, our minds on Him. All obeyed God, in meekness and humility. In honor we “preferred one another.” (See Romans 12:10.) The Lord was liable to burst through anyone. We prayed for this continually. Someone would finally get up, anointed for the message. All seemed to recognize this and gave way. It might be a child, a woman, or a man. It might be from the back seat or from the front. It made no difference. We rejoiced that God was working. No one wished to show himself. We thought only of obeying God. In fact, there was an atmosphere of God there that forbade anyone but a fool from attempting to put himself forward without the real anointing – and such did not last long. The meetings were controlled by the Spirit, from the throne. Those were truly wonderful days. I often said that I would rather live six months at that time than fifty years of ordinary life. But God is just the same today. Only we have changed. Someone might be speaking. Suddenly the Spirit would fall upon the congregation. God Himself would give the altar call. Men would fall all over the house, like the slain in battle, or rush for the altar en mass to seek God. The scene often resembled a forest of fallen trees. Such a scene cannot be imitated. I never saw an altar call given in those early days. God Himself would call them. And the preacher knew when to quit. When God spoke, we all obeyed. It seemed a fearful thing to hinder or grieve the Spirit. The whole place was steeped in prayer. God was in His holy temple. It was for man to keep silent. The Shekinah glory rested there. In fact, some claim to have seen the glory by night over the building. I do not doubt it. I have stopped more than once within two blocks of the place and prayed for strength before I dared go on. The presence of the Lord was so real.2
The presence of the Lord was real at Azusa, and it was the presence of the Lord which brought great change and transformation to people’s lives. When God is experienced and yielded to in a meeting, people enter into an experience that is wonderful. They enter into a spiritual experience which is more than just religion; it becomes a part of that person’s relationship with God. Azusa was a place where God’s Spirit was poured out. The deluge of this outpouring soaked not only Los Angeles, but the globe. One writer has said that from Azusa “… A tsunami of spiritual power and passion flooded every country of the world.”3 The tidal flow of this wave has not ended. It is flowing even now.
1 Roberts Liardon, The Azusa Revival (Shippensburg: Destiny Image Publishers, 2006), 12-13.
2 Frank Bartleman, Azusa Street (New Kensington: Whitaker House, 1982), 56-58.
3 Roberts Liardon, The Azusa Revival (Shippensburg: Destiny Image Publishers, 2006), 10.