One of the most well-known missionary couples to come out of the Azusa Street Revival was Alfred and Lillian Garr. Before coming to Azusa, Alfred and Lillian had met at the Methodist college, Ausbury College, in Kentucky. A year after their meeting they married and, two months later, they ended their studies and went into full-time ministry. The Garrs were ordained by both the Methodist Church and by the International Apostolic Prayer Union. Before coming to Azusa, the Garrs had worked for several years as church planters and evangelists for Haley’s World’s Faith Missionary Association, based in Iowa. This was a radical Holiness organization which also went by the name of the Burning Bush Organization.
The Garrs were burning with zeal and God used them to plant several congregations. In 1906 Alfred was serving as a pastor with the Burning Bush organization in Virginia when he was appointed to pastor a church in Los Angeles. He accepted the appointment. In the spring of 1906, the Garrs came to Azusa. Alfred actually came first. He hungrily sought the experience of the baptism in the Spirit. Lillian was initially skeptical of Azusa, so much so that for a time their marriage was strained over this, almost to the point of breaking up. However, Alfred requested that Lillian come to at least one service at Azusa.
Lillian came to Azusa and was immediately struck by what was very obviously a move of God. She had a complete change of heart towards Azusa. It was not long before Lillian was baptized in the Holy Spirit and was praising God in tongues; interestingly, this was before Alfred received the experience himself. After several days of soul-searching and repentance, Alfred, too, was baptized in God’s Spirit. How did the Garr’s congregation respond to the new experience of their pastor couple, Alfred and Lillian? Unfortunately, the answer to this is not completely clear. There are two accounts of what happened next. According to one account, the Garrs shared their experience with their congregation and were dismissed from the pastorate. However, another account tells of the Garrs themselves closing down their church, initially on a temporary basis, then later permanently, urging the congregation to instead join Azusa.
The Garrs were not at Azusa for very long. They soon announced that they felt called to the mission-field of India. In June or July of 1906, they left Azusa to begin their missionary work. Before leaving for India, they had some time with old Burning Bush leaders in Chicago and ministered in churches in Virginia. Alfred comments in the following letter: Dear Saints in Los Angeles: – God be praised for His power and grace. We are making preparations to go to India as soon as possible. Three of us – with the baby, four in all – will go just as soon as possible, so as to be on the ocean in the right time.
When we came here from Los Angeles, we found the band to whom we had preached while here before, most of them backslidden and fussing among themselves. But when they saw that God had really done something wonderful for us, they all came in and began to seek the Lord. Most of them have been reclaimed and quite a number have been baptized with the Holy Ghost and have received the foreign tongue.
One young girl received the baptism Friday night and she spoke in German. God sent us a German to interpret. He said he could understand everything perfectly. Sister Jennie Eans has also received the German language, and speaks it very fluently.
…O, how I praise God that He ever gave us this wonderful experience of the baptism with the Holy Ghost. The folks fall under the power of God, and a great time is on here. The church was packed twice yesterday and altar overflowing with seekers. One saved man was sanctified in the afternoon meeting and in the evening meeting received the baptism with the Holy Ghost and spake in tongues and magnified God. A real revival has begun and three holiness preacher boys have fallen in line. Two of them have received the baptism and the tongues. The other one is seeking and says he will never stop till he receives it. A good many have received the tongues, we do not know how many.
The sick are being healed. Soon after we arrived, a lady sick with dropsy came to the meeting. She got out of bed to come; had been sick a long time. As she told us how glad she was to see us back in Danville and of her long sick spell, I said; ‘God will heal you,’ and took her hand. She immediately shouted that she was healed. I felt the healing power flow into her body. The next day she told us that her limbs were swollen, but that every bit of it was driven out at once. She walked down town and then told her neighbors about the wonderful things the Lord had done for her. Several have been healed. But, best of all, many are getting the light, and as the Bible opens to us, they rejoice for the precious truths that have been hidden from us for so long by the ‘traditions of the elders.’ This is the greatest power I ever saw. Glory to God! I have wanted just this for years, but did not know how to get it. But, Hallelujah!…1
For six years, after leaving Azusa, the Garrs ministered throughout the United States, Hong Kong, India and China. When they arrived in Calcutta, they learned that most of their luggage had gone missing. They stayed in an inexpensive room and prayed that the Lord would use them in some way. The next day a British army officer came by and said that God had spoken to him, telling him to give a large sum of money to them. They received his gift, prayed with him and the officer was baptized in the Holy Spirit. They were welcomed also by a Baptist pastor, Pastor Hook. They report on some of their experiences in India:
The Lord also gave Sister Garr a vision of Himself one night, while in Calcutta and His hands were filled with golden crowns ready to place on heads. And the same evening, He gave her the message ‘Let no man take thy crown.’ A missionary arose and said that on that day God had spoken those words to her, and she did not know what it meant…
In a school of 1,500 native girls and 200 boys, besides Europeans and native teachers the head of the school has been tarrying and the Comforter has come to her and also to her daughter, a number of her teachers, and 300 native girls. Hallelujah! At Dhond, a school of boys, numbers have been saved, some are speaking in tongues.
In Calcutta, one Missionary who was baptized in the meeting, went back to her high school and in a short time forty-five precious native girls were baptized in the Spirit. Then the matron of a Rescue Home received her Pentecost and shortly the dear girls who had been redeemed from such lives of sin, were learning how to glorify Jesus and the Holy Ghost was given.2
The Garrs moved around and, in 1912, were pastoring a small congregation in Los Angeles. Even while pastoring, Alfred held evangelistic and faith-healing meetings throughout the United States and Canada. He also did ministry in India, Arabia and China during this time. In 1914 the Garrs were once again pastoring a church in Los Angeles. The Garrs knew pain as well as joy. Two of their children died prematurely and Lillian herself died at the young age of thirty-eight from complications from an operation. Lillian’s own words best sum up their lives and ministry: How conscious have I been of His presence giving ‘songs of deliverance’ and speaking through me to my own comfort and delight. Praise Him. There are several hundred natives baptized with the Holy Ghost and speaking in tongues today in India. I want to add, that the blessed Comforter does indeed reveal the perfect life of the Savior, not alone in the oil of joy, (‘Thou hast loved righteousness, and hated iniquity; therefore God, even thy God, hath anointed thee with the oil of gladness above thy fellows.’), but the other side of this precious life, (‘a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief:’) […] He longs for a bride who shares both His sufferings and joy. I want to enter into His own heart and feel as He felt letting His joy be my joy, His sorrow my sorrow. He has put groanings into my heart which cannot be uttered over a lost world and those who do not understand His workings in the earth at this time. How I praise Him for a love for my enemies that is not natural but divine. Hallelujah.
We long to see all power restored that the heathen can no more say to the missionaries: ‘[…]Where is their God?’ Joel 2:17. ‘Then will the LORD be jealous for his land, and pity his people.’ Our hearts are knit with the dear Saints at Azusa street and we think with love of all. 3
The Garrs stepped out and sought the controversial experiences that God was birthing in the lives of revival-hungry believers. By yielding to God, they found a power operating in them which was above and beyond what they ever could have imagined. God commissioned them, and they followed Him to the ends of the earth. May the Lord use their example to stir us to devotion, experience and service.
Alexander, Estrelda. The Women Of Azusa Street. Cleveland: The Pilgrim Press, 2005.
Robeck, Cecil M. Jr. The Azusa Street Mission And Revival: The Birth of The Global Pentecostal Movement. Nashville: Thomas Nelson, Inc., 2006.
McClung, L. Grant Jr. ed. Azusa Street And Beyond. South Plainfield: Bridge Publishing, Inc., 1986.
1 Alfred Garr, “Pentecost in Danville” The Apostolic Faith Vol. I, No. 2, October 1906, (Los Angeles: The Apostolic Faith Movement), 2.
2 Alfred Garr, “Pentecost in Danville” The Apostolic Faith Vol. I, No. 2, October 1906, (Los Angeles: The Apostolic Faith Movement), 2.
3 Lillian Garr, “Testimony and Praise to God” The Apostolic Faith Vol. I, No. 9, June – September, 1907 (Los Angeles: The Apostolic Faith Mission), 4.
Note I have corrected Lillian’s misquotations of scripture quoted here.