South American Pentecostal Revival Beginnings
Early Pentecostals in South America
The story begins with a little lady called Minnie Abrams who was an American Wesleyan/Holiness missionary in India. She had resigned from the Methodist Episcopal Missionary Society to work with Pandita Ramabai in her orphans’ and widows’ home at Mukti. In 1905 the Spirit of God invaded the Mukti Mission after Miss Abrams had been teaching on the Baptism of the Holy Spirit. The details of the Mukti revival, Minnie Abrams and Pandita Ramabai can be found elsewhere on this site.
In 1907 Miss Abrams wrote a small booklet describing the revival called ‘The Baptism of the Holy Ghost and Fire’ (Bombay, 1906). The next year she sent a copy to her childhood friend, Mary Hoover – then a Methodist missionary in Chile with her husband, Willis C. Hoover. Mary and Minnie had been students together and graduated in the first class of the women’s Chicago Training School for City, Home, and Foreign Missions.
Describing the early stages of the Mukti revival and the baptism of the Holy Spirit Miss Abrams wrote “We have only a short time left us in which to gather out from these thousand millions of unevangelised people the Lord’s portion. If we do not do this work, their blood will be required of us … It is time that we seek the fulness of the Holy Ghost, the fire that empowers us to preach the gospel with signs following.”
This was not new to the Hoovers. Mary Hoover had already began corresponding with Pentecostal leaders and their wives around the world, including A. A. Boddy from England and Thomas Ball Barratt in Norway, as well as some American Pentecostal leaders.
As they read their friend’s eyewitness account of the remarkable outpouring of the Holy Spirit in India, their appetites were whetted and they began to increase their appeals to God for a similar revival in Chile. They instituted special prayer meetings for revival in their Methodist church and it was not unusual for many to spend entire nights in prayer. Holy Spirit conviction and confession of sins followed, with some making restitution for former wrongdoing. But the best was yet to come. On July 4, 1909, the heavens opened and revival broke out with tremendous power. Hoover describes what happened:
“Saturday night was an all-night of prayer, during which four vain young ladies (three of them were in the choir) fell to the floor under the power of the Spirit. One of them, after lying a long time, began to exhort saying, “The Lord is coming soon and commands us to get ready.” The effect produced was indescribable. The following morning in Sunday School, at ten o’clock, a daze seemed to rest upon the people. Some were unable to rise after the opening prayer which had been like “the sound of many waters,” and all were filled with wonder. From that time on the atmosphere seemed charged by the Holy Spirit, and people fell on the floor, or broke out in other tongues, or singing in the Spirit, in a way impossible in their natural condition. On one occasion a woman, a young lady and a girl of twelve were lying on the floor in different parts of the prayer room, with eyes closed and silent. Suddenly, as with one voice, they burst forth into a song in a familiar tune but in unknown tongues, all speaking the same words. After a verse or two they became silent; then again suddenly, another tune, a verse or two, and silence. This was repeated until they had sung ten tunes, always using the same words and keeping in perfect time together as if led by some invisible chorister.” (Stanley Frodsham, With Signs Following, 177-178)
The local congregation soon experienced the Baptism with the Spirit together with two congregations led by former Hoover associates. At the 1909 Annual Conference of the Methodist Church there were significant expressions of Pentecostal worship, which did not fare well with the traditional Methodists, but others saw this exuberant worship as typical of the American Holiness camp meetings. They defended Hoover and his Pentecostal friends.
The Pentecostal phenomenon soon attracted publicity, which caused a sharp increase in attendance as visitors came to satisfy their curiosity. Inevitably, persecution followed as critics brought false charges against the Pentecostals, but in realty, only produced more curious visitors! Many who attended the meetings out of curiosity went away convinced that a genuine work of God was in progress. After two months, attendance had jumped from three hundred to almost one thousand, and the revival was spreading to other cities.
In February 1910, Hoover was confronted by his Methodist superiors and had to choose between returning to America or leaving the Methodist Church. He chose to leave the Methodist Church and to remain in Valparaiso with 440 faithful followers. They found new facilities and the Pentecostal revival exploded in Valparaiso and further afield.
Hoover is known as the Founder of Pentecostalism in Chile. Today in Chile, well over one million Pentecostals constitute various Pentecostal groups. The Pentecostal Methodist Church, founded by Hoover, now numbers 1.5 million adherents in Chile, while the Chilean Methodist Church, which rejected the revival, has shrunk to only four thousand members! Today, about 15% of the Chilean population identifies as Pentecostal. Further outbreaks of the Spirit in Latin America
A similar movement, which began in Brazil in 1909, became known as the Great Revival. It was lead primarily by Luigi Francescon, an Italian immigrant to the United States, who received the baptism of the Holy Spirit at the mission of William D. Durham, Pentecostal pastor in Chicago. Wanting to preach to his own people about his new experience in the spirit, Francescon founded churches among Italian immigrants in Pennsylvania, Missouri, and California. In 1909 Francescon felt a call from the Holy Spirit to work among Italian immigrants in South America. He started work in Argentina first among Italian immigrants and later moved to São Paulo, Brazil.
Francescon organized congregations of Italian immigrants in Buenos Aires and São Paulo, where he fostered social work between the immigrants and established the Christian Congregation of Brazil. He adapted Presbyterian ecclesial structures and developed a national church in Brazil that today is one of the largest Pentecostal churches in the country. The church continues to emphasize both the spiritual and social dimensions of the gospel, developing self-support programs for their members, including cooperatives. Others who pioneered the Pentecostal Movement in Brazil were Gunnar Vingren and Daniel Berg, Swedish Baptist immigrants who met Charles Durham in Chicago, received the baptism of the Holy Spirit, and went to the northern part of Brazil. They initially made contacts with Baptist churches in that region and finally established their own movement that later became affiliated with the Assemblies of God in Brazil. Despite the foreign roots of their founders, these Pentecostal churches became autonomous and indigenous, in a self-support, self-governing model of mission.
One of the students of the Christian and Missionary Alliance training school at Nyack, Mr. G. F. Bender, received the Baptism in the Holy Spirit with the Bible evidence and the Lord called him to preach the gospel in South America. In January 16, 1914 this German-American arrived in Venezuela with a divide mandate to establish a Pentecostal witness in the nation. Gradually the new congregation began to experience the power of the Holy Spirit. There was deep conviction of sin, thorough repentance and sincere consecration to Jesus Christ. Then the Spirit was poured out in great power with signs and woners and spiritual gifts. By 1919 the first church was established – called Bethel Church, the first Pentecostal Church in Venezuela.
Other Latin American nations were systematically invaded by the Holy Spirit – Mexico, Argentina, Columbia and so on, until there was a powerful Pentecostal Testimony in every South American Nation.
Today, in 2020, Pentecostalism is thriving in Latin America with “spirit-filled” Christians constituting at least a third of the overall population in parts of the southern continent, a Pew Forum survey has found. They also claim ‘over the past century, Pentecostals and Charismatics grew dramatically from 12.6 million in 1970 to 156.9 million in 2005.’ The World Christian Database reported Pentecostals as representing 13 percent of Latin America’s population and Charismatic members, 15 percent.
These figures represent the fruit of the seed that was sown in Latin America a century ago. We will add further Latin American Pentecostal histories as time permits.
Bibliography: Eddie L. Hyatt, 2000 Years of Charismatic Christianity; Vinson Synan, The Century of the Holy Spirit; Stanley Frodsham, With Signs Following.