Rev. A. G. Garr
While in Asbury College, A. G. [Garr—ed.] met Lillian Anderson, the daughter of a Methodist bishop. They were married and continued their schooling together. Lillian was a lovely, high-minded, noble-souled woman. In her quiet unostentatious way she was a tower of strength. She became the refining, and restraining influence in A. G.’s life. She confirmed his spiritual aspirations, for she was a counselor of the serener stretches of the soul. After their education was completed, A. G. and Lillian traveled to California to pastor an independent church.
It was at this time that the mighty revival broke out in Azusa Street, in the colored section of Los Angeles. The revival was not in a church, but in a burned-out foundry building. The walls were charred and black. The building was ugly; but at nine o’clock each morning, when the doors opened, a tall athletic young man was the first to enter. He seemed bent upon a holy mission. His head was high. He was a gay, charming, resolute, reflective and ambitious youth, but he was hungry for God. Yes, it was A. G. Garr, still seeking a deeper experience with his Lord.
Wave after wave of revival swept the people in that building. Crowds were weeping over sin one minute and praising God for pardon the next. Then, the audience was carried into ecstasy of amens and hallelujahs. Emotion mounted higher and higher; and the glory of God settled on Azusa Street. Church services became the brighter spot in many, otherwise, shadowed lives. Testimony meetings became the order of the hour. People told of those who were healed, of those who were relieved of the sting of poverty, of those who were filled with the Spirit of God. When the services were over the folks were loath to leave. There certainly was no atmosphere of indifference there.
These services were a stimulant to A. G. Garr. As a zealous young preacher he had been aware that the orthodox church was losing her radiance. He knew that many church leaders were disclaiming the realities of Bible truths. He liked what he saw and felt in this flaming revival.
The church, as a whole, would not accept this revival, but A. G. refused to allow any church or sect to dictate his religious views. A necessary requisite of his life was individuality. He must follow God in his own way. He could not worship at the shrines of authority and precedence. His very nature required him to depend upon his own resources and to choose his own path. He would be compelled, even in the teeth of a world of prejudice and opposition, to accept the revival. Other people’s thoughts and opinions would have to be subjugated to his own revelations of God.
No, A. G. did not want to stay hitched up to a denominational train that he did not want to pull. Too many cars of religious protest had been coupled to his locomotive since it got started. He decided that he did not care to pull the freight. Rather, he was going to seek God in his own way and get more of this “unwanted” revival.
As A. G. sought the fullness of God’s Spirit, the Lord whispered into his heart, “Do you remember the fuss that you had with your fellow minister?” He replied, “Yes, I will go fix that up right now.” So he left the building on Azusa Street, jumped on his bicycle and rode all the way across town to the minister’s house. There, he said, “Brother, you know the fuss that we had?” “Yes.” “Well I want you to forgive me.” The preacher answered, “All right.” So, A. G. rode his bicycle back to the meeting and waited for God’s power to come upon him. Finally, God spoke to him, “You do not really love that brother.” A. G. replied, “Lord, I will go back and ask him to forgive me again.” So, out the door he went and rode his bicycle to the other side of Los Angeles. He cried, “Brother, please forgive me for that fuss we had several months ago.” The preacher answered, “Why I told you this morning that I forgave you. What is the matter with you?” A. G. said, “But, I really want you to forgive me.” The preacher replied, “I will, I forgive you.” They shook hands. A. G. got on his bicycle and hurried back to the meeting, expecting the power of God to come upon him. But once more the Lord spoke to him, “You do not really love that brother.” A. G. cried, “Lord, I will go back and ask him to forgive me again.” He went to the preacher, but this time his spirit was broken. As he started up the walk, the preacher saw him and began to smile. A. G. placed his arms around the minister’s shoulders and began to cry. He sobbed, “Please forgive me for the fuss we had.” The brother began to weep, also, and said, “I want you to forgive me, too, for I did not act like a Christian.” When A. G. got on his bicycle to return to the meeting, he felt that a bit of honey had been deposited in his soul. He never felt so wonderful. It seemed that spring was tugging at her wraps, that nature was giving birth to bud and flower after a long winter of cold sleep. It was as though the grass was freed from its white tomb of snow, and the silvery streams from their strong shackles of ice. He seemed to ride his bicycle in a golden, leisure time, on long, filmy gossamers floating on slow-blown clouds. Back at the meeting A. G. felt the power of God, as he had never felt it in his life, and the Lord told him that he soon would receive the experience that he was seeking.
On the sixteenth of June, 1906, A. G. became the first white pastor of any denomination to receive the baptism of the Holy Spirit in Los Angeles. Actually, he was not a pastor. His church board had met and informed him that if he continued to attend the services at the Azusa Street Mission, he must tender his resignation. The incident that inflamed the board to take this action was the fact that A. G. locked the doors of his church, stood on the front steps and directed his people, “Do not attend here tonight. We do not have the power of God; let us go to Azusa Street Mission, where they are enjoying the presence of God.” And the people followed their pastor to the mission.
The church board accepted A. G.’s resignation with the stipulation that he should look after the churchonly until the new pastor could be sent from Chicago. During the time that he remained at the church A. G. continued to seek the baptism of the Spirit. God asked him, “Are you willing to give up everything for me?” He answered, “Yes, Lord everything.” Then God asked, “Are you willing to give up your preaching?” A. G. cried, “Lord that is all that I have left, but I am even willing to drive a coal truck the rest of my life. Just give me the baptism of the Spirit.” It seemed to A. G., then, that he could see himself sitting on an old coal wagon, with his hair sticking up through the top of an old, tattered hat. But he made his consecration. A little later, A. G. went up into the cupola of the church to pray. After prayer he descended into the auditorium and stood at the altar. God spoke to him saying, “Open your mouth and I will fill it.” He took that literally and opened his mouth as wide as he could. Then the power of God flooded his soul. He received the baptism of the Holy Spirit according to Acts 2:4. For hours he spoke with tongues and glorified God. Then a British Indian came into the building and asked him, “How did you learn my mother tongue?” A. G. replied, “I do not know your mother tongue.” But the man continued, “This is the first time I have heard my mother tongue since I left India.”
After this experience his wife declared, “If you are going to be a fanatical preacher, I am going to take the baby and leave you.” Their baby was three years old at the time. A. G. went into his bedroom and looked at the baby. She stretched one little leg toward him an offered him a bouquet of toes. He picked up the shoe that she had kicked off, and wondered if there was anything in the world as sentimental as a baby’s shoes. He picked her up. She was his life. He looked at her little face, shining up at him, soft and gentle as a candlelight. He felt that he could not live without her. But he braced his soul, returned to his wife, and said, “Before you go, please do me a favor; attend the meeting and see for yourself what God is doing.” She cried, “It is not God it is fanaticism, but I will go with you one time.”
Her bags were packed. She was ready to leave. But Mrs. Garr went to the service. A. G. said that he would never forget that night. When she arrived at the church, the power of God was manifest in an outstanding way. She walked up the aisle, certain in her heart that this shouting and praising was not of God. But the glory of God broke over her soul. Mrs. Garr lifted her hands and received the baptism of the Holy Spirit, with speaking in other tongues, in this, her first visit to the meeting.
One week after A. G. Garr received the baptism of the Holy Spirit, God called him to go to India. He had no group behind him. There was no one to finance any part of the endeavor. However, he stood up in the meeting and said, “Friends, I believe that God wants me to go to India with the message.” He had not more than uttered the words when a man stood up and cried, “I have five hundred dollars that I want to give for you to go to India” When he sat down, a lady stood up, saying, “I have two hundred dollars.” Another declared, “I have one hundred.” In fifteen minutes there was enough money to take a party of five to India with the Pentecostal message.
A. G. Garr’s principal rule was to get started. He was afraid that if he waited a week, he would wait a month, and if he waited a month, he might never get started. So he swung out into a flood-tide of missionary endeavor; and three weeks after he received the baptism of the Holy Spirit, A. G. Garr traveled east, headed for India.