Florence Crawford was only one of thousands who went to the revival’s epicenter in Los Angeles during that first decade of the new century, but she was one who came away a changed woman.
As a child, Florence Crawford was reared in a home where the works of agnostics and atheists were read aloud in the family home in much the way that the Bible was read in Christian homes. Well-known “free thought” speakers were regularly entertained. However, the young girl had her own ideas about God. As an adult, she would reminisce about sneaking off to a nearby camp meeting, where she heard the message of salvation and felt her heart touched through the words of the song, “Oh, the Bleeding Lamb.”
From that time on, she longed for something in her heart that she did not have. On one occasion, when a noted infidel was to give a lecture, he asked her to sing for his audience as she had done before. She agreed to do so if she could choose the song, and what she selected was, “Jesus, Lover of My Soul.” As the strains of her song went forth, hearts were melted and tears came to many eyes. The speaker tried to make excuses, but his lecture fell flat and had little effect on the crowd who had come to hear him deny God.
In spite of her seeming spiritual sensitivity, Florence Crawford was not yet a born again Christian. As a young woman, she associated with a group that frequented theaters, held card parties, and attended dances. In her testimony, she often would relate the remarkable way that God drew her to Himself. “One night as I was dancing in a ballroom I heard a Voice speak out of Heaven and say, ‘Daughter, give Me thine heart.’ I did not know it was the Voice of God so I went on dancing. Again the Voice spoke. It seemed my feet became heavy and the place was no longer beautiful to me. Again the Voice spoke much louder, ‘Daughter, give Me thine heart!’ The music died away and I left the ballroom. For three days and nights I prayed and wept, wrestling against the powers of atheism and darkness. The enemy would tell me there was no God and that the Bible was a myth. I could hardly eat or sleep, and it seemed there was no hope for me, but I thought, Why did God speak out of Heaven if there were no hope?
“At last I remembered a woman who I knew was a Christian, and I went to her home. When she opened the door and looked at my face she said, ‘You want God.’ I said, ‘I want Him more than anything else in the world.’ Right there I fell on my knees, and as she prayed with me, God came into my heart.
“Oh, the rest, the peace, the quietness that flooded my soul was wonderful! As I wept for joy, I said, ‘I must go and tell the others.’ I went to a home where some friends were waiting for me to join them in a card game. They had cards on the table and were ready to play, but I told them, ‘No cards for me; I have found Jesus!’ They saw the light of another world on my face, and the cards were put away.
“What a change God made in my heart! Everything I had loved that was of the world was taken out of my heart, but oh how I loved lost souls! Often I wept as I saw those who looked sad, and many times I would stop and tell them the story of Jesus.”
Florence Crawford was only one of thousands who went to the revival’s epicenter, but she was one who came away a changed woman.
When Florence Crawford heard that God could sanctify wholly, she sought that experience also. She went from place to place where sanctification was taught, willing to kneel at any altar, no matter how humble, seeking to find satisfaction for her hungry soul. She reported, “When evangelists came to the city, I found a way to get a private interview with them, if possible, and told of my hunger. When they heard how earnestly I had sought and consecrated my life, they would say, ‘You are sanctified,’ but I knew that I was not. There was a hunger, a craving, a thirst in my heart. While I was living a consecrated life, the fire had not yet fallen on the sacrifice.”
There was a deep longing in her heart to find someone who preached all the Word of God. One day when a friend was visiting her, they sat with their Bibles in their hands, wondering why they could not find anyone who preached the Bible in its entirety. They agreed before they parted that if they ever found a people who preached the Gospel in its fullness, they would cast their lot with them.
Some time later, this Christian woman came to Florence Crawford’s home and told her she had found a people who preached the whole Word of God. When asked, “Where are they?” she responded, “Down in the lower section of Los Angeles.” With no hesitation, Florence Crawford told her, “I do not care where the place is, I want to go. Take me there!”
In the very first meeting Florence Crawford attended at the ramshackle building on Azusa Street, she recognized that the people there possessed what her spirit was hungering for. “It was not a fine hall, but just an old barn-like building with an old board laid on two chairs for an altar. The floor was carpeted with sawdust; the walls and beams blackened by smoke. I looked around to see if anybody saw me go in, but I would not have cared if the whole world saw me go out. I had found a people who had the experience I wanted,” she reported. She determined to seek for the experience that she knew these people had found.
The outpouring of the Holy Spirit transcended racial and cultural lines. Over twenty nationalities were counted in one meeting in the building on Azusa Street.
“From Monday till Friday I sought God and read my Bible at every possible moment between my duties,” she related. “That Friday afternoon at the mission, the preacher stopped and said, ‘Somebody in this place wants something from God.’ I pushed the chairs away in front of me and fell at the altar, and there God sanctified me.” She later referred to this experience as “the most choice treasure of my life.”
Three days later, in another of the Azusa Street meetings, God poured out the Pentecostal experience on her life. “As I sat in my chair in the mission,” she recounted, “the Holy Ghost fell from Heaven and a rushing mighty wind filled the room. My tongue that had never spoken a word but English began to magnify and praise God in Chinese. The power of God shook my being, and rivers of joy and divine love flooded my soul. It was wonderful, but the greatest joy to my heart was that I had received the power to witness to lost souls so they, too, could find Jesus.” A Chinese man was present, and hearing her speak in his native tongue, he came and listened in amazement and then said, “Chinese white woman!”
From that time on, Florence Crawford’s burning desire was to spread the message that Pentecost—the power and anointing of the Holy Spirit for Christian service—had come. Newspapers commented on a “new sect of fanatics breaking loose,” and a front-page story in the Los Angeles Daily Times said, “The devotees of the weird doctrine practice the most fanatical rites, preach the wildest theories, and work themselves into a state of mad excitement in their peculiar zeal.” However, the reports did not discourage Florence Crawford.
Touched by what has been called the greatest outpouring of the Holy Spirit in history, this dynamic woman found her energy channeled into Gospel work. She immediately associated herself with the Azusa Street organization, and in recognition of her obvious abilities, was soon accepted by leader William Seymour into the core group who helped to set policy at the mission. Within four months, she became a minister.
Another of her duties was sending out news of what was happening at Azusa Street. People who wanted to know more about the “Latter Rain” Gospel were making inquiries, requesting more information. Combining her efforts with those of Clara Lum, another woman in the Azusa Street meetings, and others, Florence Crawford began putting the record of what was being said in the meetings into a newspaper format. This publication was called The Apostolic Faith. In September of 1906, 5,000 copies were printed of the first edition and distributed without charge. Ministers and laymen received copies, and interest continued to grow. By 1907, the press run was 40,000 copies.
An article in the first issue of the paper gave a picture of those early meetings: “In a short time God began to manifest His power and soon the building could not contain the people. Proud, well-dressed preachers come in to ‘investigate.’ Soon their high looks are replaced with wonder, then conviction comes, and very often you will find them in a short time wallowing on the dirty floor, asking God to forgive them and make them as little children.” This description and others in later editions illustrate a fundamental truth about receiving God’s blessing—it must begin with an attitude of brokenness, repentance, and humility.
Florence Crawford began to feel God’s call to take the Pentecostal message to other areas.
Though God was clearly working in the Los Angeles area, Florence Crawford had, like so many others, begun to feel God’s call to take the Pentecostal message to other areas. At one point she said, “There is no spot on earth so dear to me as this place, but I must go out and tell the story. Souls are perishing far and near. . . . God wants us to go out into the highways and hedges and declare this Gospel.”
After doing some itinerant preaching in California, that call propelled her northward. She began to consecrate and make preparations to fulfill her responsibility, although for a time everything seemed to be against her leaving Los Angeles. She had become a vital part of the work on Azusa Street. Yet, God opened the way, and after holding meetings in San Francisco and Oakland, she boarded a train that was bound northward. In her heart was a prayer that God would meet her every need and open new doors for Gospel work.
Arriving in Salem, Oregon, in mid-December of 1906, she visited a holiness group whose pastor, M. L. Ryan, had received the Holy Ghost at Azusa Street and had subsequently requested that someone come from Los Angeles to help his group. Her arrival was announced in his publication, Apostolic Light, and the series of meetings she held there were mightily blessed of God, with many receiving the baptism of the Holy Ghost. One of those in attendance at the Salem meetings was the wife of a Portland pastor. She invited the woman evangelist to visit Portland and hold meetings in her husband’s church on Second and Main Street. Pastor Glassco’s congregation had been dwindling, and he had been praying for something to happen to make a change.
God heard and answered those prayers. The hands of the clock on the railroad station tower were creeping toward 12:00 noon when a train pulled slowly into the Portland, Oregon, depot at the end of December in 1906. Perhaps the moment when the travelers disembarked passed into history unnoticed by those going by. However, it was a moment not without importance, for Florence Crawford was one of the passengers. She brought with her a message that was to transform evangelical Christianity in the northwestern part of the United States—the message that the Pentecostal experience of the baptism of the Holy Ghost could be received by saved and sanctified believers in this era.
Just three hours later, she was in her first meeting. The place of worship was far from elegant. The building at Second and Main, once used as a blacksmith shop, had been cleaned up and made into a sanctuary. A few days later, she wrote back to Los Angeles: “The power fell before the meeting was half through, and two received Pentecost; at night, two more. . . . The altar is full before the meeting is half over. The house is just packed. Oh, if we only had a larger hall! I cannot tell how God is working here.”
In a letter dated a week later, she again told how the crowds were thronging the hall. As the word got out, people began coming from all over the area in such numbers that some had to be turned away. In the first week, thirty-eight received the baptism of the Holy Ghost, and as the revival fire continued to spread, it began reaching the unconverted. One young woman came from Albany, Oregon, and was saved, sanctified, and received her baptism, all in one day.
News reporters began to cover the happenings, although they were not the most welcomed people at that time because all available space was needed for those interested in hearing the Word of God. One day a reporter feigned to be a derelict in order to gain entrance to the service. With a bottle in his hip pocket, he made his way to the front and knelt at the place of prayer, hoping for a close-up view of what was happening. He had intended to write a derogatory report for the newspaper, but there the hand of God touched him, convicted him of sin, and saved his soul. “God is spreading this Gospel in spite of the devil,” Florence Crawford wrote. “How glad I am that I ever found my way into the dear old mission on Azusa Street!”
On January 8, with her initial trip concluded, Florence Crawford returned to Los Angeles. However, in April of that same year, she was on her way back to Portland. The pastor of the group that met in the old converted blacksmith shop had contacted the owners of property at Southeast Twelfth and Division Street in Portland, wanting to make arrangements to hold a camp meeting at that location. The owners were initially reluctant, saying that the “tongues of fire” might set the woods ablaze, but they finally consented to let him use the location. Greatly in need of a larger place of worship after the camp meeting, the Portland congregation moved to a hall at Southwest First and Madison.
As the Lord continued to bless, the pastor offered to turn his church over to Florence Crawford. It would be her church—the Apostolic Faith Mission of Portland, Oregon. During a Gospel outreach trip to Minneapolis, God spoke to her, saying, “If you will go back to Portland, Oregon, and stay there, I will make that place the headquarters of the Apostolic Faith work, and I will raise up the standard of the Gospel in that city.”
Today, people on every continent are serving the Lord, rejoicing in the message that Florence Crawford brought to Portland a century ago.
God’s plan was unmistakable, and in 1908, Florence Crawford gave up her home in Los Angeles and moved to Portland. At that point, the Azusa Street ministry turned over two of the existing twenty-two copies of the mailing list, and transferred to her the responsibility of publishing The Apostolic Faith paper. The thirteenth issue of the Apostolic Faith paper, which was published in Los Angeles in May of 1908, after Florence Crawford moved to Portland, contained this note: “For the next issues of this paper address The Apostolic Faith Campmeeting, Portland, Oregon.”
Funds were low, but God spoke definitely to Florence Crawford, letting her know that He would provide, and experience had taught her that faith plus obedience to the will of God brings results. With only ten cents in hand, she stepped out in faith, and in July of 1908, the first paper to be issued from Portland was published.
In accordance with her belief that God would provide for the work, after accepting the Portland pastorate, “Mother” Crawford, as she came to be known, discontinued the custom of taking collections in the services. The former pastor was amazed, and asked, “Who is going to be responsible for the upkeep of this place if no collections are taken?” She firmly answered him, “I will be responsible.” From that day to this, no collections have ever been taken in Apostolic Faith Church services. Freewill offerings and tithes have met every need.
Just over one year later, on October 12, 1909, the Apostolic Faith organization was registered with the State of Oregon. From that simple beginning, a worldwide work sprang.
Today, Apostolic Faith churches around the world look back to their roots in a converted blacksmith shop in Portland, Oregon. The literature ministry has expanded and covered the globe with Gospel publications produced and offered free of charge in more than seventy languages and dialects. People on every continent are serving the Lord, rejoicing in the message that Florence Crawford brought to Portland a century ago.