April 21, 2023

Push Forth at Midnight

Celebrating the rich history of pioneering Alliance ministries

Compiled by Alliance Life staff

In 1923, Alliance leaders heavily emphasized the need for more workers to go into previously hard-to-reach regions and share the gospel. Paul Rader urged Alliance people to “push forth into the midnight darkness to the regions beyond.”

Because of their faith, existing ministries were expanded and three new fields were opened that now, 100 years later, have a vibrant witness for Christ. Their perseverance in reaching the unreached resulted in innumerable healings, hundreds of new churches, thousands of new believers, and missionaries sent from their own people groups to reach even more of these hard-to-reach places. As you read these testimonies, we hope you are encouraged to pray for and go to the hard places, preaching Christ’s love in word and deed until every tribe knows His name. 

Today, the vision of unreached peoples is even more vivid to our souls, the call of the Master rings more clearly in our hearts, and the fixed determination in our lives is to go forward along every path our Lord indicates to us, however high the mountain barriers, or dense the jungle, or barren the desert to be traversed. . . . Someone must tell the waiting tribes about Christ Jesus, God’s only Son and man’s only Savior. 

—A. C. Snead, Alliance foreign secretary in 1923

100 Years in Colombia

The Colombian Alliance will mark its centennial with three phases of celebrations. During June, local churches will hold special events with their congregations. From August 17–20, their National Office in Armenia, Quindío, will host a large gathering with pastors, leaders, and international guests. The final festivities will be held in October during a celebration with pastors in different regions of the country.

According to Bob Searing, a retired Alliance missionary to this field, the C&MA’s entrance into Colombia was not planned. Until 1923, the south remained a hard place for missionaries, as it was wholly unevangelized due to inadequate roads and antagonism to the gospel. Despite these obstacles, God opened an unlikely avenue for Alliance ministry there. 

One June day, Homer Crisman, the founder of the C&MA in Ecuador, was running for his life from an angry mob that was persecuting believers there. He arrived in the Colombian town of Ipiales, carrying a suitcase full of Bibles, New Testaments, and tracts. There he met a photographer named Teófilo who heard Homer’s story and opened his home to him. 

“That night, Homer led Teófilo and his wife to the Lord, and that was the start of The Alliance in Colombia,” said Bob. 

Within two weeks, Homer was able to lead about eight rural people to faith at the weekly market in Ipiales. This was the catalyst for six churches that were founded less than eight months later by other Alliance missionaries. The Alliance mission chose Popayan as the location of its first headquarters. Prior to this, the area had been described as one of Colombia’s most difficult mission fields. From there, the C&MA branched out toward the north, reaching Armenia, Bogota, Neiva, and other cities in central Colombia. 

One of the most important works was among the Paez Indians, whose first convert, Rev. Porfirio Ocaña, came to Christ at the age of 13. Rev. Ocaña started three churches by the time he was 18 and eventually became the leader of the entire tribe, whom he represented before the Colombian government to obtain the guarantee of religious freedom within the tribal areas. “He founded well over 100 churches and led thousands to the feet of Jesus over his lifetime,” Bob said. When Rev. Ocaña died, 50,000 people gathered in front of the Catholic church in the city where he was buried, honoring him for his work as a pastor, an evangelist, and a tribal leader.

The mission later moved its headquarters to Cali, which was near a port city with better transportation. In the mid-1940s, a severe persecution of believers broke out within the context of violent civil war. This was followed by a decade of persecution, the severity of which rivaled some of the worst in Church history. In 1950, two Paez Indians were shot and killed for their faith; the same year, the former president of the Colombian national church and the first pastor ordained into the Colombian Alliance were shot by police. Church buildings were burned, and property was destroyed. A restriction was also placed on missionaries entering the country. 

“It was during this turbulent time that the Colombian national church was born,” wrote Bob’s son Mark, who grew up in Colombia and became a C&MA missionary there. “Its health and strength could be seen almost immediately in the light of the persecution fires. The following years have seen great growth as the witness of the church has been vibrant throughout the good and the bad times.”

According to 2020 statistics from the Alliance World Fellowship, there are now 372 Alliance churches in Colombia with a membership of 25,000. Within 100 years, the Colombian Alliance has grown from being the recipient of missions to sending the gospel to other countries and regions—including some of the world’s hardest places—surviving religious persecution, armed conflict, sociocultural upheavals, scarcity, and pestilence.

Considering its humble beginnings, the growth of The Alliance in Colombia is a powerful testimony to the work of God’s Spirit. “You never plan to start in one of the smallest cities in a country,” Bob said. “That’s not the place to pick, but God picked it.”

50 Years of Church Planting in Latin America

2023 marks the 50th anniversary of “Lima to an Encounter with God” (Encuentro con Dios, or LED). Founded in the megacity of Lima, Peru, Encounter with God is a proven model for developing sustainable, multiplying, and locally resourced church-planting movements in urban centers. The main celebration of this ministry will take place October 23–29 with a meeting to present the challenges for the church in the coming years. A book titled The Fire on the City about the history, principles, and development of LED will be presented during the first session.

Encounter with God began in the Lince Church, which had organized in 1958 with 24 members. The congregation slowly grew to 120 in nine years. Then the pastor moved on, and stagnation set in. A core group of believers grew concerned about the church’s paltry witness in a city of 5 million. Spontaneous prayer groups in the church and in homes asked God for revival in the congregation and for the salvation of thousands of people in Lima and throughout Peru. 

God answered with the arrival of Alfred Smith, an Argentine pastor who assumed leadership of the Lince Church in 1973. Under the banner “Lima to an Encounter with God,” he began 15 consecutive months of evangelistic campaigns and discipleship classes for new believers. It was the longest, most intensive evangelistic effort ever undertaken to date in The Alliance and resulted in over 2,000 conversions. Sunday attendance increased to 700. In 10 years, the Lince Church’s membership swelled to 2,000. The congregation also planted 13 daughter churches with a total of over 5,200 baptized members. 

Missiologists and church leaders came from everywhere to study the dynamics of the LED program, which became a showcase of evangelism and church growth strategy. Eventually, LED (PERU) formed their own network that was interconnected with other Encounter movements, which they exported around Latin America in Chile, Ecuador, Colombia, Argentina, and Uruguay. According to the book All for Jesus, lessons learned from the movement found fertile ground beyond Latin America to Africa and even North America.

Ultimately, it was a commitment to unrelenting prayer that helped make Encounter with God a success. “From the very beginning, prayer has played a major role in the Encounter with God churches,” notes Church Ministries International (CMI), formerly the LeTourneau Foundation, which has provided funds to LED for church properties, travel, and other expenses—including grants that enabled the Lince Church to mount a multimedia campaign to draw the city’s attention to the salvation available in Jesus. “CMI attributes its continued ability to aid the churches of Latin America to the prayer support of interested Christians in North America and to the dedicated observance of this principle on the field.”

100 Years in West Africa

Two countries in West Africa are celebrating 100 years of Alliance ministry in 2023. Because of security-related concerns in these two creative-access fields, there will likely be no public celebrations of these milestones, but this does not diminish the impact of their Kingdom presence over the last century.

Without ever having been to Africa, C&MA founder A. B. Simpson’s heart was gripped with conviction for the hearts of the African people. He felt there was a particular spiritual darkness on this continent. For years, Alliance people prayed and gave financially so that one day they might send workers to Africa.

Up until 1890, there was not a single mission or even one known missionary serving in a specific region of West Africa. It was then that a party of Alliance missionaries sailed for and entered West Africa for the first time—a journey that was far from easy or comfortable. One after another, the missionaries fell to disease, and many believed that this particular mission should be deserted. 

Simpson was sure, though, that The Christian and Missionary Alliance was to stand firm and bring the gospel to West Africa. In 1923, four years after his death, The Alliance entered a region in West Africa that they had yet to explore. By 1924, the C&MA had established work in different cities, and they soon after opened a girls’ school, a Bible school, and a chapel. 

The establishment of the gospel, even just in creating a presence in the region, was no easy feat. Some new Christians were killed for their faith, and some of the missionaries’ lives were threatened on multiple occasions. In July 1931, the epidemic of yellow fever broke out, and three missionaries died of the disease. 

Shortly after the epidemic, however, other missionaries joined the team, and by 1933, the workers in the region reported spiritual breakthrough. During this time, 25 young men came to Christ despite extreme persecution. 

In 1931, the first reported response to the gospel occurred among a strongly pagan tribe. Jesus’ name had never been heard among them until The Alliance entered their region—the villages responded to the gospel, and many were developed as leaders. 

During the late 1930s and early 1940s, the missionaries were expelled from West Africa due to World War II; the ministry was carried on by national workers. Alliance missionaries returned as soon as they were able in 1945 and opened a primary school, planted new churches, and developed specific regions. 

When one missionary couple first arrived in this region of West Africa in 1931, there were reportedly only two to three Christians. When they went back to the United States in 1947, there were 125 known believers in the district. 

The first native pastors were ordained in 1957—there were 13 of them! In 1958, the West African Alliance missions were reorganized, different fields were established within this region, and by 1960, the national church was established. At this time, two West African countries, which are celebrating their 100-year anniversaries this year, were established as different entities. Throughout the 60s and 70s, many Alliance primary schools, Bible schools, and camps were established. 

In the early 2000s, one of these West African countries opened a women’s and children’s hospital, which later won an award for its HIV/AIDS efforts. The international workers also began soccer and youth outreach ministries. 

International workers have been deeply engaged in these two countries—establishing Bible schools, hospitals, youth work, village outreaches, church formations, weekly prison and hospital visitations, a radio ministry, Christian elementary schools, and women’s ministriesTheir work through leadership development, food distributions, healing prayer, friendship, and more have led hundreds, if not thousands, to the feet of Jesus.

Throughout our history, The Alliance has had an incredible impact in these two very-hard-to-reach areas of West Africa. These quiet celebrations are a result of the humble servants of Christ who have lived out the gospel and will continue to do so, being present among the masses.

An Alliance international worker serving in West Africa once wrote, “May we be a people chosen by God, sent by the Lord Jesus, and equipped by the Holy Spirit to bring spiritual and physical healing to the community around us.”

Raymond P. Possiel ministering from the Gospel Truck in 1946. This truck was used to travel throughout the villages in one of these two West African countries and teach Scripture to the locals.

100 Years among a West African People Group

In another West African country nearby, Alliance ministry had been active for many years, but in 1923 a new people group came to their attention who had been living under an oppressive religion for hundreds of years. As Alliance missionaries searched for a place to do ministry, they found a city where a large portion of the population in the surrounding villages was from this people group. A Middle Eastern believer who lived in the area repeatedly asked Alliance missionaries to establish their work in this place because there was no way for anyone in this city to hear God’s Word. 

The Alliance workers felt burdened for these hundreds of thousands of people who didn’t have any opportunity to hear about Jesus and decided that this would be the hub of their ministry. An old hotel had recently gone up for sale, which the ministry team bought and planned to turn into a mission house and rest home. C. R. and Fannie Myers were entrusted to open this new work as they were considered a seasoned missionary couple. Fannie, a French citizen, had served for many years with another organization in Belgian Congo, and C. R. had served with The Alliance in the French Congo before they were married in 1921. 

The work in this country and among this people group was hard fought, and they were not seeing anyone surrender their lives to Christ. Only nine months into this ministry assignment, Fannie died after a short bout of blackwater fever, a complication of malaria. C. R. stayed until 1925 before leaving the field to care for their child, just long enough to pass on the ministry to new workers like Nellie Farr, Harry and Naomi Watkins, Jonathan Johannsen, and many others.

Despite Fannie and C. R.’s short contribution, they were used mightily to start this important work. Now, 100 years later, Alliance workers are finally seeing people respond to Christ’s love for them. A few churches are just now beginning to take root in at least five cities and towns in the area. 

“We continue in pioneer evangelism and church-planting ministries as we follow the Lord in establishing His Kingdom presence here in a land long held under the dominion of another majority religion,” an Alliance worker says. “This new foothold has been hard fought, but it is now won. The long and intensive ministries of discipleship, church development, and worldview redemption now call for an even greater force to see the Kingdom fully established among this resistant but very significant people!” 

100 Years in Cambodia

In January 2023, thousands of believers gathered in Phnom Penh to celebrate the centennial anniversary of the Protestant church in Cambodia. With representation from every province and many people groups, the events were joyous, full of gratitude for what God has done throughout the last century and hope for what He will do in the next.

The celebration was particularly special for the Alliance family because the very first long-term Protestant missionaries in Cambodia were sent by The Christian and Missionary Alliance. In 1923, Arthur and Esther Hammond arrived in Cambodia, joined later that same year by David and Muriel Ellison. Together, they began establishing a gospel presence in Phnom Penh and Battambang, Cambodia. There were only 10 known baptized believers in Cambodia at the end of 1924. By the end of the next year, however, that number had grown to 80! 

From the very beginning, the Hammonds and Ellisons worked diligently to help train and establish local Khmer pastors. In the early 1930s, most of the Khmer churches were self-supporting. Despite some governmental opposition and the turmoil of World War II, God continued to move and build His church in Cambodia. 

In 1949, the Khmer churches became their own entity as an independent C&MA national church, and in 1958, they adopted the name the Khmer Evangelical Church (KEC). In 1952, the Khmer translation of the full Bible was completed—with significant work from Arthur Hammond—and it was officially published two years later. 

In the mid-1960s, Alliance missionaries were forced to leave Cambodia due to the government’s refusal to renew visas for Americans. Two of those missionaries, Ed and Ruth Thompson, had worked with the Bunong people in Cambodia and were reassigned to work with the same people group across the border in Vietnam, where they are known as the Mnong. In 1968, the Thompsons were tragically killed in the Tet Offensive attack by the Viet Cong. However, the Lord took the Thompsons’ gospel witness among the Bunong and Mnong peoples and multiplied it a hundredfold—today, according to the Joshua Project, there are over 34,000 believers among them.

While American missionaries were barred from Cambodia during the late 60s and early 70s, French Alliance missionaries like Jean and Myrtle Fune were able to step in and carry on the work. This was a difficult time for the church in Cambodia. Four pastors were imprisoned when they refused to sign statements saying the permits for their churches to meet were invalid. And by 1970, the Khmer Rouge had already formed and began taking control of rural areas.

Despite the brewing trouble, God was moving mightily in Cambodia. From 1972 to 1974, a surge of evangelism and new believers invigorated the Cambodian church. “The Christians were not necessarily students of evangelistic methods, but sharing their faith was as natural as breathing,” writes Gene Hall, a former Alliance missionary and field chairman to Cambodia. 

In 1975, the Khmer Rouge regime captured Phnom Penh and overthrew the government. The dark years that followed were full of horror and genocide. CAMA Services, the relief and development ministry of The Alliance which had been formed in Vietnam in 1973, suddenly had a new purpose. Refugees from Cambodia were pouring into Thailand. Over the coming years, CAMA became a key player in refugee ministries, and U.S. Alliance churches sponsored over 10,000 refugees from Asia.

The Alliance workers’ ministry through CAMA in the refugee camps was considerable, and the fruit of changed hearts was abundant. Those they preached the gospel to often went on to preach the gospel even louder. Om Mai, a Cambodian woman who came to Christ in a clinic, preached the gospel so boldly that she led approximately 3,000 members of the Khmer Rouge to Christ. Despite the horrors of the regime from 1975 to 1979, the Holy Spirit has not stopped moving among Cambodians, and the gospel has not stopped flourishing. 

Alliance missionaries were finally able to reenter Cambodia in 1990. In 1993, the KEC was reestablished when 15 churches chose to come under the umbrella of the Alliance World Fellowship. In the following decades, Alliance international workers continued to partner with the KEC to plant churches, run healthcare projects, conduct outreach to minority groups, and invest time into theological education and discipleship. 

Today, the Khmer Evangelical Church is thriving. Looking ahead, will you pray with us for the continuing work in Cambodia? Pray for the KEC, in partnership with Alliance international workers, as they recruit, train, and send Cambodian missionaries. Pray for further success in leadership development and theological education, and further gospel access among minority people groups. 

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