Five Women Who Shaped the Assemblies of God
by Peggy Musgrove
Passing historical landmarks is somewhat like climbing the highest peak in a mountain range. From that vantage point, the surrounding landscape comes clearly into view. Similarly, from the vantage point of 100 years of history, we view ministries that have impacted us. Their contributions can be traced like streams flowing down the mountainside, shaping the landscape as they go.
This article explores the lives of five women whose ministries have shaped the Assemblies of God. They come from different family backgrounds, and one is from a different country. They also have different ministries. They began ministering in the same era, the early years of the last century. Their common denominator is the dynamic change in their lives that came after receiving the infilling of the Holy Spirit. They did not intend to become world-changers; they simply followed the flow of the Spirit. The rest is history.
Alice Reynolds Flower
While doing research for this article, I sometimes mentioned it in casual conversation to friends. Then I would ask whom they thought I should include. Without fail, the name Alice Reynolds “Mother” Flower came up first.
Charles and Mary Alice Reynolds came from New England Quaker families. By the time their daughter, Alice, was born, the family had migrated to Indiana and affiliated with the Christian and Missionary Alliance. In 1907, some Alliance church members were receptive to the Pentecostal message brought by ministers from Azusa Street. These meetings had dynamic influence on two teenagers: Alice Reynolds and J. Roswell Flower.1 In 1911, they married and began their ministry together.
Years later, in recalling her Pentecostal experience, Alice Flower emphasized that the baptism in the Holy Spirit was the introduction to the Spirit-filled life. She wrote: “This is what the baptism of the Holy Spirit should be — the opening of the door of a vital and continuous communion with God for effectual prayer, worship and service for Him.”2
Walking through the door of continuous communion opened many doors for Alice Flower. After her marriage, she began ministries that would shape the Assemblies of God. Together, she and her husband enrolled in Bible school and were ordained in ministry. In 1913, they began writing and distributing a weekly magazine, the Christian Evangel, forerunner of today’s Pentecostal Evangel. When her husband became secretary of the newly formed Assemblies of God, they continued the publication of this magazine.
Her writing ministry continued throughout her lifetime. She gained a reputation not only for books and articles but also for poetry. Even at age 98 in a nursing home, she continued to compose poetry. Someone nearby recorded one poem that spoke of receiving “daily manna” from the Lord, an indication of her continuous personal communion with Him.3
Pulpit ministry opened for Alice Flower when her husband was a pastor. Though they had six children, she held revivals and spoke on family-related topics. One poster advertises her as “A Little Mother with a Burning Message.”
The public ministries did not distract from her role as wife and mother. Five of her six children entered the ministry, becoming leaders in the Assemblies of God. The other child died of an accident while training for ministry at Central Bible Institute. Several grandchildren entered vocational ministry as well.
David Flower, her youngest son, recently gave his mother a tribute in a message to Maranatha Village chapel. After complimenting her, he concluded by appealing to the crowd “not to exalt a person, but recognize the power of a godly influence.”
Even today the Assemblies of God still feels the godly influence of Alice Flower.
Alice E. Luce
Shortly after the teenaged Alice Reynolds received the baptism in the Holy Spirit in Indiana, halfway around the world in India a young Anglican woman also heard the Pentecostal message at Pandita Ramabai’s mission. Alice Luce, a British missionary, converted to Pentecostalism and felt called to missions among the Hispanics in North America.
Luce came to the United States soon after the organization of the Assemblies of God. In 1915, she hoped to go to Mexico as a missionary. When civil war in that country kept her from going, she went to Los Angeles to work with Hispanics where Azusa Street ministers had preached earlier.
Luce’s personal ministry was varied but dynamic. Her public ministry included open-air evangelistic meetings, Bible studies, and Sunday School teaching. When not holding public meetings, she led door-to-door tract distribution and prayed for the sick. Ultimately, she was instrumental in establishing the Latin America Bible Institute in San Diego (now located in La Puente, Calif.).
According to Gaston Espinosa, Luce represents “one of the clearest examples of a prophetic woman in ministry in early Pentecostalism.”4
Mentoring other missionaries was important to Luce. She met a young missionary, Henry C. Ball, when she was ordained, and later joined his mission in Mexico. Luce’s ministry impacted not only the missionary but also the entire Fellowship.
Bruce Rosdahl wrote: “From January to September Luce and Ball worked together, and the veteran missionary surely influenced Ball’s thinking. Luce was forty-four, and Ball was twenty-one. She was well educated and a veteran missionary; Ball had no formal training and his ministry was still in its infancy. Luce’s impact could be viewed as providential, not only on Ball, but on the broader AG. Luce’s articles on indigenous church administration and planting helped to set the trajectory for the Fellowship’s missiology in the United States and abroad.”5
Rosdahl was referring to Luce’s Pentecostal Evangel articles describing Paul’s missionary methods.6 A recent article traced present AG missions strategy to her influence: “The AG committed itself in 1921 to a missions strategy of establishing self-governing, self-supporting, and self-sustaining churches in missions lands. Alice Luce … influenced the AG to adopt this indigenous church principle long before it was embraced by most mainline Protestant groups.
“Missions leaders such as Ralph D. Williams, J. Philip Hogan, and Melvin L. Hodges helped to implement the indigenous strategy ….”7
Alice Luce is still highly respected among Hispanics. Efraim Espinoza, director of the Office of Hispanic Relations, quickly named Alice Luce when asked what woman historically influenced Hispanic churches. Espinoza called Luce a “testimony of the significant role of women in ministry among the Hispanics.”
“She left a legacy of dedicated servant leadership,” Espinoza said.8
Before the Spirit moved the Flowers to publish literature and Alice Luce to become a missionary, another stream was flowing, shaping the Pentecostal movement. A talented young woman, Lillian Trasher, was at a train station in North Carolina when she met Mattie Perry, a Pentecostal woman who ran an orphanage. This encounter changed Trasher’s life and the lives of thousands of others.
Trasher planned to go into journalism. Instead, she joined Mattie Perry and learned to care for orphans by faith. Later she felt called to missions and broke her wedding engagement. Accompanied by her sister, Jennie Benton, she responded to the invitation to join missionaries in Egypt in 1910,9 before the Assemblies of God was organized. She became a member of the Fellowship in 1919.
Assiout Orphanage came about through another unexpected encounter. Shortly after Trasher arrived in Assiout, she responded to a call to pray for a dying woman. She took the woman’s infant back to the mission, but a baby was incompatible with the mission’s operation. Unwilling to give up the child, Trasher rented a home, and soon people brought other children to her. Unintentionally, the orphanage began.
In the early days, Trasher rode a donkey through villages collecting money for the children, earning the title “Lady on a Donkey.” Other names were “Nile Mother” and “Mama,” the name the children fondly called her.
Establishing an institution that, 50 years later, would house over 600 children in 13 buildings on 12 acres of land was not a project without obstacles. Trasher had no pledged support from America; her first offering was 35 cents from an Egyptian boy.
Trasher said, “I believed that if God wanted an orphanage, He would supply its needs. My family has never missed a meal.”10
Other obstacles included cultural resistance to her as an American woman, religious opposition, serious illnesses among the children, and losing buildings by fire. Trasher persisted for 50 years in spite of these challenges, providing care and education for more than 8,000 orphans. An article in AG Heritage remembered her orphanage as “an important symbol of the power of faith.”11
Trasher indirectly influenced the Assemblies of God in other ways. In 1925, Etta Calhoun,12 a Pentecostal woman who had been involved in women’s organizations, felt, according to one historian, “that God had spoken to her heart to employ the ‘machinery’ of Spirit-filled women in missionary efforts at home and in the foreign fields ….
“The burden of Etta Fields Calhoun, (Mrs. John C.) quickly inspired these ladies, and their first project was to make garments to clothe about three hundred of Lillian Trasher’s orphans in Assiout, Egypt.”13
This group was the first Women’s Missionary Council, which became a national organization providing items for missionaries needing supplies for an entire term.
Later, Trasher also inspired Gladys Hinson, who felt called to China. She began preparation for a home similar to the one in Egypt, but the attack on Pearl Harbor closed that door. Rather than giving up, Hinson sought approval to establish a children’s home in America. After she obtained the necessary denominational and legal approval, Hillcrest Children’s Home in Hot Springs, Ark., opened in 1944. Trasher’s influence extended not only throughout Egypt but also to America.14
Marie Burgess Brown
The year Alice Reynolds received the baptism in the Holy Spirit in Indiana, another young woman from Zion City, Ill., opened a mission in New York City. Charles Parham, founder of Bethel Bible School in Topeka, received a request from Lucy Leatherman, who had visited Topeka, for someone to come to New York with the Pentecostal message.15 He offered to pay the fare for two young women if they would go. Those women were Marie Burgess and Jessica Brown.16
Burgess’s mother earnestly prayed for one of her nine children to go into ministry. The woman’s only son, a talented musician, seemed to be the one, but he died near his 21st birthday, regretting that he would have no sheaves to lay at Jesus’s feet. Before his death, Burgess pledged to win many souls to the Lord and share her reward with her brother. Upon hearing this promise, the brother began singing and quietly went to be with Jesus.17
Marie started attending home prayer meetings where people sought the baptism in the Holy Spirit. Charles Parham had come to Zion City to conduct the meetings. Sensing God’s presence, Marie began seeking and received the Spirit baptism on her birthday.
With that experience, “a remarkable vision followed, lasting several hours.”18 She recalled the Spirit seemingly transporting her to China, then to India, Africa, and Japan. She assumed God was calling her to missions, but He had other plans. Instead, He would send her to New York City to establish a church with a heart for missions. Burgess entered the ministry, the living answer to her mother’s prayers.
The first service in New York City was at the Holiness Mission on 41st Street. Only eight people were in attendance, but Marie shared her testimony of receiving the Holy Spirit. Many more came to the next service, and the women continued ministering for four weeks. Then the pastor of that mission discontinued the meetings because he did not approve of the Pentecostal message.
Burgess did not plan to stay in New York. After the Holiness Mission closed her meeting, she wrote those who asked her to come, “I’ll open a mission for you and stand with you until you get somebody.”19
So she opened Glad Tidings Mission on 42nd Street — and stand with them she did, for 64 years.
Marie singly led the mission until her marriage to Robert A. Brown, a young Wesleyan minister who received the baptism in the Spirit during Burgess’s meetings at the Holiness Mission. They continued together as co-pastors until his death in 1948.
In 1921, the couple led the group from a mission hall to the present location on 33rd Street, changing the name to Glad Tidings Tabernacle. As co-pastors, they shared the preaching assignment with her preaching the main service on Sunday afternoon and him preaching on Sunday night.
As pastors, the couple helped spread the Pentecostal message into numerous ethnic communities in multicultural New York City. They encouraged Ellsworth S. Thomas, the first black Assemblies of God minister, to join the fellowship in 1915. Through their ministry, Ivan Voronaev, a Russian Baptist minister, received the Baptism in 1919 and became a missionary to the Soviet Union the following year. He became the most prominent Pentecostal pioneer in Slavic lands before his imprisonment and martyrdom.
Robert and Marie helped Lillian Kraeger start a home missions work in the African-American community in 1918. Kraeger’s Bethel Mission is now known as Bethel Gospel Assembly, one of the largest congregations in the United Pentecostal Council of the Assemblies of God, an African-American fellowship that united with the AG last year.
After Robert’s death, his nephew Stanley Berg joined Marie as co-pastor.
I talked about Marie Brown with Robert A. Berg, Evangel University professor, son of Stanley Berg, and namesake for Robert A. Brown. About Marie’s influence, he said, “She was a role model as a woman pastor when women were not usually accepted as pastors. She thought she would be a missionary, but instead, as a pastor, she led that church to be a great missions church, influencing the entire world. She was very much a leader and the respected matriarch of that congregation.”
The year Marie Burgess went to New York City, another young woman traveled from California to Missouri to share the happenings at Azusa Street with her family.
Rachel and Josie Sizelove, Free Methodist evangelists, preached in Kansas, Oklahoma, and Arkansas. They went to California in 1903 to put their children in the Free Methodist School. In June 1906, they heard about unusual events at an old mission on Azusa Street.
Rachel Sizelove wrote: “My husband told me he had just passed by and heard such wonderful singing. When he came home, he said to me, ‘Rachel, I just now passed by the Azusa Street Mission and heard such singing as I never heard in my life before. It was like angels singing.’”20
Of the first mission service they attended, Rachel wrote: “My very soul cried out, ‘O! Lord, the people have something I do not have.’ ”21
After being convinced of the biblical basis for the Baptism, she received the infilling of the Holy Spirit in July 1906.
The Sizeloves continued attending the mission, but the next year the Lord began speaking to Rachel about her family in Missouri. In writing about this urgent impression, she wrote: “In May 1907, the Lord showed me I must go back East and tell my mother and brothers and sisters what the Lord had done for me …. I hurried down to the Azusa Street Mission and had some of the saints pray with me for the Lord to make His will plain. The evidence came so clearly, ‘My child, you may go and go quickly, for I am with you.’ ”22
Rachel arrived in Springfield and immediately began sharing testimonies from Azusa Street. Her sister, Lillie Corum, received the Spirit baptism on June 1, 1907, the first known person in Springfield, Mo., to have a Pentecostal experience.
News spread, others came to hear reports of what God was doing, and special meetings took place in various locations. The Sizeloves went back to California. A small group of people formed a church, which became Central Assembly of God.
In August 1913, the Sizeloves returned to Springfield. One day in prayer at Lillie Corum’s home, Rachel Sizelove had a vision. She wrote: “One afternoon, I was alone in my sister’s home, and I was carried away in the Spirit, and the Lord gave me a vision. There appeared before me a beautiful, bubbling, sparkling fountain in the heart of the City of Springfield. It sprang up gradually but irresistibly and began to flow toward the East and toward the West, toward the North, and toward the South, and kept flowing until the whole land was deluged with living water.”23
This vision came before the General Council formed in 1914 and before the Flowers brought their printing operation to Springfield in 1918. Springfield, Mo., later became the base for the Assemblies of God, an international ministry that has reached around the world.
Here we have accounts of five women who historically influenced the Assemblies of God. In studying their stories, I wondered, Are these the five most influential women in our history, or does that credit belong to the women who influenced them, or who were influenced by them?
Mary Alice Reynolds, a godly mother, taught Alice Flower. Pandita Ramabai in India led Alice Luce into Pentecost. Mattie Perry witnessed to Lillian Trasher, and her life changed. Lucy Leatherman asked for workers in New York City; Marie Brown responded to that request. Lillie Corum readily accepted Rachel Sizelove’s message and went on to help establish a great church.
Are Flower, Luce, Trasher, Brown, and Sizelove the most influential women in shaping the Assemblies of God, or should that recognition belong to Reynolds, Ramabai, Perry, Leatherman, and Corum? The reader may decide.
1. Edith L. Blumhofer, “Pentecost in My Soul,” AG Heritage (Winter 1997–98): 13.
2. Alice Reynolds Flower, “My Day of Pentecost,” AG Heritage (Winter 1997–98): 19.
3. Connie Hove, “The Voice of the Spirit,” The Pentecostal Evangel (November 19, 1989): 5.
4. Gaston Espinosa, “Liberated and Empowered: The Uphill Ministry of Hispanic Assemblies of God Women in Ministry,” AG Heritage (2008): 45.
5. Bruce Rosdahl, “Whatever the Cost: The Formative Years of H.C. Ball, Pioneer of Hispanic Pentecostalism,” AG Heritage (2011): 10.
6. Alice E. Luce, “Paul’s Missionary Methods,” The Pentecostal Evangel, (January 8, 22, 1921; February 5, 1921): 6, 6, 5.
7. Darrin Rogers, “Fully Committed,”The Pentecostal Evangel (April 13, 2014): 26.
8. Efraim Espinosa, personal correspondence, May 14, 2014.
9. Beth Baron, “Nile Mother: Lillian Trasher and Egypt’s Orphans,” AG Heritage (2011): 32.
10. Assemblies of God Division of Foreign Missions, Letters from Trasher, (1983): 13.
11. Beth Baron, “Nile Mother: Lillian Trasher and Egypt’s Orphans,” 39.
12. Account of Etta Calhoun’s Spirit baptism, AG Heritage (Winter 2005–06): 27.
13. WMC History:1925–1975, compiled by Anabel Manley, 14.
14. Laurie Jones, “Hillcrest: A Mission Field for 60 Years,” AG Heritage (Summer 2004): 15.
15. Barbara Cavaness, “Spiritual Chain Reactions,” Women in Ministry Network, http://womeninministry.ag.org/history/spiritual_chain_reactions.cfm.
16. Jessica Brown was unrelated to Robert A. Brown, according to his grandnephew, Robert A. Berg.
17. Zelma Argue, “Chosen of God — The Story of Mrs. Robert A. Brown,” Christ’s Ambassadors Herald (June 1940): 3.
18. “A Herald of Glad Tidings, The Life Story of Marie Brown,” Bread of Life(May 1954): 8
19. Ibid, 9.
20. Corum and Associates, The Sparkling Fountain (1983), 56.
21. Ibid, 57.
22. Ibid, 110.
23. Ibid, 180.