Posted by Craig Borlase on 1 January 2014

Racism, betrayal and misunderstanding: William Seymour saw it all. He was one of the most inspiring black American religious leaders of the last century, even though his name is virtually unknown. 

Seymour’s influence can still be felt today, as over 500 million Pentecostals and Charismatics can trace their spiritual roots back to his tireless work. 

Born in Louisiana in 1870, his parents were former slaves. At 25 he contracted smallpox and went blind in his left eye, but he was passionately inspired by the prospect of seeing people baptised in the Holy Spirit.

He travelled to Texas where he was invited to attend the classes of preacher Charles Parham. Texas law prevented blacks from sitting in classrooms with whites, so Seymour listened in from the hall outside.

Seymour was asked to help run a church in Los Angeles. The only trouble was, that his co-leaders got a little freaked out by his message of revival. They padlocked the church and refused him entry.

Seymour stayed with friends, prayed and fasted for a month, and eventually people gathered outside the house to hear him preach – so many of them, in fact, that the porch collapsed.

Moving into an old building on Azusa Street, people sat on makeshift benches and were soon crammed in from the outside to catch what was going on. With scenes that the LA Times described as a ‘state of mad excitement’, as many as 600 people would meet into the night, hungry for a taste of what was going on.

For three years the Azusa Street revival kicked off. Blacks hands were laid on white heads, and 50,000 people worldwide read his teaching in The Apostolic Faith  magazine. Sadly, Parham visited and was unhappy about what he saw. Then two white female co-leaders left, taking with them the magazine mailing list, cutting Seymour off as leader of the movement. 

William Seymour spent his final 13 years pastoring the church. He believed in the power of God and his humility and quiet determination serve as a lesson to us all. What would you stand up for?

 

 

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