Lessons in Faith From the Great Depression
Pursuing a Kingdom vision in times of adversity
When I was a little girl, my father became the youth director for the Minnesota District Council of the Assemblies of God. He loved to get out on the weekends and be in the churches. Whether it was a Speed the Light rally or preaching on a Sunday morning, we would load up for the weekend and spend a few days staying in the parsonage with the pastor’s family. Late on Sunday nights, we would pull up to our house, and our parents would carry my sister and me to our beds.
I remember little churches all over Minnesota, in places like Pillager, Itasca, Marshall, Duluth, and Hastings. They were mostly similar, usually with a small vestibule that opened into the sanctuary. The fellowship hall and Sunday School classrooms were in the basement. Many of them were built in the 1930s, at the height of the Great Depression. During this long year, I have been thinking about those buildings constructed at a difficult time.
Most people know the Great Depression started with the stock market crash of 1929, but we often forget it lasted 10 years — until 1939. Not only was there 25% unemployment, but the price of some crops also dropped by 60%. Simultaneously, agriculture was devastated by the Dust Bowl, the result from decades of farming the Great Plains without resting the fields.
Like many others, my great-grandparents lost their farm. Some people could no longer care for their children and placed them in orphanages or sent them off to be adopted. Those were long, terrible years.
I’ve been reflecting about the tremendous faith and vision of the 1930s in the Assemblies of God. During this difficult time, the AG flourished — as the Church historically has during war, famine, plague and persecution.
Recently I talked with my friend Tabby Finton, director of alumni relations and the NCU Fund at North Central University in Minneapolis. I asked her about how the move of God took shape in Minnesota during the Great Depression, and about the man and woman of God who led it: Frank and Irene Lindquist. Finton shared some incredible stories.
Born in 1898, Frank Lindquist received Christ and was filled with the Holy Spirit during a tent crusade at age 15. He had a gift for bringing others to Christ. With no formal education, Lindquist completed a study from the Moody Bible Institute to learn more about the Bible. He traveled and preached all over the Midwest with his friend Jim Menzies.
Lindquist became the pastor of the Minneapolis Gospel Tabernacle in 1924. The following year, he went to see Charles Price in Winnipeg, Manitoba, and asked him to come lead meetings. For five weeks, Price preached at a skating rink in Minneapolis. Many were saved and baptized in the Holy Spirit, and the church grew tremendously.
During this difficult time, the AG flourished — as the Church historically has during war, famine, plague and persecution.
In 1927, Lindquist persuaded the other presbyters from the North Central District in Wisconsin, South Dakota, North Dakota, and Montana to purchase property for a Pentecostal campground at Lake Geneva in Alexandria, Minnesota.
Lillian Yeomens was a physician and minister who had been delivered from morphine addiction and was known for prophetic gifts. She had a close friendship with the Lindquists and preached for them in Minneapolis. She strongly encouraged them to start a Bible college.
In Why Not? The Life and Ministry of Frank J Lindquist, Hart Reid Armstrong, describes the conversation this way:
“You really must start a Bible School, for I know God wants you to do this!”
But Irene, with her usual frankness, told Dr. Yeomans, “Nothing doing! We haven’t even got the new church paid for yet. How can we start a Bible school? That stuff takes money, don’t you know that?”
In 1930, during the second year of camp meetings at Lake Geneva Bible Camp, thousands came from all over the Midwest to experience Pentecost and hear Price preach.
Former AG General Superintendent G. Raymond Carlson (1986–93) reported that the Lindquists used the camp as a launching pad for the Bible school and new churches in Minnesota.
The Lindquists started North Central Bible Institute in the basement of the Minneapolis Gospel Tabernacle later in 1930. Along with their faculty and students, they struggled through tremendous financial hardship. Students slept on the floors of the parsonage, and at times hardly had enough food to eat.
Yet the school soon exploded in growth, with several hundred students enrolled by 1935. That same year, during the worst of the Depression, Frank Lindquist and one of the professors, Ivan Miller, discovered the Asbury Hospital. It was a five-story building that covered an entire city block. Inscribed over the door was the verse from Matthew 20:28: “Not to be ministered unto, but to minister” (KJV).
Lindquist and Miller crawled through a broken window and looked inside. Although the building wasn’t that old, it was in terrible disrepair. It was listed for $469,000, but required a down payment of only $5,000. There was only $100 in the school checking account.
The presbyters from neighboring states couldn’t even help this time. Amazingly, the hospital agreed to reduce the price to $125,000 and lend the school the down payment. In 1936, that building became the home of what is still North Central University.
As we head into arguably the darkest Christmas season of our lifetimes, I’m inspired by the passion and sacrifice of believers who pursued a Kingdom vision in the face of adversity. Like many in their generation, they did not give of themselves out of their abundance, but they gave out of their need.
I’m holding onto this verse spoken by Zacharias over John the Baptist in Luke 1:78-79: “Because of God’s tender mercy, the morning light from heaven is about to break upon us, to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, and to guide us to the path of peace.”
This momentary affliction will not last forever! Jesus, the Morning Light from heaven, is breaking upon us. There are people yet to be saved. There are movements to be started. There are properties to be purchased and schools to be founded.It is is not the end; it’s not even a pause! I believe this time of crisis is the engine that can release the people of God to give out of our need and accomplish His work with all our might. Don’t give up. Morning is breaking.