Feature

The Heartbeat

A Heritage of growth in hard times

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In 1937, a huge snowstorm hit Salem, Oregon, and caved in the roof of the small building used by the Christian and Missionary Alliance congregation. Without funds for repairs and with little hope for growth, the elders decided to close the church—the second time in a decade they had voted to do so! And once again Bertha Sheets Friesen spoke out as she had when her husband and the other leaders felt compelled to close the doors at the height of the Depression a few years earlier.

“You can’t close this church!” she insisted. “We have commitments to missionaries—they need our prayers and support. And, besides, they won’t have a church to come home to.”

Her reasoning led the brothers to change their minds. They found the money to fix the roof and committed themselves to the task of world evangelization.

In 1993 Bertha Sheets Friesen turned the soil for the construction of the current sanctuary of Salem Alliance Church, which has 2,000 worshipers on Sundays whose giving supports 33 international workers. By refusing to allow her church to die, Bertha embodied the missionary zeal of our denomination—to send people anywhere and everywhere to seek and save the lost.

Obviously, The Alliance didn’t invent the idea. We echo the Great Commission of Jesus Christ to go and make disciples of all nations (Matt. 28:19). Successive congregations, movements and persecutions have propelled God’s global purpose of redeeming all the peoples of the world.

Hallmarks of Our Heritage

The Alliance was not a split from another denomination or the product of a doctrinal schism. It was the fruit of revival that began in the Fulton Street Prayer Meeting of 1857–1858. Five interdenominational movements were born that restored Scriptural emphases: intentional mass evangelism and social service, personal holiness, anointing with oil for physical healing, the imminent premillennial return of Christ and world evangelism.

The man used by God to initiate The Christian and Missionary Alliance nearly 30 years later was a Canadian Presbyterian pastor named Albert B. Simpson. To the end of his days, he was consumed by a passion to seek and save the lost. Lost people matter to God. He wants them found. This is a hallmark of our heritage.

In 1881 Simpson experienced physical healing and the filling of the Holy Spirit. This exchanged life—Christ living His life through us by the power of the Holy Spirit—is a hallmark of our heritage: Christ our Savior, Sanctifier, Healer and Coming King.

Simpson resigned his pastorate in New York City to serve the Italian immigrants in his neighborhood, conducting meetings, visiting jails and hospitals and going to where the unchurched lived. While the Gospel Tabernacle congregation that grew from this vision held regular worship services, the rest of its life broke the molds of ministry in that era. The members established orphanages, soup kitchens, healing homes, care for unwed mothers, rescue missions, refuges for prostitutes and alcoholics and ethnic language services. While holding to biblical truth without compromise, The Alliance combines service and evangelism. The Kingdom of God builds bridges and not walls. This is a hallmark of our heritage.

In 1886 at the summer resort of Old Orchard, Maine, W. E. Blackstone, a businessman turned preacher, challenged the vacationing Christians: “It is the business of the church to be a witness and to proclaim the gospel to all nations. Oh, for a tongue and a power to wake up the church to her duty.” The next summer, two societies—the Christian Alliance and the Missionary Alliance—were founded at Old Orchard. They merged in 1897, and to this day, the C&MA keeps the Great Commission as its first business. This is a hallmark of our heritage.

Thriving in Turmoil

These are turbulent times. The long-range ramifications of the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan are unknown. The threat of terrorist attacks here and abroad remains high. Many have lost jobs in the economic crisis, and those who have invested for their future have experienced painful losses. Yet our alliance of Christians and missionaries has achieved some of its most lasting Kingdom impact in difficult times.

  • C&MA missionaries entered Côte d’Ivoire in 1929 and 1930, planting the first churches among the Baoule people. Today there are more than 2,000 local churches with about 300,000 Alliance members.
  • The first C&MA missionaries to Laos arrived in 1929, and God called the Hmong people en masse to Himself. Through persecution they subsequently emigrated all over the world. The Hmong District has the largest membership of any C&MA district in the United States.
  • When the Depression was in full swing, Robert Jaffray established the first congregations of the Kemah Injil Church in Indonesia, which now numbers more than 3,000 churches with more than 370,000 constituents.
  • During World War II, The Alliance refused to retreat, pledging to send out 250 new missionaries in 1942. Four years later, the goal was achieved!
  • Last year marked the fortieth anniversary of the sacrifice of seven Alliance workers who died when the Vietcong started its invasion of South Vietnam. In 1962 two others and a colleague had disappeared from the Banmethuot leprosarium. And in 1975, the North Vietnamese held five Alliance and two Wycliffe missionaries hostage for eight months. Today, the Vietnamese C&MA has more than one million adherents in that Communist nation. The blood of the martyrs truly is the seed of the gospel.

Living It Today

What if The Alliance had turned inward during those trying times and followed the natural tendency to give less for fear of lack? What if we had retreated from a world in turmoil? What incredible Kingdom opportunities might have been lost forever?

I am convinced that out of today’s uncertainties another remarkable advance of the gospel will come on the wide steppes of Central Asia, among the Fulbe in the southern Sahara and throughout the African immigrants in Spain.

We have heard the following phrase many times, but it may be most true of Kingdom investments of the Great Commission Fund: If we want spiritual investment with high yields, we must hold onto our long-term strategy and ignore temporary slumps. Our heritage is to maintain the focus of global vision during political and financial disasters. Will those who come behind us find us faithful?

Our heritage is beautiful and noble. Whether the C&MA flourishes or fades, I believe that it is already a World Heritage site of God’s Kingdom, instrumental in salvation history. However, unless each succeeding generation embraces it, our heritage can become nothing more than a memory, an icon, an appendix—or even a stumbling block—in the local church.

Renewal is necessary in our personal lives and in our corporate life. Every church experiences crises, whether caused by snowstorms or pettiness, in which it decides if it will fix its eyes on Jesus, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross. Will you, like Him, endure hardship for the joy set before you? Will you, in the spirit of Bertha Sheets Friesen, keep your personal priorities and the priority of your church straight? Will your purpose be to fulfill the Great Commission—here, there and everywhere?

Every follower of Jesus Christ is called to participate in this global mission. The Church—the gathering of these followers—has only one mission: To know Him and to make Him known among all nations. One moment after He comes, nothing else will matter.

This is our heritage. This must be our heartbeat.

Two-Way Street

From our early leaders’ commitment to missionary support until today, Salem (Ore.) Alliance Church has been blessed with big-picture thinkers who show loyalty and foresight. Guided most recently by the vision of John Stumbo and Steve Fowler, we are currently building a facility that will house a Life Center. This outreach will offer a free medical clinic, training opportunities for recently released inmates, meeting space for significant conversations, ESL classes and a coffee shop. Much of our philosophy and ministry ideas for this building came through our partnership with the C&MA Arab Lands field, which also utilizes a Life Center concept to reach into its community.

Collaborating with these international workers has focused our dream and challenged us to walk out into our city as Jesus did and serve where needs are found. We are constantly learning from our connections with international workers worldwide and finding that, far from all the ideas, support and encouragement flowing only from us, we are receiving just as much from them as we could possibly give.

Salem Alliance continues to support workers from within our congregation, both internationally and domestically, and sends six to eight short-term teams per year supporting those workers. We believe in The Alliance!

—Susan White, director of World Impact, Salem Alliance Church

Past Alliance Life Issues

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