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One Thousand Conversions In One Night (Part 2)

By Albert Widmer

    This article was originally published in the July 18, 1942 issue of the "Pentecostal Evangel." Permission to reprint this article was granted by the Flower Pentecostal Heritage Center (www.iFPHC.org).

    When the crowd of 2,000 South American jungle Indians of the Gran Chaco gathered on the river bank heard Missionary Birger Johanson’s announcement that he was returning to his home missionary base in the little village of Embarcacion due to their disinterest in the Gospel he had been preaching to them, and they would be left with no hope, the Indians jumped to their feet and began to cry with loud and earnest voices to God to have mercy upon them! Deeply moved, Missionary Johanson fell prostrate on the ground in a flood of tears. He continues the story:

    "The lamentation of the Indians [calling on God for mercy] continued until the small hours of the morning, and until the sun began to rise over the Gran Chaco. Only then did the Indians retire, with their faces swollen from so much weeping.

    "A little later the soldiers from the Bolivian forts at Monte Cristo arrived, attracted by the cries of the Indians during the whole night, which were heard 20 kilometers (over 12 miles) away. The soldiers stayed and attended the meetings the following nights but not without fear, in spite of their being armed. They were afraid of the manifestation of the power of God that had come over the Indians. The soldiers asked me, ‘What power is this? Aren’t you afraid that these wild Indians may eat you up?’

    "‘No!’ I answered. ‘The danger has passed. Now they are under the power of God, and this power changes people for the better. Only God can work a miracle like this that you have seen, transforming the hearts of these savages.’

    "These Indians were delivered of evil spirits that tormented them and of their dangerous traditions, and now they are saved, many of them baptized in the Holy Spirit.

    "It was hard for me to separate from the Indians later when I had to return to my home in Embarcacion. I arrived home very sick because of the journey, which was through a hostile, uninhabitable desert. I traveled 200 miles, sleeping under the sky, during the day suffering intense heat and at night suffering cold. All this wrecked my health and kept me in bed for a long time.

    "One day a group of Indians, some of those who had been saved on the banks of the Pilcomayo, came to my home. They had been sent by the chiefs of the Tobas and the Matacos to find me and bring me back to them, because they wanted to know more about God. However, they went away sad, because I could not accompany them as I was gravely ill."

Not the End of the Story

    A little over a year ago, continues the account, the little village of Embarcacion where Johanson resided, was awakened by some strange, uncommon movements in the vicinity of the Mission. The inhabitants of the village hurriedly informed the elderly missionary that the savage Indians had invaded the village. Quickly the people united to protect themselves against what they thought were attackers. The missionary left his bed, and when he recognized the converted Indians he shouted to the people that they should not hurt any of them, for they were his children in the Lord, born of his afflictions. They were 2,000 Indians who had come to be near to the one who had spoken to them of Jesus, seeing he could not go to visit them.

    Words fail to express what happened next, the joy of the Indians in seeing once again their beloved missionary. A rich English fazendeiro (farmer) offered them gratis a large piece of land where the Indians could build a village, which offer was accepted. Soon they had built themselves houses of poles and plaster. The suburb that the Indians built is the cleanest and the most interesting in the whole region. The village is divided by an avenue where the Matacos and the Tobas live. It is composed wholly of believers. They have their daily meetings. An elder and the three deacons (all Indians) lead the prayer meetings and testify with wisdom and sincerity of the things of the Word of God.

    Shortly after this account was written, one of the most brilliant records on the pages of missionary history, Birger Johanson went to be with the Lord whom he loved devotedly and served faithfully. He never looked for ease, good treatment, an agreeable climate, large churches or the esteem of men. The holy fire that burned in quenchless flame in his bosom ever impelled him to seek to win precious souls for the Saviour among the Indians. Who among us will follow his example and endure hardships and despise the shame that the unevangelized of the world may know in Christ there is forgiveness of sins and salvation that is eternal and wonderful?

    And who of us will help meet the urgent need for intercessors who will pray and fast for the Spirit’s outpouring on the regions of the earth where live multitudes who are without Christ and without hope?