Seventy Years Of Service For The Lord
By Lois J. Stucky
When the Lord took Armin Gesswein "Home" on March 10, 2001, he was only a few months short of seventy years of service for the Lord. Thanks be to God for such a life and for what it has meant to the Church!
On August 2, 1931 Armin Gesswein was ordained in the Lutheran ministry, and the day after his ordination he left for Long Island, New York, where, as missionary-at-large, he was to plant churches. In the beginning days of his ministry, as Brother Gesswein began a personal study of the book of Acts, he was much struck with the fact that what the Lord Jesus left behind when He ascended on high, was a prayer meeting. Armin Gesswein was not familiar with prayer meetings. His father was a Lutheran pastor and the son was familiar with the practice of reading prayers, which was endorsed by his training in a Lutheran college and seminary. But he was not accustomed to practicing the "free" praying of the Jerusalem Church.
However, from his Lutheran training he had learned that he should be truly biblical in his ministry, and he earnestly wanted to be that. So when he read in the book of Acts about the prayer meeting the Lord Jesus used to begin the church, he took careful note of it.
He later wrote about this period in his life: "I wanted a ‘Bible ministry.’ And the Acts is not only history, but it is the Word of God. I was starting a church. And so was Jesus, and the way He did it was to put together a congregation of about 120 members, all mighty in prayer, not just in personal, private prayer, but in praying together fully and freely ‘with one accord in prayer and supplication with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus and with His brothers’ (Acts 1:14)."
As he read on in Acts he found more prayer meetings, and noted that the Holy Spirit descended in tremendous power as a result. This he took as the model for the church he was starting. So he began a Saturday night prayer meeting. Only four attended the first meeting, but it grew. He later wrote: "It led right into our first revival. I began to preach with new muscle on ‘repentance and forgiveness of sins’ (Luke 24:47). (Not just ‘forgiveness’...but ‘repentance and forgiveness’--both). I did what God said to do and ‘that did it.’ And to this day I know that is the way into revival."
During this time of awakening in the new church, as people repented and were converted, Armin Gesswein felt the call of God into a revival ministry. The Lord led him to Norway for periods of time, where revival was in progress. While he ministered there, he learned many important things about revival. A great gain to him in Norway was meeting and marrying a young lady saved in the revival and training as a nurse. One of his books is dedicated "to Reidun, my lifetime sweetheart and unfailing helper."
This awakening in the Long Island church led Brother Gesswein to gather neighboring ministers together to pray for revival in their ministries. Of these occasions he wrote, "We shared deeply, and gave ourselves to much prayer. Love abounded. It is hard to describe the inspiration and help we received from those gatherings. We got most of our sermon ideas and plans from those times. God taught us the true meaning of fellowship (koinonia) and what can come about through it."
In August of 1940 he went to the west coast of our country, where he also started meeting with a few ministers for prayer on Monday mornings to pray for revival in their lives and churches. Soon pastors from many backgrounds and denominations joined them and swelled the number. Of these meetings he wrote:
"As we prayed together we learned the secret of genuine ‘one accord’ Christian unity, the key to the book of Acts. True ecumenicity. Our unity was in Christ--deeper than our differences which could divide. We never had a fight or even a fuss--only love. And the Holy Spirit was at work with His holy presence and power."
In addition to the weekly meetings, monthly meetings developed and more attended, with increasing desire for revival. In 1948 was begun a twice-a-year Revival Conference at Pacific Palisades, inviting not only ministers but laity. When I first joined the staff of Herald of His Coming in Los Angeles in 1960, one of the highlights of the year was going with a carload of Herald staff to the conference, leaving behind the bustling traffic and smog of downtown Los Angeles for the grass and trees and fresh ocean air of Pacific Palisades. However, it was the sweet spirit in the meetings that was the most refreshing part of the days. God’s presence was there. In some sessions Armin Gesswein met with the men, and his vivacious and spiritual wife Reidun met with the women. As many as 700 were in attendance, and many were refreshed and revived to serve the Lord with new vigor.
Brother Gesswein reports, "Billy Graham came to our conference at Pacific Palisades in 1949. By then the Spirit of prayer was strongly at work in our whole area. The heavens opened over his tent meetings and over his ministry, from which God launched him into orbit (nationwide and worldwide ministry)." In time new ways were developed in place of the Revival Conferences, by which more people could be included in the meetings.
Although Brother Gesswein often ministered to large crowds, he did not bypass small local churches. At the small church several of us of the Herald staff attended in the Los Angeles area, he came for a week-end prayer seminar. He urged us to begin our prayers with thanksgiving. When he prayed, he modeled that for us perfectly. His forceful, direct and confident prayers inspired faith and led one to expect answers.
A lady confessed that it seemed she prayed "about" things but didn’t feel she had prayed through. Brother Gesswein states elsewhere that Jesus did not just pray about things, but He brought things about by prayer. Jesus did not do things; He prayed everything into being. His was truly a life of prayer. His were prayers of faith and expectation, a model for us.
Brother Gesswein’s sincerity and humility impressed me at another meeting in our community. Brother Gesswein was one of several prayer leaders present and he would have had much to offer. However, he was given very little if any opportunity for public participation. As we were exiting the meeting, I couldn’t help but overhear the remarks of one of the men who had helped organize the meeting. He expressed to Brother Gesswein regret and displeasure that Brother Gesswein had not been given more opportunity to participate publicly.
"No, no, no!" was Gesswein’s immediate reply. "That’s all right; that’s all right." It was evident he was satisfied to back the meeting with his presence only, and was glad to see younger men speaking with enthusiasm for prayer. When in May, 2000 the Alliance Theological Seminary honored him with a Doctor’s degree, he wrote, "Whatever honor there is, it all goes to the Lord."
In recent years Brother Gesswein has been involved in Prayer Summits, and College of Prayer gatherings. For March, the month of his unexpected homegoing, his plans had been for him and his wife to be part of a team going to Norway for their first College of Prayer there. (Uphold this dear widow in prayer.)
Armin Gesswein did not wind down with age. He had the spirit of Caleb, who said at age 85, "Give me this mountain!" and then pressed in to possess it. Brother Gesswein called this "Climbing majestic mountains in prayer." Do not speak of impossibilities, he exhorted, but challenges! If you face an impossibility, it is "just right for prayer." He explained that if you ever climb a mountain you’ll learn there are lesser hills and mountains and valleys to encounter before you reach the peak for which you are aiming. All these additional encounters build faith and prayer muscle and help you reach the peak.
Brother Gesswein’s last personal letter to Herald of His Coming, written a few weeks before his homegoing, said, "So much of the praying for revival lacks the sensitivity and burden and faith of Holy Spirit intercession which He gives as we wait on Him in prayer. The March, 2001 Herald sets forth this sensitivity in the watchtower plan." You might want to consider re-reading this issue.
A friend of Brother Gesswein reports that a day or two before he suffered the stroke, he asked the friend to pray with him about two burdens on his heart. The first was to "get prayer into churches so that it becomes a frontal assault against the enemy." The other was to pray that Bible colleges help their students to understand the importance of prayer.
Fellow Christian, a mighty prayer warrior has been called from our midst. It may take many of us to press into the gap that is left. Oh, that many of us will trust the Lord to help us learn from such a one as our brother and become, by His grace and enabling, a prayer warrior through whom He can bring to pass the things uppermost on His heart!