Friday, October 18, 2013

The History of Assemblies of God World Missions in the Asia Pacific Region

(Sometime ago I was invited to write this short history for a project being done by our World Missions Asia Pacific leadership and I thought you might be interested in reading it. Beginning next week, I will post a couple of blogs explaining the role of the Asia Pacific Seminary [APTS], where Debbie and I serve, in the Asia Pacific region. I hope you enjoy this. Please let me know what you think.)

A Short History of the AGWM* in the Asia Pacific Region
By Dave Johnson

            At one of the earliest meetings of the Assemblies of God USA (AG) in November, 1914, the representatives of the General Council committed themselves to the “Greatest evangelism the world has ever seen.” What is now known as the Asia Pacific Region felt the impact of that decision from the beginning. In at least China and Japan missionaries there who predated the founding of the AG in America affiliated their work with the AG after it was formed. By the mid-1920s more missionaries opened up other fields throughout the region and all were organized into districts under the AGWM. These districts later became the foundation for indigenous general councils.
World War II (1939-1945), with the Japanese actually invading China in 1937, significantly impeded missionary efforts in the Asia Pacific and Pacific Islands. At least twenty-nine AG missionaries were interned by the Japanese, although some were released and allowed to return to the States. Others remained in the hands of the Japanese throughout the war and suffered great hardship, some to the point that they could not continue as missionaries after the war.
Missionaries returned to their fields of service and new missionaries joined them after the war. But as the communists gradually took over China in the late 40s and early 50s, the missionaries were forced to leave—some of them making harrowing escapes. They were offered the choice of being reassigned elsewhere in the region or coming home. Research was not immediately available on how many remained in missions, however, the Philippines benefited significantly and presumably other fields did as well.  After the Bamboo Curtain reopened in the 70s and 80s, AGWM again began sending personnel into China. In 2000, the AGWM leadership removed China from the Asia Pacific Region and made it a separate region.

Prior to World War II, the missionaries were generally unsupervised and free to pursue their calling in an unhindered manner—a philosophy that produced decidedly mixed results. The impact of the war, as well as other factors, caused the AGWM leadership to rethink their efforts and strategies. One of the results was the creation of the field secretary’s (now regional director’s) office to provide overall supervision. Asia Pacific leaders have included: Howard and Edith Osgood (1945-1955), veteran missionaries to China, Maynard and Gladys Ketcham (1955-1970), who had served for many years in India, Wes and June Hurst (1970-1987), former missionaries to Africa and then head of the promotions department in the home office, Robert and Carolyn Houlihan (1987-1998), long term missionaries in Japan and J. Russell and Patsy Turney, veteran missionaries to the Philippines, who have served from 1998 to the present.
This closer supervision also enabled the development of a more cohesive strategy. In 1960, AGWM launched a worldwide program known as Global Conquest, which called for planting churches and constructing church buildings in strategic urban areas where they could have a great impact on the surrounding communities. The program also called for a greater focus on literature production and training more workers for the harvest. The first city to be targeted was Seoul, Korea. The selected pastor was a young Buddhist convert named Yonggi Cho. The church, which he actually started in a tattered tent before the launch of Global Conquest, has become the largest local church of any kind in the world. Its impact has been felt well beyond Korea.

Area Directors and Other Leadership Roles
In 1990, AGWM Executive Director Loren Triplett made significant changes to the leadership structure. In the 1970s, the position of Area Representative had been created as a liaison between the regional directors and the various fields. Because Triplett wanted the field directors to spend more time in the States, he changed the Representatives’ position to that of Area Director. The number of those serving in this capacity in the Asia Pacific region was enlarged from one to four. The Area Directors were given a considerable amount of executive authority regarding missionary placement and field strategy. The advantage of this new situation was that the missionaries had a united voice to the AGWM leadership. It also brought the AGWM leadership into much closer contact with the national church bodies. In addition, it allowed the area director In countries that had field committees, country moderators (previously known as field chairmen) continued under the leadership of the Area Directors. Their exact job descriptions varied from field to field.

Missiological Distinctives.
From the beginning AG missionaries were committed to Pentecostal distinctives. They prayed for miracles and received them. They also believed in the indigenous church principles as elucidated by Roland Allen in his book, Missionary Methods: St. Paul’s or Ours, and later, Melvin Hodges’ work, The Indigenous Church, as well as in others. Admittedly hey did not follow these principles perfectly and some missionaries were more committed to them than others. However, the AGWM leadership remained committed to the ideal of the indigenous church and slowly but surely moved toward that goal. When World War II ended the rise of nationalism that coincided with the breakup of the Asian colonial empires reinforced the need for indigenous leadership. As the various General Councils came into being, the role of the AGWM gradually changed from superintendence to partnership within a more fraternal relationship.
The commitment to these indigenous principles spawned the pioneering of numerous three-year Bible institutes to train workers. By the 1960s, there were at least sixteen schools in the region. In response a the growing demand for higher education, the Far East Advanced School of Theology (FEAST), now known as the Asia Pacific Theological Seminary, was born in Manila, Philippines in 1964 and later moved to Baguio City. In the beginning FEAST offered only a bachelors degree. Today, the Bible institutes have grown to offer under-graduate degrees and the Seminary offers only masters and doctoral programs.

The Asia Pacific Today
            From 1914 to the present, the work of the AGWM and the national churches they planted has mushroomed from a handful to a multitude. Hundreds of people have served as missionaries over the years, many giving more than 20 years of service. In the Asia Pacific Region today, 292 missionaries and 71 missionary associates labor in 33 countries and territories, serving 28,347 churches and outstations with a total worshiping population of nearly 5.5 million people. And the best is yet to come!

*Throughout its history the world missions arm of the Assemblies of God USA has been called by three different terms. For the sake of clarity, only the current term acronym, AGWM, is used.

Sources Consulted.
AGWM Archives Springfield, Missouri
JAG History Editorial Committee, The. Standing on the Word, Led by the Spirit: The First 50 Years of the Japan Assemblies of God. English Edition. Tokyo: Bethel Photo
Printing Company, 2007.
Johnson, David M. Led by the Spirit: the History of the American Assemblies of God
 Missionaries in the Philippines. Manila: ICI Ministries, 2009.
McGee, Gary B. This Gospel Shall Be Preached. 2 Vols. Springfield: Gospel Publishing
House, 1986, 1989.
The Asia Pacific website page at, accessed 30 October 2012