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The Forgotten Origin of Pentecostalism Among Women in India

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Originally posted at PCPJ.

I used to think that Pentecostalism started with the Azusa Street revival in Los Angeles 1906, preceded by events at Charles Fox Parham’s Bethel Bible College in Kansas 1901. From the US, Pentecostalism then spread rapidly across the world, impacting Africa, Europe, Asia and Latin America so that it became the global phenomenon we know of today.

I know realize that I was severely wrong.

To be fair, the Azusa revival had a tremendous impact and is surely among the roots of Pentecostalism. But it’s not the only one. In fact, it is not the earliest. Frank Bartleman, one of American Pentecostalism’s most important pioneers (and a pacifist), acknowledged that “The present world-wide revival was rocked in the cradle of little Wales. It was ‘brought up in India, following; becoming full-grown in Los Angeles later.” While the Welsh revival was quite different than what Pentecostalism became known for, the Indian revival wasn’t.

Contrary to Bartleman, I would describe what they experienced as just as full-grown as Azusa. It also managed to remain much more egalitarian and racially inclusive, something American Pentecostalism ultimately failed at as the revival grew older.

ramabai
Pandita Ramabai teaching girls about the Gospel and their rights.

A key leader in the Indian revival was Pandita Ramabai, a theologian and women’s rights activist who translated the Bible into Marathi and started a community center for women and girls, Mukti Mission in Pune, while campaigning politically for women’s education and an end to British colonial rule. She was baptized in the Spirit in 1894, and the women at Mukti started to speak in tongues, prophesy and heal the sick long before William Seymour and his fellow believers even had access to the chapel on Azusa Street.

Pentecostal scholar Allan Anderson points out in the first chapter of his book To the Ends of the Earth that the Mukti revival had a huge impact in the region. Minnie Abrams, an Episcopalian missionary who joined Mukti and worked with Ramabai for many years, wrote a booklet called The Baptism of the Holy Ghost & Fire in 1906 which is likely the first published Pentecostal theology of Spirit baptism. 30,000 copies of it circulated during the early 1900s and influenced May Louise Hoover, who led the Pentecostal revival in Chile together with her husband Willis.

Another acquaintance of Ramabai, Shorat Chuckerbutty, was the one who prayed for Alice Luce when she received her Spirit baptism. Luce, who was a missionary in India at the time, went on to spread Pentecostalism in the southern US and in Mexico, pioneering the concept of indigenous churches that became very influential in Pentecostal missions.

Anderson also points out that the Christian Pettah revival led by John Christian Arulappan experienced “outpourings of the Spirit” with prophecy, healing and speaking in tongues as early as the 1860s in southern India. Ironically, the Brethren church which Arulappan belonged to later became hostile towards Pentecostalism, but phenomenologically they had experienced the same thing before Pentecostalism existed, according to Anderson.

Anderson goes on to point out that similar pentecostal-type movements sprung up in England, Estonia, Korea, China and Liberia with hardly any input from Azusa. Christians in Russia and Armenia experienced Spirit baptism and tongue-speaking as early as 1855, and were dubbed “Pentecostal Christians” by their countrymen fifty years before Azusa was a thing!

Long story short: Pentecostalism does not have one root, it has many. Just like the gift of tongues, the Pentecostal revival is truly an international miracle. And from the very beginning, God used women just as much – and sometimes even more – than men.

Micael Grenholm is a Swedish pastor, author and editor for PCPJ.

ska%cc%88rmavbild-2017-01-06-kl-21-17-02Pentecostals & Charismatics for Peace & Justice is a multicultural, gender inclusive, and ecumenical organization that promotes peace, justice, and reconciliation work among Pentecostal and Charismatic Christians around the world. If you like what we do, please become a member!


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The author

Micael Grenholm, a Swedish charismactivist, apologist and author.

Micael Grenholm, a Swedish charismactivist, apologist and author.

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