Eighteen men waited in Clifton’s Cafeteria for the arrival of Demos Shakarian. It was to be the first meeting of the Full Gospel Business Men’s Fellowship. Over the previous 16 days, Demos had organised a series of meetings for Oral Roberts – the biggest he had ever been involved with – over 200,000 people had attended. At the last meeting, Demos announced this Saturday morning breakfast to the crowd of 12,500 who had come to hear Oral Roberts. He had also contacted as many Christian businessmen as he could. That morning Demos could scarcely contain his excitement as he drove to downtown Los Angeles. Surely there would be a big crowd, after all he’d given God a sizable helping hand with his efforts. His face dropped as he walked through the door and saw the size of the group waiting. Eighteen men! Oral Roberts had come along as the speaker and after talking to the men for about 20 minutes, began to pray. ‘Lord, Jesus, let this Fellowship grow in Your strength alone. Send it marching in Your power across the nation, across the world. We give You thanks right now, Lord Jesus, that we see a little group of people in a cafeteria, but You see a thousand chapters.’ Those words sparked life into the group of men so that they all joined hands and marched around the room singing, ‘Onward Christian Soldiers’.
The Shakarian family had come to the USA from Armenia early in the twentieth century. In Los Angeles the family had prospered financially (they owned the largest dairy herd in the United States) and spiritually and Demos, in particular, became well known in both the business and Christian communities. One of the many remarkable things about this man was the way in which he understood the role God had prepared for him, that of a helper, someone who was to enable others to reach their potential.
Throughout the 1940s, Demos had been involved, at first in a small way but eventually on a very large scale, in organizing meetings for leading evangelists of the day. Billy Graham and Oral Roberts are perhaps the two most well known men who owed a great deal to the organization and support of the Shakarians, and along with Dr. Charles Price and Tommy Hicks, Roberts was highly influential in encouraging Demos in the start of a new movement in 1951. Long concerned at the lack of men in churches and Christian meetings, Demos felt compelled to provide an opportunity to bring men together in places that were familiar to them, hotels and restaurants, to hear the stories of men whose lives had been changed by the power of Jesus. He had seen tremendous success through the many different meetings he had organized but Demos felt that God was leading him in a new direction.
Businessmen’s groups such as the Rotary, the Lion’s and Kiwanis Clubs, had shown Demos the benefits of being able to meet in a relaxed atmosphere, discuss what was happening and hear business colleagues talking about their lives. What he wanted to do was to add a spiritual dimension to the social fellowship and with his experience of organizing Christian meetings for nearly twenty years Demos felt this was what God was calling him to do.
Dr. Charles Price was an Englishman who trained as a lawyer at Oxford University, and, following a conversion experience in America, settled there and became one of the greatest teachers of the early Pentecostal movement. He had prayed for the sister of Demos who had been seriously injured in a car accident, her pelvis crushed and serious burns over her back, and for whom the doctors gave little hope of recovery. As Dr. Price laid hands on the girl, her body shook for twenty minutes but during that experience God healed her. This not only convinced Demos of God’s power to heal but was also the start of a close friendship between the two men. They would meet regularly over a meal and mull over what was happening on the Christian scene. On one of these occasions, Dr. Price leaned across the table, took Demos by the hand and gave him a prophecy relating to a last great revival that would come through ‘laymen’, ordinary men and women who would tell those around them that Jesus was the answer to all their needs.
‘You’re about to witness one of the major events foretold in the Bible. ‘And it shall come to pass afterward, that I will pour out My Spirit upon all flesh ...’ It will happen in your lifetime Demos, and you will play a part in it. This revival will not come through professional preachers ... but will happen spontaneously - all over the world to ordinary men and women - people in shops, offices and factories. Laymen will be His most important channel – not the clergy, or the theologians, or the great gifted preachers, but men and women with ordinary jobs in the ordinary world. I won’t live long enough to see it, but you will.’1
These words stirred Demos but it took a number of years before he was to take the step towards bringing about a laymen’s organization to become known as the Full Gospel Business Men’s Fellowship International. Many times in the subsequent years, Dr. Price talked to Demos about how the laymen were the ones whom God would use to bring in the final harvest. Demos shared on numerous occasions with Oral Roberts who asked him how it was going to be done, who was going to prepare and train the laymen to do this? Later, when Demos asked the question of Charles Price, he said, ‘Demos, the Holy Spirit can do more in a split second than all the talking in the world.’
During the year following that first meeting at Clifton’s Cafeteria, all faith and confidence that this Fellowship was of God gradually drained away. Far from a thousand chapters, there was still only one. Disappointment and frustration set in as Demos travelled widely trying to promote the Fellowship, spending thousands of dollars of his money in the process. No contributions came in and no other groups were started. He had even travelled to the Pentecostal World Conference in London with David du Plessis, the first time Demos had left America, but his ideas fell on deaf ears. It seemed that he had misunderstood what God wanted him to do and all that was left was to admit this and wind up the Fellowship.
How often it seems to happen that in the darkest of moments, God suddenly shines His light making the way ahead plain to see. Saturday 29 December, Demos had decided, would be the last breakfast of the Fellowship and on the Friday evening prior to this, he shared his disappointments with Tommy Hicks, an evangelist and very good friend who was staying with Demos and Rose. He understood what Demos was going through and when he went upstairs that night instead of getting into bed, he got down on his face before God in prayer.
Exhausted from the tears he had shed during the past week believing that the Fellowship had come to and end, but knowing that he would not be able to sleep, Demos told Rose to go to bed and he too prostrated himself, on the floor of the lounge, weeping and praying in tongues. Not only had Minor Arganbright told him he didn’t know when to quit, so had Rose. All that week she had been telling Demos that everything else he had done had been successful but this was not working. Into his distress God spoke. Demos knew the voice because at the age of 13 when he received the power of the Holy Spirit in a dramatic way and had instantly been healed of deafness, God had spoken and said, ‘Demos, will you ever doubt my power?’ He had heard it many times since in his life. At three o’clock he was still in the same position when Rose, also unable to sleep, came to join him. Sitting at the organ she began to play quietly and as the music filled the room Demos saw the ceiling apparently recede to be replaced by a daytime sky. Rose stopped playing, began to speak in tongues and then gave the interpretation: ‘My Son, I knew you before you were born. I have guided you every step of the way. Now I am going to show you the purpose of your life.’
As he listened to her words, Demos felt as if he was leaving his body although he remained on his knees. It was as if he rose higher and higher above the earth until he could see the whole of the United States from the West to the East. What he saw terrified him. Millions of men standing shoulder to shoulder, yet separate, lifeless, their eyes staring straight ahead, unblinking and unseeing. But the vision did not stop there. As the earth seemingly turned slowly, he saw the different continents of South America, Africa and Asia. Just as a camera can zoom in at a football game to show first the stadium, then the players, then the detail on the football, his vision seemed to move in on these millions of men. He was able to see tiny details of thousands and thousands of faces. Yet again he saw startling close-ups of brown, black and white faces, each one wretched and lifeless. He cried out, ‘Lord, what’s the matter with them! Lord, help them!’
Completely unaware of the vision that Demos was receiving, Rose began to prophesy again: ‘My son, what you see next is going to happen very soon.’
Demos saw the earth revolve again but this time the scene was so different. No longer was it one of death but life. Faces were transformed, the eyes of the men shone with joy, they were glowing. Heads were lifted up and hands were raised towards heaven; they had been brought out of a prison of isolation to be joined together by love. Death had turned to life.
As the vision faded Demos got up, somewhat stiffly, from his knees. It was half past three in the morning. Sharing what he had seen with Rose, they both knew that the Lord was telling them to go on with the Fellowship and that he would use it to fulfil the vision. Richard, their eldest son was away at college and so Tommy was staying in his room that adjoined the lounge. Going passed Tommy’s door on their way to bed, he called out to them. Still fully clothed, he even had his coat on, lying face downwards on the floor, supporting Demos as best he knew how - in prayer. He wanted to know what had been happening because he had experienced as never before, the power of God pouring through him and through the house in waves. He told Demos that time and again he had tried to get up off his knees but every time he stood up the power of the Holy Spirit threw him back onto the floor. It was that night he too received a vision, of what God was going to do through him in Argentina. (In 1954 Tommy was to speak to over three million people in that country and record three hundred thousand decisions for Jesus.) There was no sleep for any of them after such an outpouring.
The week prior to receiving this great vision from God, Demos had gone to the Saturday morning breakfast at Clifton’s Cafeteria. At the door he was met by Minor Arganbright, a businessman. ‘You don’t know when you’re whipped. I wouldn’t give you 5 cents for this outfit’, he said to Demos. Now, one week later, walking into Clifton’s, Demos was met by the same man. This time Minor handed an envelope to Demos who fully expected it to be Minor’s resignation, given that he had already written off the Fellowship. However, when he opened the envelope Demos could scarcely believe his eyes – there was a cheque made out to the Full Gospel Business Men’s Fellowship International for one thousand dollars! ‘This work’, said Minor, ‘is going to spread around the world.’ What a turn around! Another man, Thomas Nickel, prompted by God, travelled all night to be at the breakfast meeting. He told Demos that the Fellowship needed a Voice and as a printer, that was what he was prepared to do. Print a magazine of testimonies that would be the ‘voice’ of the FGBMFI.
‘We didn’t know exactly where we were going, but we knew we were moving with God!’
The Full Gospel Business Men’s Fellowship International was birthed by prophecy and God confirmed this to Demos many times. One evening, whilst staying in a hotel in Houston, Dr. Mordecai Hamm, the great evangelist who introduced Billy Graham to Christ, asked to see Demos. The two had never previously met or even spoken, but Dr. Hamm said that he knew more about the Fellowship than Demos did because God had given him a revelation of the last days. As they met together, Mordecai prophesied that: ‘Full Gospel Business Men’s Fellowship International is God’s instrument to awaken laymen - the sleeping giant of evangelism.’ These were almost identical to the words spoken by Dr. Charles Price.
What made this even more remarkable was that Dr. Hamm was responsible for training over 10,000 preachers in the United States at that time. ‘I have been praying for many years,’ he said to Demos, ‘but a few days ago God spoke to me and said that this (Full Gospel Business Men’s Fellowship International), is the instrument God is going to use in the last days. This is the moment, son, don’t ever look back.’
Demos shared some years later that not until that week in Houston, were his eyes opened to realise that when Dr. Charles Price had spoken about the laymen bringing in the harvest of the last days, he had been speaking about the FGBMFI. ‘It almost scared me,’ he said,’ except I knew I was doing what God wanted me to do. He was going to make something out of this and I knew I was in His hands. God reminded me again that he had given me His son, He had given me His authority and He had given me His name, there was nothing more He could give me or that I needed.’
A further prophetic confirmation was given through his friend, Tommy Hicks. Tommy had seen a vision of the world and as it came into view, it began lightning and thundering. Suddenly he saw a great giant whose arms stretched from sea to sea and whose feet seemed to reach to the North Pole and his head to the South. It struggled to get up and throw off all the debris that was holding it down. Then slowly, this great giant lifted his hands toward the heaven as though praising the Lord.
The giant in this vision was made up of hundreds of thousands of people from all over the world in Africa, England, Russia, China, America, and so on. These were ordinary men and women who God anointed to minister salvation and healing to the people of the whole world. This vision of the awakening giant confirmed to Demos once again, the things that God wanted to do through the FGBMFI.1
However, one ‘chapter’, the name given to the group, in Los Angeles did not make an international fellowship but following that extraordinary experience in December 1952, Demos no longer doubted God’s plan for the FGBMFI. It was Tommy Hicks, not Demos, who opened the second chapter following a crusade held in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. When it came to the end of the final meeting, he asked if any men present were interested in forming a local FGBMFI chapter. ‘It looked like the whole room came forward’, he said later when telephoning the good news to Demos that the second chapter had been born. Tommy rigged up a loud speaker so that Demos was able to speak over the phone to all the men gathered in the room.
Many of the early chapters that followed came about as a result of crusades held by the three leading healing evangelists of the 1950s: Tommy Hicks, Oral Roberts and William Branham. ‘In a sense, FGBMFI was one of the most important and lasting institutions fostered by the healing movement of the 1950s. Not only did the Fellowship open up new opportunities for the healing evangelists, it became at one and the same time the “product” and “platform” for the healing revival.’2
The growth from that tentative beginning became nothing short of explosive. Not only did the Fellowship grow through the help of these evangelists, but also the Voice magazine began to have an enormous impact. Containing stories of men whose lives had been turned around by Jesus, this magazine also contained ‘Six Steps To Salvation’ outlining how people could become Christians. Voice, as well as the weekly radio programmes Breakfast-Broadcast, which went out every Saturday morning from Clifton’s Cafeteria over radio station KRKD from 8:30 to 9:30 a.m., helped to open more chapters and bring in subscriptions from all parts of America and abroad. Christian businessmen had discovered a way of reaching men for God that was to change their own lives and those of the men, and women, they invited to outreach breakfasts, luncheons or dinners.
Tom Ashcraft typifies the kind of man for whom the FGBMFI was life changing. He ran a very large, successful bakery business in Atlanta, Georgia, and one day received a phone call from Houston. A friend at the other end said, ‘Tom, I’ve found something which I think you’ll really be interested. I know what you want to do, and this will be right down your alley.’ He went on to tell how he had met Demos Shakarian and about the organization to bring businessmen to Jesus. ‘Demos is forming chapters of what he calls the Full Gospel Business Men’s Fellowship International, and we want you to help us get a chapter started in Atlanta.’3
This was what Tom wanted to hear. He had been brought up in a Christian home, married at a young age and built up a successful business. However, he had become heavily involved in gambling, drinking and womanising, almost wrecking his marriage, but then his wife became a Christian. Through her prayers and those of her church, Tom eventually came to know Jesus for himself. For some time, looking back over his life, he wondered where were the businessmen who could have helped him. Surely, there were men of God around in the business world, but where had they been when he needed them? This telephone call was to change all that.
Tom got a small group of men together and they organized a breakfast meeting for a Saturday morning. He invited business colleagues, presidents of flour mills, insurance companies, doctors lawyers, store managers or owners and even a sprinkling of judges and politicians. Sixty-seven men in all came that morning and later every one of them signed up to become a member of the FGBMFI. The Atlanta Chapter became one of the largest in the Fellowship, regularly getting sixteen hundred men at breakfasts meetings.
It was the practice for every member to bring a guest to each breakfast. One morning the friend Tom had arranged to bring couldn’t come at the last moment and Tom felt uncomfortable with a vacant chair next to him. An inner voice told him to get up and find someone to take the place of his guest. He walked into the lobby but it was empty and when he looked outside it was raining. After standing for several minutes, Tom heard the voice again and told him to go out on the sidewalk. Rather reluctantly, because of the rain, he stepped outside and the only person in sight was a man sitting with his bank against the building. The voice said, ‘There’s your guest.’
The man’s head was down and difficult to see because of the long, uncut hair all over his face. He was wearing on old brown shirt, which didn’t look clean and his ragged pants (trousers) were water-soaked up to his knees. To cap it all, an empty wine bottle in a paper bag was lying at the side of him. Tom’s response was, ‘Oh, Lord, not him.’ God said, ‘Yes, Tommy, he’s your guest.’ He face registered surprise when Tom went over and asked if he would be his guest for breakfast in the hotel. His eyes were bleary and registered little understanding of what was happening and he had at least three days growth of beard on his face. Nevertheless, Tom helped him to his feet and tried to get him through the revolving door – with some difficulty! Eventually the two of them staggered into the dining room and Tom more or less pushed him to the seat next to his at the top table. Describing the event Tom said, ‘The eyes of everyone in the room had followed our wobbling progress with ill-concealed amusement. I know many of them wondered what I was up to.’4
By the time Tom got the man seated the start of the breakfast meeting was overdue and he was unable to find out the man’s name or anything about him, but at the back of his mind the words of Jesus were coming to him, ‘Verily I say unto you, inasmuch as you have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, you have done it unto me.’ Tom stood up and started the meeting whilst his guest tried to eat the bacon and eggs that fed his chin and nose more than his mouth but eventually, he got them down.
When the speaker had finished giving his testimony of how Jesus had changed his life, he gave the invitation, always given at FGBMFI meetings, for anyone who wanted to turn their lives over to Jesus. Tom’s guest was the first man to raise his hand and one of the other men on the table came and knelt beside his chair and, ‘prayed him through to Jesus.’ Everyone in the room witnessed a miracle as this man claimed his salvation and stood on his feet, completely sober. He didn’t even look the same as before; he was a new man.
After the meeting was over, Tom took the opportunity to talk to his guest and heard an amazing story. Two years previous, he had been a respected businessman in Atlanta but had started drinking and his wife had left him. She got half his business in the divorce settlement, and in remorse, he’d drunk the other half. As the result of all this he’d ended up on skid row, unable to hold down a job. Now, he looked Tom in the eye and said, ‘... all that’s behind me.’ Over a relatively short time, this man regained everything he had lost. His wife came back to him; he got his business back and then he too started taking men to chapter meetings.
It would be misleading to imply that everything was easy in those early days. In later years, when training men in running chapters, Tom shared some of the secrets of success. Fasting was a key factor, particularly in the week preceding the breakfast. He also told of how people would travel 250 to 300 miles to be at the breakfast when there were only a few chapters. The Ashcraft family home had four bedrooms and a basement. Friday evenings before the breakfast would see them making up beds for themselves in the basement, having the bedrooms, every sofa and often sleeping bags all over the floors, filled with people who wanted to ensure they were part of this wonderful thing that God was doing.
It is little wonder that with men of commitment such as Tom Ashcraft, and many others, the Fellowship grew apace in those early years. The momentum grew as new chapters were added and, from 1953, an annual international convention was held in some large city in the United States. People were attracted to these meetings by the wonderful testimonies, the singing, and the many healings that took place. Without doubt, it was a new move of the Holy Spirit. It was at one of these early conventions that David du Plessis stated that the course of his life and ministry had been changed through the experience of being there. Not only did many of the great ‘ministries’ give tremendous support to Demos and the FGBMFI, but new men and ministries emerged as a result of the opportunities given to speak and develop in Fellowship meetings and conventions. Laymen were in the forefront of ministry in a new, dynamic way and it was their testimonies, rather than preaching, that was so effective in reaching men and women with the Gospel. In conventions and weekends for members and friends, preaching and teaching happened, but essentially, it was the testimony of businessmen that was so powerful. The word ‘businessmen’ in this context means any one from the chairman of the board downwards.
Another important factor in the growth of the Fellowship was Demos himself. Everyone who met him loved him. Tommy Ashcraft says of Demos that he had enough love for a nation. Oral Roberts described him as, ‘The righteous man who flourished like the palm tree.’ (Psalm 92:12) He had incredible humility and never pushed himself; was always willing to give place to others. One of the many stories about Demos concerns an event at the World Pentecostal Conference in Jerusalem. Standing in the lobby one evening, Demos saw a man almost doubled over with arthritis, his upper body being parallel with the floor. Not being a registered delegate, this man was unable to get entry to the auditorium and the lady with him explained to Demos that he had come to get healed. Feeling compassion for the man, Demos loaned him his registration badge but also said he would pray for healing. Immediately Demos prayed that the Lord would touch him, this man stood up straight; completely healed. The whole conference heard the excited screams of the man and the lady who had brought him.
Within two to three years of the launch of the Fellowship, it became truly ‘international’. The Fellowship was less dependent on outside ministries to support it (although they have continued to play an important role), but it was able to send its own men throughout the United States and beyond with the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
Some years later, during an International Congress on World Evangelism in Laussane, Switzerland, Dr. Kuhn of Ashbury Theological Seminary wrote a paper in which he said:
‘About two decades ago there began to emerge among the non-Pentecostal bodies, phenomena very similar to those marking the charismatic movement at the beginning of the present century.
‘This movement, perhaps best embodied in the Full Gospel Business Men’s Fellowship International, is popularly known as Neo-Pentecostal. It represents a cutting edge of charismatic fervour in the more staid churches.
‘... In the so-called Western world (including Western Europe), the Full Gospel Business Men’s Fellowship International (commonly known as the FGBMFI), has opened the charismatic ministry to laymen. This movement has, by enlisting the energies and gifts of men well placed in the business world, shattered the earlier stereotype by which Pentecostalism was regarded as a phenomenon largely confined to the economically deprived. The FGBMFI is an aggressive and effective instrument of evangelism to all classes, in the United States and abroad.’
International Director and Administrator in the Headquarters at Irvine, Ron Weinbender, summed up the FGBMFI as helping to teach men to minister and understand their destiny. Often when men first join the Fellowship they are unable to speak publicly but learning through the example of men around them, soon they are able to stand up and minister to people in almost any situation. FGBMFI helps to break down barriers between people and opens up opportunities in countries because the members are businessmen and as such are accepted. Ordinary men are turned into extraordinary men for God.
It was like a fire spreading. Once the Fellowship had started the momentum for growth was phenomenal. Demos now had the weekly Saturday morning broadcast from Clifton’s Cafeteria. Voice magazine was increasing its circulation. Each time Oral Roberts had a crusade he gave Demos the opportunity to stand up and speak about the Full Gospel Business Men’s Fellowship and to invite the people to breakfast meetings in their town. Men were catching the vision of what God wanted to do and were working to fulfil it. All of these were important but the driving force of the Fellowship was the Holy Spirit. If there is anything that comes through the writings and spoken words of Demos, it is his consummate belief and confidence in the power and the ability of the Holy Spirit as the third person of the Trinity. That is something he has passed to his son, Richard, and continues to be at the forefront of the Fellowship.
Demos and the men around him started to travel throughout the whole of the United States, sharing the vision that God had given for the Fellowship. Often when they had gathered a group of men together one or other would say that God had shown them to do this weeks, months or even years ago. Now they were being provided with the means to go forward. Chapters were started at an incredible rate as men were excited through hearing the remarkable things God was doing in changing lives, healing and baptising in the Holy Spirit.
In the book, Dictionary of Pentecostal and Charismatic Movements, the writer describes what God had given to Demos.
‘The original vision of the FGBMFI was of a non-sectarian fellowship of laity who could come together to share what God had done in their lives without any apology – even if that testimony included healing or tongues or deliverance from demonic forces. The impact of the FGBMFI on the Pentecostal and charismatic movements has been considerable ...’1
The impact of the Fellowhsip on the Catholic Charismatic movement began in the latter part of the sixties when Ray Bullard, FGBMFI chapter president in South Bend, Indiana, opened his home to students and professors from Notre Dame University. After teaching and prayer, several received the baptism in the Holy Spirit. Since that time tens of millions of Catholics around the world have moved in the Charismatic Renewal. In 1974, the Pope gave Demos a special award recognising the role of FGBMFI in the Catholic Charismatic movement.
The Seattle Chapter was one of the largest groups in the Fellowship. The president, Don Ostrom, was a man who believed God had called him and his wife Marlene, to be missionaries in the Philippines. However, a tragic family accident when his wife’s father and sister were killed in a plane crash, forced them to come back to Washington State and take over the six nursing homes that her father had owned and operated. Fully expecting to settle the estate and return to the mission field in a few months, it took three years for the legal matters to be sorted. By then he felt obligated to stay and run the business but was confronted by a painful question, ‘How can a man who has been a pastor, an evangelist and a missionary be just a businessman?’ The Full Gospel Business Men’s Fellowship proved to be his answer - the Seattle Chapter. This group soon had over 400 members and saw God move in people’s lives. One man was brought to a breakfast following a suicide attempt. In total despair, he had gone into the kitchen of his home and driven a butcher knife into his chest, but despite profuse bleeding, he survived. That morning in the Seattle Chapter he found the Life-giver, Jesus.
At his first FGBMFI convention in Phoenix, Don learned about giving and receiving. Long concerned as to whether it was right for Christians to have money, he learned that God blesses financially, not so we can have more for ourselves, but so that we can use it to bless others. He and his wife eventually came to the place where they were able to give 50 per cent of their income to reach people for Jesus. The Seattle chapter was, and remains to this day, the leader in organizing airlifts to different parts of the world. (Airlifts are when a group of FGBMFI men and women, at their own expense, travel to different countries to share the Gospel.) Consequently, instead of ministering in the Philippines only, Don travelled throughout the USA, Canada and Europe.
Bob Bignold served for seven years as President of the Seattle Chapter and became an International Director of the Fellowship. His story is typical of so many members of the FGBMFI. Having studied architectural engineering he went into the army and was sent out to Korea after the war had ended. Waiting one day for the plane to land to take him on R & R (rest and recreation), the plane crashed killing all the young men on board who were returning from their R & R. Having just seen his colleagues burned up in their plane, his plane ride was the worst journey of his life and he developed a fear of death and concern as to whether there was life afterwards.
When he returned from duties, Bob married, adopted two children and, along with two partners, set up an architectural business. His father had taught him the importance of setting goals, and he devoted his whole life to developing the business, particularly after having bought out the other partners. Not surprisingly, his wife could not cope with always being second in his life and left him. Later he met, and married, a Christian lady and eventually he too became a Christian. Bob was still very business orientated; success to him was 20% more profit, so when he saw a book around the house called Power and Praise he started to read it thinking it was a motivational book. Through reading this book, he was not only healed but received the baptism of the Holy Spirit. Other Christian books followed, many of which mentioned the FGBMFI and eventually he discovered they had a chapter in Seattle. An Episcopalian, Bob was used to quiet orderliness in church, but the chapter meeting was nothing like that! The speaker talked about how he had been a captain in the Second World War and his shoulder blown away leaving that side of his body held together by wires. For thirty years, he was dependent on drugs until at one of the FGBMFI dinners Jim Gulkie prayed for him and he was healed. In his testimony, he told how when he went to the hospital they could not even find the wires that had held him together! From that day on, Bob has been heavily involved with the Fellowship, travelling abroad on many airlifts, particularly to Japan, to where he has gone two or three times a year for ten years – but more of that later.
Another businessman who joined in the very early years was Tom Leding. He became International Treasurer of the FGBMFI and worked in the Oklahoma chapters. He had been raised in church, was a great believer of God’s Word and determined to be successful in business. Tom knew the importance of having mentors and he wanted one who was a Christian but also a good businessman. This, he admits, is why he first came along to the Fellowship. God blessed him spiritually and financially and as a result, he moved from Oklahoma to New York City in 1960 working as Chief Accountant for American Airlines. There was no chapter in New York so he set about with a friend, Fran Nelson, to rectify this. They met in a Manhattan Cafeteria in the basement of a large skyscraper and before long over 3000 people would pack it out every Saturday morning.
Tom then got to thinking about Long Island. Lots of people there rarely or never came into the city, so he decided to start another chapter there. He organized a breakfast at the Valley Stream Country Club and booked for 4,000 places, but on the Thursday it started snowing. Now Tom knew a lot about balance sheets and figures but coming from Oklahoma he did not know that when it started snowing in New York on Thursday it would not be stopped by Saturday. Only around 1600 people came – for him, very disappointing – and being an accountant he knew the finances would not add up. At that time he did not take offerings in the chapter but that morning, he changed his mind. The expenses were still not covered until as Tom was walking out a man came up to him and said, ‘I want to take care of your printing and mailing costs.’ 50 cents was left over after the restaurant had been paid!
With both chapters flourishing, Tom decided to look at other areas of the city. Staten Island was next but they could only find a restaurant that seated about 300 and as twice that many turned up,
they had to have two sessions. Once that chapter was going, he turned his attention to New Jersey where another was started. Tom is like so many of the Full Gospel businessmen, demanding job, successful, and yet seeing the possibilities of bringing together men and women from the business world with visible expressions of God’s power to change lives.
Orval Brooks2 owned a Fire Alarm Communication System company in California. He had been brought up in Christian home and regularly attended church. But something was missing in his life. For a long time everything went well with the business but when it started to go down hill, he did not know how to deal with it. Orval thought that God wanted to teach him something by bringing adverse circumstances along. A friend invited him to an FGBMFI men’s weekend and for the first time he heard God’s Word preached in a positive, powerful way. A little later in July, in an FGBMFI convention in San Francisco, the speaker suddenly pointed to the back where he was sitting and said, ‘There’s a man in a white sweater for whom the Lord has a word. God will reconcile your life and put you in His perfect will, and before this year is out you’ll stand and say, ‘Glory to God, I’m in the will of the Lord!’ Orval did not know what the will of God was but by December, he was given a huge contract in Los Angeles, the largest fire alarm job in the city. They did more business in six months than they had ever done in one year. The Holy Spirit had shown him the power of the Word of God and how to live it out in all aspects of his life. In the year following, Orval was instrumental in opening the Downey Chapter.
During the six year following his conversion, through attending FGBMFI meeting and then reading Pat Boone’s story, Bill Phipps 3 could not share his testimony, in fact he could never bring himself to speak in public. One night, whilst in the city of Jerusalem, Jesus came to him and showed him speaking in front of huge crowds of people. Still thinking he could not do this, he received a phone call on his return home from Jim Webb, president of the Heart of American Chapter of FGBMFI inviting Bill to give his testimony during a Saturday morning breakfast at the Holiday Inn. A definite ‘no’ was on his lips when the vision in Jerusalem came into Bill’s mind and much to his surprise, found himself say he would do it. On that morning, it was the largest group of business men ever gathered at that time for an FGBMFI breakfast in Kansas City. Some people went only to try and make fun of him knowing the kind of life he had led before becoming a Christian. Bill wept as he shared how Jesus had changed his life at the age of fifty and after he had finished many of those who had come to mock him were amongst the large number who received Jesus unto their lives and were filled with the Holy Spirit. A large number of those who responded remained active members of the Full Gospel Business Men’s Fellowship.
Part of Bill and his wife Marti’s ministry was working amongst drug addicts and prostitutes. They ran a drop-in centre. Having spent a lot of his time before becoming a Christian, in gambling joints and ‘dives’, Bill knew how to make the place look attractive to the people they wanted to reach. After a couple of years they were being carefully watched by narcotic agents who thought they must be pushing drugs when all the time they were pushing Jesus. One night an agent was in their place watching a guy whom he rightly though was a drug pusher. The agent listed intently to the conversation between the young man and Bill, one that was all about Jesus. Instead of arresting the young man, this agent became a Christian and two weeks later drove a bus round Kansas City picking up drug pushers and taking them to hear Nicky Cruz share his testimony at a Full Gospel Business Men’s meeting. Nicky Cruz was himself a former drug addict and his powerful testimony caused many of those in the meeting to turn their lives over to Jesus.
The Fellowship also provided the opportunity for Christians to invite ministers along to meetings. It was good for them to sit back, relax, and enjoy hearing testimonies of how God was working in the business of changing lives. John Steitz, minister in New Jersey,had many powerful businessmen in his church but neither he nor they knew how to manoeuvre the church into the mainstream of God’s work.4 Then a friend who was taking his Ph.D. studies at the same school John was attending, got involved in a doctoral paper on the subject: Exactly What Happened on the Day of Pentecost? One day he called John and said there was a group of people called the Full Gospel Business Men’s Fellowship International who met regularly at a restaurant in New York City. A he had nothing better to do, John said he would join his friend and go over. Having been concerned for a longer time about the renewal of the Spirit, and having read that Martin Luther believed the church had lost the gifts of the Spirit, John prayed: ‘Lord, if the Holy Spirit is descending upon the church today, then he brings with him true love. Unless I see love today, Lord, I will not believe.’
When John and his friend arrived at the door of the restaurant they were greeted by one of the friendliest men he had ever met. Since John was wearing his ‘collar’, they were taken to a large table reserved for clergymen. Across the table was an elderly priest of the Episcopal Church whose radiance was overwhelming. To his left sat a Roman Catholic friar of the Franciscan order, bubbling over with enthusiasm. Next to him was a very distinguished gentleman who introduced himself as a Baptist preacher. Other ministers were from the Presbyterian and Lutheran churches and another Episcopalian. What struck him was that these ‘men of the cloth’, from varied denominational backgrounds, had one thing in common. They were all deeply in love with Jesus Christ. Another strange thing that he had never before witnessed, despite having marched for Civil Rights, was when a white man threw his arms around a black man and hugged him. He had never experienced that kind of love before. Later he learned that the white man came from Montgomery, Alabama.
Before the meeting was over, God had answered all John’s prayers, filled him with the Holy Spirit and completely changed his outlook. John later resigned his pulpit and became the first European Liaison for the FGBMFI with offices in The Hague, Holland. God then gave him the opportunity to preach in fifty-five countries, on three continents for Jesus and the Spirit-filled life.
One of the most remarkable men to become active in the Fellowship, Dr. James E. Johnson, a black American, has a list of ‘firsts’ that are mind blowing. To give but a sample:
• first member of the black race to become a commissioned warrant officer in the Unites States Marine Corps
• first member of the black race to retire as an officer of the naval service
• first member of the black race to be appointed to a governor’s cabinet – director of the Department of Veterans’ Affairs for the state of California under Governor Ronald Reagan
• first member of the black race to become director of the Department of Veterans’ Affairs in the state of California
• first member of the black race to be appointed vice chairman of the U.S. Civil Service Commission – appointed by the President of the United States
• first member of the black race to run for the United States Senate from the state of California
• first member of the black race to represent the President and the united States in the Philippines to commemorate with the Philippine Government of the fall of Bataan
• first member of the black race to write over $1 million worth of insurance in his first 2.1/2 months in the insurance business.
• first member of the black race to inspect the United States Naval Fleet in the Atlantic as the Assistant Secretary of the Navy
• first member of the black race to be honoured by a foreign government as Assistant Secretary of the Navy
• first member of the black race to commission a major ship, the USS California.
These represent but a few of his outstanding achievements, having received eight academic degrees, and received nearly eight hundred awards for outstanding achievement and significant service to his country at home and abroad. From entering the Marines he fought for the rights of the black peoples of America. His eldest son was the first black boy to go to a white school in Washington DC in 1953, protected by four policemen. One thing that came over very clearly with ‘Johnny’ Johnson, as he was generally known, is his refusal to compromise. Whether racial issues or Christian principles, he would stand his ground whatever the consequences. Dr. Johnson’s father, 6 feet 9 inches tall, weighing 275 pounds, and who lived to be 104, was a Christian who instilled his beliefs in God, justice and love, into his son. These, along with unshakeable determination, were to be the foundation for his success.
Although he had heard of the FGBFMI, Johnny Johnson thought they were, in his words, a ‘cooky’ outfit to be avoided at all costs. However, the men of the Full Gospel who believed he should be one of them, didn’t give up easily. One day, having written up insurance for 300 employees of a plastic manufacturing company, Johnny told the boss Al, he wanted a cheque that would not bounce for $37,000. The accountant brought through a cheque made payable to Prudential Insurance and Johnny reached out for it. Before he could get hold of the cheque, Al took it, put it in his pocket and he would give it to him if Johnny would go to a businessman’s meeting with him. Not realising what Al meant and thinking he could get more business out of it, Johnny agreed to go. As they pulled into the car park he saw guys outside the restaurant hugging each other and said there was no way he was going in. When it came to the crunch of getting the business and the cheque or not, he decided to go in and sit at the back, ‘and don’t let any of those guys touch me!’
The speaker was a little guy, so skinny that if he turned sideways he would vanish. He was holding onto the lectern and shaking as he told the audience he had been fasting for 40 days. Johnny thought he was stupid until all of a sudden this guy sounded off and said, ‘There is a man here with too many degrees and the Lord wants him.’ Johnny turned to Al and said, ‘You told him I was coming.’ Al denied this and then suddenly the guy was pointing at Johnny and said, ‘The Lord wants you.’ All he wanted to do was get out of the place but a hand touched him on the shoulder, he thought at first it was Al, but it was the little guy, and then in Johnny’s words, ‘The light went out for me and I heard them saying, ‘We’ve got him, praise the Lord!” He experienced the baptism of the Holy Spirit with speaking in tongues, something in which he had not previously believed. When he got up off the floor his whole attitude to the people had changed and he felt love, agape love, for all the men there. His wife, Juanita said she knew he was different the minute he walked in home. And of course, he got his cheque!
Shortly after this, Johnny became an International Director for the Fellowship and went to Washington as Under Secretary for the Navy. He though he could get everybody in Washington born again in two weeks and could not understand why people would not want to be part of the FGBMFI. First, he started a chapter in Washington, which he ran for 19 years and every four years held a breakfast to celebrate the President’s inauguration. So many people came to the first one, 16,000 of them, that numbers had to be limited to 9,000 in succeeding years. Johnny is now looking to open a chapter in every state capital to be held on the same Saturday morning as the Washington breakfast and from there, to open one in every mayoral town. Who can doubt, given the man’s achievements, that with the help of the Holy Spirit, it will happen?
Another important area of work for the FGBMFI in the United States was in prisons. Andrew Kaminski had been a successful businessman but ended up in jail because of a technicality over an amount owed to the government of a few dollars. He was a Christian before this happened but it was in Lomoc Federal Prison, California that he came into an experience of the Holy Spirit. Every Monday evening the FGBMFI came into the prison and conducted a regular chapter meeting. The chapter was set up in exactly the same way as those on the outside where a couple of men would give short testimonies and then a main speaker. Each week would see between 70 to 100 men coming along.
On one occasion as Andrew and his friend George were on their way to the chapter meeting, they passed the cell of a prisoner named, lying on his bunk, and felt they should invite him to go with them. He refused saying he had heard about them and didn’t believe in anything they were doing. Then he paused for a moment and said, ‘If your God is so powerful why don’t you pray for my alarm clock sitting on that ledge, and maybe you can make it work.’ Andrew looked at George and asked what he thought. George was all for praying and so they did. Within a moment the alarm clock, one of those large round ones, started ticking. So impressed was the prisoner that he jumped off the bunk and said he would go with them. That night he decided to turn his life over to Jesus and as a result, became a different person. Andrew Kaminsky is now the World Director for FGBMFI Prison work.
One short testimony showing how powerful a tool the Voice magazine can be. A truck driver from San Lorenzo, California, wrote in to the Editor with the following story:
‘I’m a truck driver and I stopped along the highway to check my equipment and found this magazine, Voice, in the weeds. I am now a born again Christian (three years) after 49 years without committing my life to Jesus. I would like an application to become a member.’5
One of Demos’ competitors in the dairy business, but a brother in Christ, was Norman Frost. One day he called Demos and asked him to come and pray for his grandson, Sam. Rose and Demos left immediately for the Children’s Hospital of Orange County some twenty or so miles away. Sam was 13 years old and afflicted with Reye’s Syndrome – which causes the brain to swell dangerously inside the skull. Doctors didn’t expect him to live through the night.
As soon as they walked into the hospital room, the heart of Demos went out to the boy. He was screaming, and rolling on his bed in excruciating pain so that the nurses had to strap him down by his hands and feet to prevent him from hurting himself. Demos reached out to touch his face but his head jerked so violently that he couldn’t keep his hand there. Finally, he lightly tapped the boy’s forehead as he tossed and screamed and suddenly, Sam relaxed. Demos put his hands on his head and prayed simply in the name of Jesus that the Lord would touch the Reye’s Syndrome, reduce the pressure, heal the affliction and enable Sam to be normal. With that, young Sam drifted off to sleep. The next morning he awoke free from pain and completely healed. Any possibilities of permanent damage from the stress on his brain were ruled out when, a few years later, Sam went on to be a straight A university student and a computer wiz.6
An agnostic businessman in British Columbia turned on his TV one night and heard another businessman’s testimony of God’s life-changing power. This businessman not only applied this to his life but he became the president of a chapter in his home-town. The programme he had seen was one hosted by Demos Shakarian, ‘Good News Tonight’, which was sold to many television stations across the country. In the early seventies, the programmes began to be shown in Hawaii.
Harold Shiraki who was the first man to ring in because of the Hawaiian broadcasts.7 Of Japanese parentage he had been raised to work hard, consider others and respect authority. His father had Parkinson’s disease and when he became too ill to work, the older children left school to support the family. Harold, however, was able to continue his education and was the first in the family to graduate form high school. He moved to Honolulu where he worked hard and saved money only to have it taken away from him by men he trusted. Nominally, Harold was a Buddhist and relied on faith in human effort and decency, not in God. He had joined the Episcopal church because it seem to offer freedom from the fears of his childhood religion and now he spoke to a clergyman about his loss of money. He was counselled against taking the men to court and advised to forget it. That Harold could not do. He stopped eating, seeing friends, and allowed the hatred to build up inside him.
He decided to borrow a gun from a friend and commit suicide. Sunday was the day he planned to do it. On that day, his wife begged him to go to church but he refused. She then begged him to turn on the television and at least watch a ball game to take his mind away from his problems. To make sure his wife suspected nothing, he turned on the set but the channel was showing two men talking. So distracted was he that at first he could not take in what they were saying except he noticed they were the happiest-looking people he had ever seen. Harold tried to concentrate on the words and as he did a strange peace settled over him. When the programme ended, a telephone number was listed for people to ring and he quickly found himself talking to the president of the Honolulu Chapter of FGBMFI. He was told that Jesus loved him, knew about his situation and that He was the answer to Harold’s problems.
Harold never got his money back but a new life began for him from that Sunday. Among the first people to respond to the change in her son, was his mother. Realising that there was a power greater than that of the spirits she’d been appeasing, the whole family burned the images and shrines they formerly worshipped.
As well as these programmes that touched people like Harold in Honolulu, FGBMFI also made TV and video recordings of Convention meetings. One of the most outstanding of these was Good News America featuring the 1976 World Convention. Speakers such as Kathryn Kuhlman, Rex Humbard, Pat Boone and Oral Roberts captivated the audience and viewers.
An electrifying message, probably the most powerful of that Convention, was preached by Oral Roberts. Entitled, ‘The Fourth Man’, this concerned the three young men in the Old Testament cast into a furnace for refusing to bow down to King Nebuchadnezzar. Looking into the furnace the king was amazed to see not only the three young men apparently unharmed, but with them a fourth man, ‘like the Son of God.’ Roberts then went on to give a recitation concerning Jesus throughout the Old and New Testaments. Starting off in Genesis where he described Him as the ‘seed of the woman’ and in Exodus, ‘the Passover lamb’, he went through every book of the Bible, finally coming to the triumphant conclusion that the Fourth Man was Jesus of Nazareth, King of kings and Lord of lords.
From the outset of the Fellowship Demos had been convinced by the Holy Spirit that it should spread around the world. Once men caught the vision God had given him, not only did it spread like wildfire throughout the States, the members also looked to new horizons. The first overseas chapter was established in Johannesburg, South Africa as early as 1955 but it was when businessmen from Toronto, Canada invited Demos to come and introduce the Fellowship to that country, that a sense of excitement was generated among the leadership; the Fellowship was now truly going international.
Once again leading healing evangelists were involved in helping spread FGBMFI to new countries of the world. In his Argentinian crusade, Tommy Hicks presented President Peron with a Bible and a copy of Voice magazine. He also visited Russia, Switzerland and Finland where he constantly encouraged men to become involved in the Fellowship
Within a few years, new chapters were started as far away as India, Hong Kong, Singapore, China, Korea, Japan, Switzerland, Germany, a second chapter, in Capetown, South Africa and nearer to America, Haiti, Cuba and Mexico. Hicks, other leading American evangelists, Sam Todd and T. L. Osborne, and members of the Fellowship such as Miner Arganbright and Thomas Nickel, the man who at the very beginning, gave his printing press to print the Voice magazine, were all involved as were many others.
Cuba, so close to the United States, was worlds apart in so many ways following Fidel Castro’s successful coup in 1959. A small group, including Demos and Rose, went over to the Island; it was to be Demos’ first visit to a Communist country. He shared this story many times and it indicates how sensitive he was to the Holy Spirit. The group was staying in the Havana Hilton, the place which Castro had made his headquarters. In the early hours of the morning, Demos felt impelled to get dressed and go down to the restaurant where he believed, he would have the opportunity to speak to Fidel Castro. Naturally speaking, that was an impossibility. For one thing, he was always surrounded by armed guards and secondly, according to the waiter in the restaurant, he would not be in that night.
Demos believed God. He told that waiter that when Castro came in he was to tell him that Demos was a dairyman from California and he would like to speak with him. The waiter was a little non¬plussed thinking that his information was wrong and he asked Demos if someone had told him that Castro would be there that night. Knowing there was little point in saying the Holy Spirit had given the information, Demos just said, yes, someone had told him. Still unable to accept this, the waiter told Demos that Castro never came into the restaurant after ten o’clock and this was nearly three in the morning.
Having waited for some considerable time, Demos was beginning to think he had heard wrongly so he picked up the receipt for the ice-cream he had eaten and walked over to pay the bill. Even as the change was being counted out, Demos heard heavy footsteps outside and suddenly through the door came a group of men in fatigues, and in the centre was Fidel Castro.
So impressed was the waiter that Demos had the correct information, that he went over to Castro, who had sat down and ordered food, and whispered to him. Castro looked up and beckoned Demos to come over to his table. Surrounded by guns Demos sat down and chatted to this enigmatic man, even making him laugh. He took the opportunity when asked why he was there, to share about the Fellowship and how they wanted to get to know Cubans who were working in a similar way but also about what the Holy Spirit was doing amongst people like themselves in other countries. The two men talked for over half an hour when they were rudely interrupted by a local businessman who wanted to complain about what Castro was doing to the nightclubs of Cuba. He turned to Demos and said he was glad he had come and as he began to say, ‘I wish ...’, the conversation was terminated because trouble was beginning to brew with the nightclub owner. Demos often shared about how he wondered what Castro had wished, but only God knows that.
Rarely is God’s Kingdom extended without cost, be that family, financial or in other ways. That always applied in the Full Gospel Business Men’s Fellowship International. When FGBMFI men took part in an airlift they paid all their own expenses and often had to take their holiday time as well. This was the case in 1960, when a group of men took off for Haiti and the Silvio Cato Stadium in Port Au Prince.
‘The meetings ... ... exceeded the wildest dreams of the planners, drawing 23,000 persons to the stadium the first night and soon overflowing to 35,000 persons. Despite opposition from voodoo priests, and the dubious support of Duvalier (the President of Haiti), the campaign continued with increasing force. After the sensational healing of a blind boy, the meetings overflowed the stadium grounds. On the last night of the stadium, over 10,000 persons came forward for salvation. After three weeks ended, it was estimated that over 100,000 had been saved.’1
In Canada, it was February 1960 when the Fellowship officially constituted in that country. Sixty-six men sat down in Hemstead’s Restaurant, Toronto where they were ignited by the fire of the Holy Spirit. A Toronto businessman, Larry Snelgrove, had met Demos and other American leaders in 1955 and they had earlier held a banquet in Toronto at which the Fellowship was introduced to the people of Canada. Now they were getting serious. The need for sharing Fellowship, coming together with people of like minds and winning men and women for Jesus, were the factors motivating these and other men around the world.
In succeeding years, Canada saw tens of thousands of lives touched through the vehicle of the FGBMFI. Thousands of breakfast, luncheon and banquet meetings later, they are able to report that the power of Jesus Christ having healed bodies, minds, emotions, spirits, families and businesses, from one end of the nation to the other.
Television also featured in the work as they filmed Good News in Canada and the showing of this programme brought thousands of people to a commitment of their lives to Jesus. One of the greatest areas of success was in new Chinese chapters opening in Toronto and Vancouver. These saw between 400 and 600 attending and well over half of these being non-Christians. The National Board not only set specific goals for expansion but also sent out a challenge to every member in Canada to set aside one day a week to fast and pray for the ministry of FGBMFI and as a result, they have seen God move in amazing ways.
When asked questions by friends such as, ‘How could you take such a risk? What on earth made you do it? I would never employ anyone like that!’, Grant Bailey, owner of Bailey’s Sports Store, would probably have replied, ‘Because Jesus has changed my life and he can do the same for anyone.’ The issue here was a man called Ernie Hollands. Brought up in a very poor two-room shack in the slum area of Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada, Ernie never saw the inside of a church and no one ever put their arms around him and said he was loved. He was taught how to steal – it was called, ‘survival’.
From the age of twelve when he was placed in a reform institution, Ernie Hollands was to spend twenty-five years ‘inside’. He became a hardened and habitual criminal, a constant escapee who eventually became so institutionalised he could not survive outside of prison. During his last sentence, Ernie started to make fish flies as a way of passing the time. So good were these flies, the making of them grew into a profitable occupation. Ernie started making contacts with sports stores, which is where Grant Bailey comes into the story. He owned such a store in Pembrook, Ontario. At first Grant wasn’t sure he wanted to buy the flies but decided to acknowledge Ernie’s letter and at the end of his reply, told him about how important it was to know Jesus, the only one who could save us from ourselves. Later he sent Ernie a Bible and shared how he had, only recently, become a Christian. Grant was the first person ever to tell Ernie about God, and His son Jesus who loved Ernie and had died for his sins.
Thinking he might impress the guards, Ernie started reading the Bible but very soon it was beginning to get a hold of him and he found he was reading 15 to 20 chapters a day. He found he didn’t hate any more; had stopped arguing and started making friends! One night a miracle took place in his cell. Instead of just praying words, he prayed from the depths of his soul and Ernie saw Jesus. He came into his cell, put His hands on his shoulders, and said, ‘Ernie Hollands, your slate is wiped clean.’
The second miracle was when Ernie walked free twenty-three months later, three and a half years before the end of his sentence. Outside the prison, waiting with a van to transport 34 cartons of fish flies was Grant Bailey. He had opened his home, and had a job waiting for Ernie in his store. Grant was a member of the FGBMFI and giving this opportunity to Ernie was his contribution to spreading the Gospel. Eventually, Ernie was receiving so many invitations from FGBMFI chapters, churches, schools and on television that he had to give up his employment at the store and spend his life travelling, sharing his testimony and helping build up the prison ministry of the Fellowship in Canada. Many people there, and in other parts of the world got to know the name of Ernie Hollands. Very few remember the name of Grant Bailey but it is laymen like him, being obedient to God, that make the Ernie Hollands of this world possible.
It was a young man called Ray Barnett 2, originally from Northern Ireland, moved to Canada in the late 1950s, who became the catalyst for one of the most significant airlifts of the Fellowship. Having, as so many young men, left Ireland to go to London, Ray felt the call of God on his life and decided that meant he should be a minister. He started his training with one of the mainline churches but two problems stood in his way. One was dyslexia that meant he found it difficult to express his ideas in written form. Secondly, the teaching he was getting seemed to dismiss so much of what he believed and knew about God – no room for ideas about the Virgin Birth or the baptism of the Holy Spirit and speaking in tongues. Earlier in his life, he had had two other serious problems, stammering and passing out if he ever had to stand to do something in front of people. These latter two had been miraculously healed when he had been baptised in the Holy Spirit.
By 1961, he felt he was still not fulfilling God’s call on his life. That year he went for an interview with a leading travel agent in Calgary and put a startling proposal to them. What would they think of a person like himself handling nothing but religious and missionary travel. It would, he assured them, bring in a lot of business as well as providing a valuable service to the church community. After a slight hesitation, they accepted his proposal and it was through this work that he first came across the FGBMFI. Attending the 1962 convention in Seattle during the World’s Fair, God sowed the seed of an ambitious project in his heart – not just an airlift to the UK, but one that would incorporate a massive convention in London. Meantime he began working for the Fellowship locally, opening a chapter in Calgary. He also became the youngest International Director of the Fellowship.
Jerry Jensen, editor of Voice magazine, was the speaker at the second Calgary breakfast meeting. Ray decided that he would discuss the project with him. He took Jerry to the world-famous resort of Banff and Lake Louise and as they travelled through the spectacular scenery of mountains and forests they spoke about the unique way in which God had led each of them. Later that afternoon whilst relaxing in the resort’s hot springs, Ray shared his idea of flying two or three jets filled with businessmen to the UK. As he talked, his vision and excitement grew. He visualised a convention in London that would reach thousands of people with the Gospel.
Although he was excited by the idea, Jerry was also a little guarded. An airlift had been successfully organised to Haiti, but this was on an altogether different scale. As soon as he got back to Los Angeles, Jerry discussed the idea with Demos and later than week phoned Ray to come down and discuss plans. Making an appointment with Demos was not easy to arrange. Always busy, he had agreed to see the two men between 11.30 and 11.45 following the Saturday morning breakfast meeting at Clifton’s Cafeteria. Fifteen minutes to discuss such a massive project! Ray knew that was impossible. Once Demos started to listen to this young man’s vision, he decided to given over the entire day to discussion of the airlift and by midnight, the three men had come to a decision.
Not only would there be an airlift to London, with a convention, but they decided to make it the World Convention. Ray was given the role of convention co-ordinator and he travelled thousands of miles in the United States and abroad aiming to inspire businessmen throughout the world to come to the convention in London.3
Saturday 20 November 1965 was truly a ‘Red Letter Day’ for the Full Gospel Business Men’s Fellowship. In three airports, Los Angeles, New York and Chicago, groups of people waited to send off their friends and families to London, with their prayers and blessings. In the lobby of the Los Angeles International Airport about 1,000 people gathered amongst whom were well-known figures such as Nicky Cruz and Demos and Rose Shakarian, waiting to board the Scandinavian Airways jet.
Never before, and probably not since, had that airport lounge witnessed such a scene. The electrifying presence of God was sensed by everyone. Five ex-drug addicts stood up and sang, ‘We’ve come this far by faith’, whilst other men stood up and spoke about the miracles that had enabled them to be part of this historic event.
At the opposite side of the country, at Kennedy International Airport, New York, another group stood waiting to board a jet, looking anxiously for a helicopter to land with Judge Kermit Bradford who had been delayed in Atlanta. With only minutes to spare, he joined the 143 waiting passengers. And in the city of Chicago, 127 people boarded a third jet, sent off with songs and prayers by a host of well- wishers. Among these were the Rev. Derek Prince and his wife and Steve Shakarian, whose father had already left from Los Angeles.
Richard Shakarian believed that the 1965 airlift to the UK was significant largely because of the world position that country held in terms of the then Commonwealth. Whatever hit the media headlines in London was rapidly spread over the wires worldwide. Hardly surprising that when the UK public opened their morning newspapers to read headlines such as: ‘Millionaire Demos brings deliverance to the Beatniks of Britain’, ‘Big business in Soho’, and ‘Full Gospel in London’, the stories were picked up.
God has amazing ways of preparing the ground when He wants to do something big. Six days before the planes left America, The Sunday Express published an article that had been gathering dust for six months. Entitled ‘The people who ‘speak’ in a language they do not know’. It was not newspaper policy in those days to deal with such issues, especially not a full-page spread. Asking the question, ‘Has one of the mysteries of the early church been revived in our modern age?’, the writer, David Sanders, quoted from Acts chapter 2 which graphically describes the day of Pentecost when the Holy Spirit was poured out as promised in Joel 2:28-29. The article was neither superficial nor denigrating but gave the subject thoughtful and open-minded consideration.
The timing of this publication received comment from many other press writers over the next three weeks because of the events connected with the airlift. The reason for this was the importance placed on this experience by the FGBMFI and the openness with which it was spoken about by the men and women from America who were interviewed by the press.
Nicky Cruz was one of a number on the airlift, who had been delivered from drug addition when they turned their lives over to Jesus. These were the men described by The Sun as ‘Mr. Shakarian’s shock troops’. Going out into the Soho area to speak to the rebels of the day ‘beatniks’, and drug addicts, they did not go to condemn their life style but were living proof of the power of the Holy Spirit to break addiction and bring life and hope to an individual. From a report on some twenty ‘youthful derelicts’ each of whom had made a decision to give Jesus a chance to work in their lives, a rather amusing story surfaced. George Gardner, automobile dealer from New York, hired two rooms in the Hilton and moved all the furniture into one, covering the floor of the other with canvas. Then he hired two barbers who cut the long hair of these newly ‘born again’ ex-drug addicts. By the time they eventually finished, the floor was covered in hair to a depth of almost six inches. A bath and new suit of cloths followed, turning them into smart young people. Not the way things would be handled today, but the sixties were very different!
However, that was not the end of the story. A very concerned hotel manager rang Demos and told him they would all have to vacate the hotel immediately. Demos could not get any sense out of him so a group of men went down to talk with them. The manager was quite distraught but adamant that they should leave. He accused them of bringing large numbers of beatniks into his hotel and then hiding them in their rooms. They took him up to the room where the ‘clean-up’ operation was taking place and he could not believe his eyes. Needless to say, he relented and allowed everyone to stay.
Johnny was an example of so many young people in Soho. Having got himself into trouble once in his hometown of Newcastle, he discovered that people expected trouble from him all the time. He had been involved in theft and was sent to a correctional institute but found it impossible to fit back into school where he was constantly under suspicion. Like many others, he ended up hanging around London’s ‘square mile of evil’, an angry young man. Johnny saw his former associates accept Jesus and undergo not only a spiritual transformation but also a physical one. He eventually decided to try the former, but he was determined to hang on to his long hair – it was his badge of disdain for society. Although he had decided to give his life to Jesus, deep within his anger and bitterness were tearing him apart. A few days later, he received the baptism of the Holy Spirit setting him free and enabling him to forgive. The next day, with only a fraction of hesitation, he allowed the barber to cut the first huge handful of hair.
Inevitably, this aspect of the airlift’s work caught the imagination of the press more than any other. They followed the teams wherever they went, photographing and interviewing the new converts. There was, of course, a great deal of scepticism and Demos Shakarian was asked how genuine he believed the conversions were. ‘Of course, we can be fooled,’ he said, ‘even taken for a ride by some of the people we help. We expect that. Others attempt to change their lives but slip back into their old ways despite our help. But if only one person here starts a completely new life – and in doing so shows an example to many others – well, then every cent of what we spend here and every minute of our time in Britain will have been worth it.’ As the press pointed out, the convention in the hotel and air fares alone was costing about £85,000 (in Britain at that time, £500 a year would be a good wage) – all to be met out of the delegates’ pockets. But one fact was very difficult to explain away. The ex-drug addicts showed their arms to the reporters who saw that the needle marks had miraculously healed and they were completely free of any withdrawal symptoms.
Reporters, Granada television, BBC radio, local policemen and even Scotland Yard descended on the Hilton Hotel and Soho to see what was going on. They heard in amazement that one man had donated enough money to send several young men on the trip, all former drug addicts but healed and filled with the Holy Spirit. Among those who went into Soho with the team was a narcotics officer from Scotland Yard. Like many doctors and others who worked with addicts, he believed that it was impossible for anyone hooked on drugs ever to be totally freed from the habit. What he saw was addicts responding to the call to give their lives to Jesus and being immediately baptised in the Holy Spirit, speaking in tongues. He saw their lives transformed as they stopped using drugs without any withdrawal symptoms so that they were able to return to work. Not surprisingly, he was one of three London policemen who also became Christians that week.
‘Beatniks and Soho’ were not the only headlines about the airlift. In the rather more sober Church of England Newspaper under the title, ‘Full Gospel men in Church House’ were equally remarkable stories. The first public meeting was scheduled for Westminster Chapel on the Wednesday evening but the day started with a seven o’clock prayer meeting followed by a breakfast meeting at eight o’clock, and after-service sessions of prayer with those wanting salvation or baptism in the Holy Spirit. The opening session was a little stiff at first as the Americans and British felt strange with each other, but when they began to sing, the Spirit of the Lord began to move. It was a truly international and interdenominational gathering and one minister was moved to exclaim, ‘For twenty years I have been a pastor, but never have I experienced a crusade where there was such a spirit of unity as prevailed in the spiritual airlift to London.’
Long before Ray Barnett had been led to organize this convention, God had been preparing men in the UK. The 1950s had seen the great crusade at Harringay when Billy Graham and his team, together with many churches, held a three-months’ campaign. It is impossible to quantify fully the results. Thousands came forward to make a commitment to Jesus Christ, many becoming ministers themselves. The effect was ongoing as church congregations throughout the country began to experience a growing desire for a deeper experience in the Christian life. This was not confined to any specific church or denomination, nor to any particular part of the land. A man who was to become a member of the FGBMFI, Andy Milliken wrote ‘A vision was beginning to surface for outreach activities, and a new compassion stirred for other Christians wherever they worshipped, and for those who did not know the Lord.’1 One of the most important foundations of the Full Gospel Business Men’s Fellowship is its inter-denominationalism, men and women being encouraged to stay in their churches.`
Arising from the success of the Harringay Crusade, a monthly evening fellowship meal was held at the YMCA in Tottenham Court Road. About seventy people, mostly businessmen but with some pastors and evangelists, would meet to seek ways of sharing the Gospel using modern techniques. Unfortunately, despite many good ideas, nothing specific came out of these meetings until one night when a pastor from South London stood up and made a suggestion. Was it not time they stopped telling God what they wanted to do and start listening to what God had to say? So simple!
A regular lunchtime prayer meeting in the heart of the city for businessmen was what they believed God told them to do. This was held in Fleet Street and received a tremendous anointing from the Holy Spirit over the next few years and became known worldwide. People gave up their lunch in order not to miss what God was doing in that prayer group. The Fleet Street group received many letters asking about the renewal in Great Britain, particularly from America and it was from that country than an unusual request came in 1965. They were asked if they could arrange a ‘steering committee’ for a group of Americans who wanted to visit Britain in November. Americans! The group were, to say the least, cautious, even sceptical. It took considerable persuasion before several of them agreed to form such a group. Although few people in Britain had heard of the FGBMFI, those comprising the steering committee were prepared to step out in faith. These included the Rev Michael Harper, Andy Milliken, then an advertising and public relations consultant, the Rev Ernest Walton-Lewsey, Director of the London Embankment Mission, and William (Bill) Thompson, a Savile Row tailor who chaired the group. Other men were drawn in to help with the enormous organization of such a venture.
Bill Thompson was a key figure in God’s plan for the FGBMFI in Britain. As a Savile Row tailor he visited the United States twice a year to sell his hand-made suits and whilst there would take the opportunity to visit churches and religious communities. His contact with the FGBMFI came about in a remarkable way through Lee Buck. Lee worked for New York Life Insurance Company, supervising more than ten thousand agents and 350 offices in the United States and Canada. He was also a Director of FGBMFI.
In the middle of a very busy day in his Madison Avenue office, Lee received a telephone call from an Englishman that went something like this:
‘Mr. Buck, my name is Bill Thompson and I am a friend of Bob Kuenzle. I just thought I would ring you up.
‘Well, Mr. Thompson, what can I do for you?’
‘Nothing, really. I just wanted to say hello.’
Apart from mentioning the name of his hotel, this was the entire conversation. After a few moments of looking at the work on his desk, Lee began to think about this rather strange conversation. He decided he had probably been rather abrupt and if Bill Thompson was a friend of Bob’s then he must be a Christian and he had better quickly return the call. As soon as they were connected he asked, ‘Mr. Thompson, are you a Christian?’
From this rather inauspicious beginning came the connection between the Fleet Street group and the FGBMFI, as well as a life-long friendship. Bill later met Demos and other members in the United States and in so doing God completed another part of His ‘jig-saw puzzle’ so that the right men were available at the right time.
Ray Barnett and Jerry Jensen flew to London a couple of weeks before the airlift to join the men who were dealing with the final arrangements. It was an enormous task. Hundreds of hotel reservations had to be made for those coming from America on the three chartered jets, meeting places had to be booked as well as flights and accommodation for those going on to Europe. In addition, there were hundreds of invitations for teams of individuals to go and speak in churches, colleges, prisons, factories and homes throughout the country. There was such a demand for speakers and seminars to discuss forming FGBMFI chapters that many of the men involved had hardly slept for days. However, everyone was encouraged by the co-operation of ministers and the friendliness of those contacted for help, including some MPs. As Bill Thompson was to exclaim, ‘This isn’t a convention! This is an appointment with God!’
As Ray watched the first plane taxi to a halt that November morning, he experienced eagerness, mild impatience, a sense of relief, as well as disbelief. Had he had any idea of what was to follow, he probably could not have taken it in.
One of the pilots of the planes probably felt a sense of relief too. Whilst flying over the Atlantic at 33,000 feet, an irregularity was detected. Both pilot and co-pilot were baffled, as there was no visible engineering or hydraulic reason for the fault, so they asked the flight engineer to take a quick look at the rear of the plane. Walking down the long gangway he was taken aback to find no one in any of the passenger seats in the forward section. The reason soon became clear. Entering the rear section he found all the passengers gathered together worshipping God. As politely as possible he ordered them back to their original seats, saying that otherwise they were likely to meet their Maker sooner than envisaged.
The journey across the Atlantic had produced some wonderful testimonies. One man, Miles Smith of Kankakee, Illinois, described himself as eighty years young, but unfortunately could not prove that he had ever been born! Determined to be part of the airlift, he drove hundreds of miles cross country in wintry weather to find his ninety-year-old brother in order to obtain an affidavit acceptable to the Passport Office. Miles had once heard an evangelist say that if you want a blessing from God, you must first make a point of contact. He decided that his would be attending the London convention where he hoped to receive the baptism of the Holy Spirit. At 31,000 feet over the Atlantic, one of the men walked down the aisle of the plan and said, ‘Miles, what about praying for you now?’ He placed his arms around him and the Lord immediately filled Miles with His Holy Spirit.
Others told of how God had met their financial needs by providing unexpected overtime or contracts that had dragged on for months suddenly being completed making finance available. Throughout all three flights, the crew members saw and heard a Christian witness wherever they turned with people praying, singing and praising the Lord.
Stepping out of the warm plane into the chilly November morning, Rose Shakarian commented how everything looked so strange and different, as if out of a storybook. Many people in the following three weeks clearly wondered what had hit London as the enthusiastic Americans took every opportunity to witness for Jesus.
One of the amazing aspects of the convention was the number of people who went to London not knowing what it was about but feeling impelled by God to be there. Many had never experienced breakfast and luncheon meetings in a hotel, and some thought that perhaps the Hilton Hotel was too luxurious. God quite clearly showed one man why the convention wasn’t based at an inexpensive small hotel – apart from the size! As he went up to his room on one occasion, an African gentleman in a multi-coloured, richly embroidered robe and turban swept into the lift and returned his greeting with dignity. On being invited to attend the final meeting at the Royal Albert Hall that night, the dignitary very promptly and graciously accepted. As he left the lift on of the other men gasped, ‘Do you know who that is? That’s the vice Premier of Nigeria!’
On that last day of the convention, two meetings were held in the Royal Albert Hall. In the afternoon Nicky Cruz addressed the young people who packed the hall, and Oral Roberts was the guest speaker in the evening. If ever there was a doubt that the Christians of the UK were open to knowing more of the power of the Holy Spirit, the World Convention and especially the Saturday evening dispelled any such claim. The Hall, which holds over 5,000 people, was filled to capacity with many thousands more left outside, unable to get in.
It was not the singing or the preaching, or even the countless people who responded to the final appeal that made such a deep impression. At the end of his inspiring address, Oral Roberts asked everyone to stand and speak out loud in tongues. Although many people in Britain had experienced baptism in the Holy Spirit, they had never spoken out loud in tongues in a public meeting in this way. The effect was electrifying. One long-time Pentecostal minister described it as a
manifestation of God’s power that made history. He had never known it happen anywhere before. This, more than anything else perhaps, was what characterised the FGBMFI among other interdenominational organizations. It experienced, ‘that which was spoken of by the prophet Joel: “And it shall come to pass in the last days, saith God, “I will pour of my Spirit upon all flesh; and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams; and on my servants and on my handmaidens I will pout out in those days of my Spirit”, ...’
During the second week of the trip, delegates were divided into teams and travelled all over Britain as well as many European countries. One group in Newcastle witnessed to approximately three thousand, either in group meetings or by personal ministry. They saw fifty people commit their lives to Jesus Christ, twenty-two baptised in the Holy Spirit and four miraculously healed. Two people testified to having received the Holy Spirit after reading Voice magazine, one a minister of a mission, and the other a Baptist Minister.
Judge Kermit Bradford had breakfast with some fifteen barristers at the Ivanhoe Hotel. The group was led by a Queen’s Counsellor, Mr Poson. At the other end of the social scale a doctor from New Mexico witnessed to a young boy of fifteen in a burger bar and he committed his life to Jesus. That alone would have made the doctor’s trip worthwhile, but two days later, he met the young man, Raymond, to give him a New Testament. At the burger bar he found Raymond witnessing to another young man about Jesus. As he saw the doctor approaching he said, ‘Here he comes now. He will finish telling you about Jesus.’
Another team went to Christ College, Cambridge, where students listened intently to the various testimonies. On subsequent evenings, three students became Christians and eight were baptised in the Holy Spirit. Some teams visited cities and towns across Wales, Scotland, the Isle of Wight, Guernsey and Ireland. Other teams moved out into Europe to consolidate and further spread the work of the Fellowship.
When Ray Barnett and Jerry Jensen parted at Heathrow for the homeward journey, Ray turned to his friend and said, ‘Jerry, more than ten years ago I left Ireland for the last time. Everyone begged me not to go, and I didn’t know what to say to the people. Finally I promised them that if I went to Canada, I’d do something for them I could never do if I stayed in Ireland.’ Jerry looked at him quietly for a moment, thinking what a remarkable man this was. ‘So,’ he said, ‘You’ve kept your promise.’
Had that been all, Ray Barnett’s vision of plane-loads of men flying out to another country to share the Gospel had more than come to pass. But another vision was also becoming a reality – the vision that God had given Demos some thirteen years earlier, of how He was going to bring men all over the world back to spiritual life and vitality.