This Week in AG History -- Oct. 19, 1929
Hispanic ministers and churches have played an important role in the Assemblies of God (AG) for over 100 years. The Pentecostal message spread rapidly among Spanish-speakers, first along the borderlands in Texas among refugees from the Mexican Revolution and among Puerto Ricans. The AG ordained its first Hispanic minister in 1914 and created a conference for U.S. Hispanic churches (later known as the Latin American District) in 1918.
Eighty-nine years ago this week, the Pentecostal Evangel briefly noted that the Hispanic AG churches in the United States (with the exception of Puerto Rico) had formed the Latin American District. Over the decades, Hispanics forged their own identity, leaders, and churches within the AG. In 2017, over 23 percent of AG adherents in the United States were Hispanic.
The following vignettes offer a glimpse into the lives and ministries of several Hispanic AG pioneers. While Anglo missionaries to Hispanics, such as Henry C. Ball, Alice E. Luce, and Florence Murcutt, also were an important part of the story, the below stories feature Latino(a)s who helped to lay the foundation for the AG. Their testimonies offer a glimpse into the vibrant spiritual lives of our Pentecostal pioneers.
Antonio Rios Morin
Antonio Rios Morin (born ca. 1867), a former Mexican Revolution army officer, in 1914 became the first Hispanic to be ordained as an AG minister. He was converted in 1912 under the ministry of Mexican healing evangelist Enemecio Alaniz in a racially integrated Pentecostal home meeting in Houston. Morin joined with Alaniz and other Hispanic and Anglo Pentecostal ministers, evangelizing among the Mexican refugees in the borderlands of Texas. At the time, many refugees followed Spiritism or other occult practices. Many people were saved, healed, and delivered from demons under Morin’s ministry.
Juan Lugo (1890-1984) was born in Puerto Rico and raised on the sugar plantations of Hawaii. In 1913, Lugo’s mother came into contact with Pentecostal missionaries from the interracial Azusa Street Revival who were en route to Japan and China. She accepted Christ and told her son, but he initially rejected her witness. When one of Juan’s co-workers who could not read also became a Christian, he asked Juan to read the Bible to him on breaks. Juan reluctantly agreed, and what he found in the Bible changed his life. He soon accepted Christ, was baptized in the Holy Spirit, and felt called into the ministry. In 1916, he returned to Puerto Rico, where he pioneered the first Pentecostal churches on the island. He established La Iglesia de Dios Pentecostal (Pentecostal Church of God), which was affiliated with the AG. He later moved to New York, where he helped establish Puerto Rican churches on the East Coast, which became the foundation for the Spanish Eastern District.
Dionicia Feliciano (born ca. 1890) was the first Latina ordained by the AG. She and her husband, Salomon, were Puerto Ricans who, like Juan Lugo, were saved and baptized in the Holy Spirit in 1913 while working on sugar plantations in Hawaii. They became ordained Assemblies of God ministers in San Jose, California, in 1916. They returned to Puerto Rico, where they helped Lugo pioneer the young Pentecostal movement. In late 1916, they ventured to the Dominican Republic, where they served as the first Pentecostal missionaries to that nation. Dionicia was very active in church planting and evangelistic work.
Isabel Flores (a male Mexican-American pastor) and H. C. Ball co-founded the January 1918 organizational convention of AG churches and ministers, which was held in Kingsville, Texas. Flores was one of the earliest Hispanic AG ministers. Like many Mexican refugees, he faced significant cultural and legal challenges in America. In one such circumstance, Flores was arrested in May 1918 and incarcerated in the Jackson County jail in Edna, Texas. The reason for the arrest is unknown. An account published in 1966 in La Luz Apostolica simply stated, “It was wartime, and the officer did not speak Spanish and Isabel did not speak English.” Ball came to the aid of Flores and traveled to Edna, where he spoke with authorities and secured the prisoner’s release. Flores’ experience demonstrates that it was advantageous for Hispanic Pentecostals to form an alliance with Anglos of like faith.
Demetrio and Nellie Bazan
It would be difficult to overstate the impact of Demetrio (1900-1976) and Nellie Bazan (1895-1995) on the AG. Both Demetrio and Nellie felt called into the ministry and were ordained together in 1920, less than a month before their wedding. H. C. Ball, the Anglo AG missionary to Hispanics, saw potential in Demetrio for pastoral leadership and mentored him. Demetrio proved to be an effective pastor, evangelist, and administrator, and succeeded Ball in 1939 as the first Hispanic to serve as Latin American district superintendent. Bazan’s far-reaching vision and abilities helped the Hispanic constituency of the AG to grow significantly. Nellie was an important AG leader in her own right. She preached from the pulpit at least 30 times per year, engaged in extensive door-to-door evangelism, was a prolific author, and raised 10 children.
Jose Giron (1911-2001) succeeded Demetrio Bazan in 1959 as superintendent of the Latin American district, which grew by 1970 to encompass 403 churches, 827 ministers, and 21,000 members. In 1971, Giron led the district to divide into four smaller districts, laying the foundation for structures that allowed continued growth and better oversight and accountability. Giron had demonstrated strong evangelistic and church planting skills early in his ministry, and his careful yet forward-looking leadership skills proved invaluable to the AG.
Francisca Blaisdell (ca 1885-1941) was born in Mexico and started preaching the Pentecostal message in 1915. She married an Anglo AG missionary, George E. Blaisdell. Francisca founded the Concilio Misionero Femenil (Women’s Missionary Council) in 1922 in Agua Prieta, Mexico. The purpose of the council was to encourage missionary work along the U.S.-Mexican borderlands. The Blaisdells moved to Arizona, and H. C. Ball and Juan Lugo ordained her as an AG missionary-evangelist in 1923. Francisca became a prominent Latina AG evangelist, but the council, which claimed 44,600 members by 2005, was perhaps her most significant achievement.
Concepcion (Chonita) Morgan Howard
Concepcion (Chonita) Morgan Howard (1898-1983) was a pioneer Latina Pentecostal evangelist and pastor. She accepted Christ and was baptized in the Holy Spirit in 1913 in the mining town of San Jose de las Playitas in Sonora, Mexico. Her father was Anglo, and her mother was Mexican. In 1919 she married an Anglo preacher, Lloyd Howard, who was pastoring a small Mexican congregation in Arizona. She was ordained by the AG in 1928 as an evangelist to Mexicans living along the Mexican-American border. In addition to her work as an evangelist and pastor, she served as the second president of the Concilio Misionero Femenil (1941-1962).
Robert Fierro (1916-1985) was a prominent Mexican-American AG evangelist who preached fluently in both English and Spanish. Fierro surrendered his life to Christ at 15 years of age, following his mother’s miraculous healing in a Pentecostal church. He soon felt a call to minister and enrolled in Bible college. Throughout the 1940s and 1950s, he preached throughout the United States and in Spanish-speaking countries to crowds that often numbered into the thousands. Countless people were converted and healed under his ministry.
Jesse Miranda (1937-present) is a respected Hispanic AG church leader and educator who in 1995 became the first Latino to be elected as an executive presbyter. Jesse began life in Albuquerque, New Mexico, the son of a lumber mill worker and a mother with a third-grade education. He started preaching at 19 and served as an instructor at Latin American Bible Institute from 1959 to 1978 and as superintendent of the Southern Pacific Latin American district from 1984 to 1992. Jesse became known as a bridge builder, serving as the founding president of the multidenominational Alianza de Ministerios Evangelicos Nacionales (AMEN) and as executive director of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference, the nation’s largest Christian Hispanic organization. Christianity Today dubbed him “the granddaddy of U.S. Latino Protestantism.”
Read about the formation of the Latin American District in the article, “The Thirteenth General Council Meeting,” on page 5 of the Oct. 19, 1929, issue of the Pentecostal Evangel.
Also featured in this issue:
• “A Sound of Rain,” by W. E. Moody
• “The Church’s Greatest Need,” by Charles E. Robinson
And many more!
Click here to read this issue now.
Pentecostal Evangel archived editions courtesy of the Flower Pentecostal Heritage Center.
IMAGE: Demetrio (right) and Nellie Bazan