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This Week in AG History -- June 26, 1966

Wernher von Braun was a leading rocket scientist for Hitler's war machine, but he regretted his work and ultimately experienced a spiritual transformation in a small church in El Paso, Texas.

Wernher von Braun (1912-1977), one of Nazi Germany’s leading rocket scientists, became a pioneer in America’s space program following World War II. But it was von Braun’s conversion to Christ that captured the attention of Assemblies of God radio preacher C.M. Ward. Ward interviewed the scientist in 1966, during which von Braun described the relationship between his newfound faith and his lifework in science.

Von Braun’s interest in rocket science had been sparked by a desire to explore space, but he came to regret that his work was being used to cause tremendous destruction of human life. He had developed the V-1 and V-2 rockets, which allowed Germany to pummel Allied targets up to 500 miles away during World War II. The rockets, manufactured by slave labor, indiscriminately killed thousands of people.

Sensing disloyalty, the Gestapo arrested von Braun in 1944 and charged him with espionage. Von Braun’s work was deemed essential to the success of the war effort, so Nazi leader Albert Speer intervened and ordered the release of the scientist. When American soldiers marched into central Germany in May 1945, they found that von Braun had organized the surrender of 500 of his top scientists, along with plans and test vehicles.

Von Braun and his German scientists were relocated to the United States, where they became indispensable to the development of American military and space programs. Von Braun’s life had changed drastically within the course of a year. But it was in a little church in El Paso, Texas, that von Braun experienced a spiritual transformation that would change him from the inside out.

In Germany, von Braun had been nominally Lutheran but functionally atheist. He had no interest in religion or God. In Texas, while living at Fort Bliss, a neighbor invited him to church. He went, expecting to find the religious equivalent of a country club. Instead, he found a small white frame building with a vibrant congregation of people who loved the Lord. He realized that he had been morally adrift and that he needed to surrender himself to God. He converted to Christ and, over the coming years, became quite outspoken in his evangelical faith and frequently addressed the complementarity of faith and science.

C.M. Ward’s 1966 interview of von Braun took place in Huntsville, Alabama, at the George Marshall Space Flight Center (NASA), where he served as director. Von Braun contrasted the large empty cathedrals of Europe to the large numbers of churches he found in Texas, many meeting in temporary buildings, pastored by “humble preachers driving second-hand buses,” who led “thriving congregations.” The German scientist was impressed and noted: “Here is a growing, aggressive church and not a dignified, half-dead institution. Here is spiritual life.”

Ward published von Braun’s story and his thoughts on faith and science in an article in the June 2, 1966, issue of the Pentecostal Evangel, as well as in a 15-page booklet, The Farther We Probe into Space, the Greater My Faith (Gospel Publishing House, 1966), of which almost 500,000 copies were published.

Read the article by Lee Shultz, “Revivaltime Speaker C.M. Ward Interviews Dr. Wernher von Braun,” on page 26-27 of the June 26, 1966, issue of the Pentecostal Evangel.

Also featured in this issue:

• “Circuit-riding Chaplain,” by Richard D. Wood

• “I Discovered God in the Manned Spacecraft Center,” by David L. Johnson

Click here to read this issue now.

Pentecostal Evangel archived editions courtesy of the Flower Pentecostal Heritage Center.

Pictured: C.M. Ward interviews Dr. Wernher von Braun (center) in his office at the Space Center headquarters in Huntsville, Alabama, May 9, 1966. Lee Shultz (right) looks on.

Darrin J. Rodgers

Darrin J. Rodgers has served as director of the Flower Pentecostal Heritage Center (FPHC) since 2005. He earned a master's degree in theological studies from Assemblies of God Theological Seminary and a juris doctorate from the University of North Dakota School of Law. He previously served at the David du Plessis Archive and the McAlister Library at Fuller Theological Seminary. He is the author of Northern Harvest , a history of Pentecostalism in North Dakota. His FPHC portfolio includes acquisitions, editing Assemblies of God Heritage magazine, and conducting oral history interviews. His wife, Desiree, is an ordained AG minister.