This Week in AG History -- June 30, 1974
Héléne Biolley (1854-1947), a highly educated Swiss linguist, was a catalyst to the formation of the Pentecostal movement in France. In 1974, Assemblies of God missionary R. Kenneth Ware wrote a Pentecostal Evangel article about Biolley’s influence, noting that the French Pentecostal revival started in her dining room. Humorously, he also remembered her quipping that the first Pentecostal “martyr” in France was a parrot!
Biolley was part of the Coeurs purs (Pure Heart) movement — a revival in 19th century Switzerland that encouraged Christians to examine their motives and cleanse their hearts from all wickedness. Biolley coupled this motivation toward inner holiness with social action, becoming active in the Temperance movement, which sought to rescue people from the destructiveness of alcohol.
Biolley moved to France in 1880 to work with a Temperance organization called the French Blue Cross Society. She settled in the harbor city of Le Havre, located on the English Channel, where in 1896 she opened a small Christian hotel and restaurant, Ruban Bleu. The establishment became a center for Temperance meetings, prayer services, and gospel outreach. According to Ware, “She served good meals but without alcoholic drinks, rented clean rooms, and talked about Jesus.”
Many missionaries and evangelists, including those from England, stayed at Ruban Bleu. In 1909, an Anglican vicar, Alexander Boddy, visited and testified about his baptism in the Holy Spirit. She was curious and wanted to learn more. She began inviting other Pentecostals, including Smith Wigglesworth and Gerrit R. Polman, to preach at Ruban Bleu. The dining room of Ruban Bleu became an important early Pentecostal ministry center in France.
Biolley became well known among missionaries for her linguistic skills. She provided French lessons in addition to room and board. Many missionaries headed to French-speaking African colonies first took language lessons from Biolley.
The Pentecostal movement remained relatively small in France until the early 1930s. For years Biolley had prayed that God would send missionaries to France. Her prayers were answered when Douglas Scott, an Englishman who felt a call to minister in Congo, arrived at Ruban Bleu in 1927. Biolley invited Scott to minister at Ruban Bleu. He prayed and preached with power, and several people were miraculously healed.
Biolley asked Scott to devote six months at her mission before going to the Congo. He agreed and returned to Le Havre in 1930, ultimately devoting the rest of his life to spreading the gospel across France. Scott sparked a significant Pentecostal revival and helped bring cohesiveness to the movement through the organization of the Assemblies of God of France in 1932.
The Pentecostal movement in France grew significantly during Scott’s 37 years of ministry in the country. However, it was not without opposition. Biolley made light of these difficulties, recounting the story of the first French Pentecostal “martyr” – a parrot which had learned many Scripture verses and slogans opposing alcohol consumption. A drunken sailor at a neighboring hotel and restaurant – apparently feeling conviction – killed the parrot to rid himself of the bothersome bird. In Biolley’s estimation, it was a “feathered martyr”!
When Biolley followed God’s call in 1880 to move to a new country and to start a Christian ministry center, she was a single woman in her twenties. Few people imagined that her ministry would amount to much. But in God’s providence, she was in the right place at the right time. Her linguistic skills, coupled with her hotel and restaurant, proved to be an important crossroads for visiting missionaries and evangelists. She prayed faithfully for 20 years for God to send Pentecostal missionaries to France. In her seventies, her prayers were answered, and revival sprang forth from the spiritual foundation that she had helped to lay.
Read R. Kenneth Ware’s article about Héléne Biolley, “Revival Started in the Dining Room,” on page 9 of the June 30, 1974, issue of the Pentecostal Evangel.
Also featured in this issue:
* “The Churches in Eastern Europe,” by Thomas F. Zimmerman
* “On Target with Mission France” by Bill Williams
And many more!
Pentecostal Evangel archived editions courtesy of the Flower Pentecostal Heritage Center.
IMAGE - By the 1950s, Assemblies of God congregations were scattered across France. Here, French Assemblies of God pastor Clement Le Cossec is standing in front of the Assembly of God, Rennes, France, circa 1950.