Hispanic Pentecostalism

by Efraim Espinoza 

The story of early Hispanic Pentecostals is dominated by two figures, Francisco Olazábal (1886-1937) and Henry C. Ball (1896-1989).

Olazábal was converted in California at the turn of the century after receiving a tract from George Montgomery. George and his wife Carrie Judd Montgomery taught him basic Christian doctrines. Olazábal felt God’s call on his life and returned to Mexico to prepare for the Methodist ministry. After a brief pastorate in El Paso, he attended Moody Bible Institute. In 1917, he became reacquainted with the Montgomerys in California. He was startled to learn that they had become Pentecostals and spoke in tongues. He attended a prayer meeting at their home, along with Alice E. Luce (a significant contributor to early Hispanic ministries) and others, where he was baptized in the Spirit. As a result, he became a Pentecostal preacher credentialed with the Assemblies of God.

Olazábal’s new ministry soon bore fruit as young people who were Spirit baptized in his services entered full-time ministry, many joining the Assemblies of God. In 1918, he moved to El Paso, Texas, staying long enough to plant a church before traveling across the United States holding revival campaigns. As more Spanish-speaking people were converted and joined the Pentecostal ranks, more of their ministers joined the Latin American Convention of the Assemblies of God, founded in 1918 under the leadership of Henry C. Ball.

In 1923, Olazábal and other ministers met in Houston, Texas, and formed the Latin American Council of Christian Churches. Although he had held credentials with the Assemblies of God for only 5 years, his labors added to the growth of Hispanic congregations in the Council.

Considered the most effective Hispanic Pentecostal minister to that time, Olazábal was referred to as the “great Aztec” by a contemporary biographer. His work in New York and Chicago led to the establishment of dozens of new churches, as did his campaigns in Los Angeles and Puerto Rico. His emphases on evangelism and healing were combined with concern for the social needs of the Hispanic communities. By the late 1930s, his organization had 50 churches and an estimated adherence of 50,000 persons. Olazábal was apparently at the height of his ministry when he was killed in an automobile accident in Texas in 1937.

Henry C. Ball had a lifelong ministry to Hispanic people. In 1926, he opened the Latin American Bible Institute in San Antonio. He cultivated the work in Mexico and Central America in the formative stages; published a paper, the Luz Apostólica; and prepared hymnals, one of which (Himnos de Gloria) came into general use throughout the Spanish-speaking world. He began what is now Life Publishers International, writing many curricular materials for training pastors. Ball provided stabilizing leadership. His personal influence was important in the development of a number of qualified leaders, including Rubén J. Arévalo and Juan Consejo Orozco, both of whom served as superintendents of the Assemblies of God of Mexico, and Josué Cruz and Horacio Menchaca, notable in establishing the church in the U.S.

In 1929, the Mexican convention in the Assemblies of God, which had operated under the Texas-New Mexico District, was converted to the Latin American District Council, with Ball serving as superintendent. At the same time the churches in Mexico were placed entirely under national control, with two of Ball’s former students as superintendent for extended periods of time. Ball’s former assistant, Demetrio Bazán, who had led the move to rejoin the Assemblies of God the year after the division, accepted Ball’s former pastorate in Kingsville. He successively pastored in Laredo, Houston and San Antonio before accepting the invitation to the church in Denver in 1932. Bazán recruited able leadership in the Rocky Mountain states. In 1937, with the approaching retirement of Henry C. Ball, Demetrio Bazán had emerged as the dominant figure in the Hispanic ministry in the U.S. His election as superintendent of the Latin American District Council of the Assemblies of God in 1939 introduced a new era in the development of the Hispanic Pentecostal work.

Efraim Espinoza is coordinator for the Decade of Harvest at the Assemblies of God Headquarters. Some material taken from “Hispanic Pentecostalism” by Everett A. Wilson in the Dictionary of Pentecostal and Charismatic Movements. ©1988 by Stanley M. Burgess, Gary B. McGee and Patrick H. Alexander. Used by permission of Zondervan Publishing House.

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