AFM is a Pentecostal movement born out of the Azusa street revival of 1906, pioneered by John G. Lake and Thomas Hezmalhach after they established the Apostolic Faith Mission in South Africa. Hezmalhalch was the first President and Lake was his successor.
While the Apostolic Faith Mission was founded in 1908 and Pentecostalism brought to South Africa by American missionaries, several factors helped create a favorable climate for the Pentecostal movement to spread in the country. First, revivals in the Dutch Reformed Church in South Africa (DRC) in 1860, 1874 and 1884 were characterized by deep conviction of sin followed by conversion, fervent prayer and some ecstatic phenomenon. Thus in 1908, some older DRC members were familiar and open to Pentecostalism. Second, the Dutch Reformed minister Andrew Murray was a prominent holiness teacher and helped create a climate for revival. A third factor was the Zionist churches, led by John Alexander Dowie from Zion City, Illinois, United States
In May 1908, five American missionaries—John G. Lake and Thomas Hezmalhalch, along with their wives, and A. Lehman—arrived in South Africa from Indianapolis. Lake and Hezmalhalch had links to Dowie’s Zion City and had been baptized in the Holy Spirit at the Azusa Street Mission in Los Angeles. Despite these influences, however, the missionaries had no organizational affiliation. Arriving in Pretoria, Lake felt that the Holy Spirit was leading him to Johannesburg because they found no doors open in Pretoria. In Johannesburg, Mrs Goodenough met them and invited them to stay in her house. She witnessed that the Holy Spirit had sent her to the train station to meet the American missionaries. They first began ministry at a rental hall in Doornfontein, a Johannesburg suburb, on 25 May 1908. The services consisted of a mixed racial group, and many who attended the first services were Zionists. The missionaries moved to the Central Tabernacle, Bree Street, Johannesburg as the young Pentecostal movement grew. It was there that the Apostolic Faith Mission developed, initially as a committee first meeting in September 1908. It was not registered as a legal entity until 1913, however.
By 1909, it had spread to the Orange River Colony. In South Africa, as at Azusa Street, the movement was initially multi-racial, appealing to both Boers and blacks. It expanded rapidly among African farm workers in the Orange River Colony and Wakkerstroom, where Pentecostal beliefs in divine healing through prayer would have made it an attractive alternative to traditional or medical treatment. Lake made contact with the Wakkerstroom Zionists led by Pieter Louis Le Roux, and many Zionists joined the Apostolic Faith Mission. Their influence can be seen in the AFM’s practice of baptism by triple immersion, once each in the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit. There was also interaction with other churches, such as the Plymouth Brethren and International Holiness movement, which often resulted in individuals or whole congregations joining the AFM. Most AFM converts, however, came from the Dutch Reformed churches
The AFM was a self-propagating movement early on due to the successful evangelism of Boer and African converts. In 1909, Lake wrote to The Upper Room, an American Pentecostal journal, that missionaries were not needed as the AFM had men “far superior to any that can come from America . . . who can speak English, Dutch, Zulu, and Basuto”. Towns and mining compounds were prime areas for missionary activity, reflected by the fact that 69 percent of AFM members lived in urban areas in 1928. From urban centers, the AFM spread to rural areas through returning labor migrants or native preachers.
The Birth Of A Church
The first organised meeting was in Doornfontein, Johannesburg, on May 25, 1908, probably only a day or two after they had arrived in Johannesburg. This date can be accepted as the beginning of the AFM. Divine healing was the drawing card of John G Lake’s ministry, which is why emphasis on healing was characteristic of AFM church services. In 1911 according to ‘The Comforter’ the official church publication then, some 2023 divine healings were registered. During its earliest few decades, the AFM felt strongly that it was unacceptable for a believer to receive help or use medicine. The leader himself, John G Lake solely depended on divine healing. Lake was also a dynamic preacher. His preaching was strongly bible-based. He had the ability to stir faith in the hearts of his audience
The Emphasis Of The AFM
Great emphasis was laid on the salvation of the soul, the Holy Spirit baptism, divine healing, the gifts of the Holy Spirit, and living a holy life. Abstinence from intoxicating substances, eating pork, listening to and dancing unchristian music and ancestral worship were taught as signs of genuine Christianity. House meetings were prevalent because they did not have many church buildings to accommodate the people who were coming to be members. Also the church spread and grew through open air services. Sadly Lake’s wife, Jenny, became ill and died on 23 December 1908. For the next four years Lake ministered in many cities and towns across South Africa, establishing assemblies and appointing elders and evangelists. The AFM was established with Tom Hezmalhach as its first president, probably because he was the eldest and more experienced in Pentecostal ministry. He held the position for a year.Lake replaced Hezmalhach as President of the AFM in 1910. Throughout this time he performed apostolic work. He was not a man of management and governance; he was an innovator, an apostle, and a revivalist. In 1912, John G Lake felt that he had completed his mission to South Africa. In February 1913 he returned to America where he remarried two years later and established a healing ministry with thousands of testimonies of people being healed. History says he founded another ministry that grew and became big, and it was not named AFM. It is also not related or connected administratively to the current AFM organisation. This is proof that John G Lake was a true and genuine apostle. He died of stroke in 1935.
The Phenomenon Of Lake's Ministry In South Africa
He went there without funds or any supporting missionary organisation. Every mile of the journey was a miracle…..He depended upon God to supply the money for the trip and the ministry. From the natural point of view, the venture was a perfect setup for failure and disaster. Dr Lake had made no particular study of the field, did not know the language of the indigenous people. Yet despite all the handicaps that ill-omened the success of the mission, the power of the ministry of Lake and his co-worker Thomas Hezmalhach, was such that within five years, the message they brought had penetrated to the remote areas of South Africa. “An apostolic revival broke out of such power, that in a short time, hundreds of churches and missions were established throughout the land. The secret of the success of these men was, of course, the fact that they possessed an apostolic ministry in which signs, wonders and miracles were manifested continually”.
Leaving a Legacy
Today the AFM has over 2000 congregations in South Africa, representing over one million Christians. AFM churches have been established in Botswana, Lesotho, Swaziland, Zimbabwe, Zambia, Malawi, Mozambique, Kenya and other parts of Africa.There are also thriving AFM churches in Britain, Europe and Asia.
History Of The AFM In Zimbabwe
The history of the AFM in Zimbabwe is very difficult to trace. It can only be written by piecing together the scraps of evidence recorded by the government of the day and oral tradition. There is little in documented account of the church activities. The work of the AFM in Zimbabwe is said to have began in 1915 in Gwanda through the preaching of Zacharias Manamela a convert of the AFM of South Africa. The work was recognized by the AFM of South Africa and G.J. Booysen was appointed to look after the work and seek registration of the church with the colonial government. Mr Kgobe succeeded Manamela and he also was working under Booysen. Kgobe was used by God in divine healing
The government of the day was very critical of the AFM because of Kgobe’s exercise of divine healing. The AFM bought a farm in Gobatema, south of Gwanda, to set up a base for their work in Zimbabwe. On 20 June 1918, Luttig established an AFM base in Gatooma, now known as Kadoma. He preached in the town of Kadoma, in townships, and in mining compounds. David Bosman was appointed the new Overseer of the AFM native work in Johannesburg. In 1925 he went to Gobatema Farm in Gwanda to try to secure recognition of the AFM by the government authorities. Because of the practice of faith healing and speaking in tongues, the AFM was negatively viewed and Bosman returned to Johannesburg without success in gaining recognition of the AFM.