More than a Century of Pentecost in New Mexico
On April 23-25, 1940, the grandiose expectancy of a small group of Pentecostal forebears, cramped into a church hall in Tucumcari, New Mexico, led them to dream that “a greater effort should be put forth by the ministers of the New Mexico section for the evangelism of their own state… for the purpose of forming a new District for the State of New Mexico, believing that we could thus advance the cause of Christ to better advantage.” In charting so great a course ahead of them, the gathered believers knew that they would be the ones to bear the burden of the resultant implications on their own shoulders. While few in number and having little material wealth between them, these exemplars of Pentecostalism in New Mexico would energize a unified revival movement that would forever change the state of New Mexico.
Thus the story of the New Mexico Assemblies of God began with evangelization and missions as the reasons-for-being of the entire organization. It should be noted that the New Mexico District Council was not started for any other primary reason—such as denominationalism, advancing the personality of its founders, or even spreading pet theologies—than for those aforementioned. The founders of the New Mexico Assemblies of God desired to ˙multiply membership and churches of the Assemblies of God in the New Mexico Section of the Texico District so that the Kingdom of God may be built up rather than their own earthly organizations. By multiplying churches and members in New Mexico, the larger Church itself would grow. Such are the deeply-Biblical roots of the Assemblies of God in New Mexico that were expressed that Tuesday, April 23rd of 1940 in Tucumcari, New Mexico.
With the year 2014 marking seventy-five District Councils (now “Ministry Network Conferences”) in the history of the New Mexico Assemblies of God, the heritage of the denomination in New Mexico is a powerful testimony to God’s grace through faithful ministers. In closing the first seventy-five years of ministry of the New Mexico Assemblies of God (and the one hundred years of the life of the denominational movement in New Mexico), one can truly see how Pentecostal fervor and sacrifice permeated throughout its entire character. Constraints in space and limitations of research do not permit the recounting of the myriad other stories and contributions of both the clergy and laity, known and unknown, who have labored diligently while carrying the banner of Pentecost throughout the years. Yet, for all the great acts of sacrifice and dedication in the past, the story of the New Mexico Assemblies of God is not finished—indeed it is still a living process that is poised to continue until the Church steps into eternity.
Network Pastor Micheal Dickenson prepares for an exciting future in the New Mexico Assemblies of God. He outlines the goal of planting twenty churches “in strategic locations” in the coming years, revealing his priority of “raising up the next generation of leaders, equipping the leaders of today to truly be the leaders of tomorrow, [and] making a commitment to staying relevant and current while again not compromising the integrity of all that we believe.” Former District Superintendent Earl Vanzant also saw the importance of passing on the great legacy of Pentecost in the up-and-coming generation, the bridging of what has been and what is to come:
"[W]e praise God that we are living in this closing hour of time, and have been privileged to be partakers of this wonderful Pentecostal outpouring, the precious Baptism of the Holy Ghost. And since we have been so wonderfully blessed of the Lord, it makes us realize that we are placed in debt in a great way. Not only to the people around us, but to the rising generation. "Vanzant’s exhortation here also includes a trenchant warning: We must not fail in perpetuating the heritage we have received. Additionally, this perpetuation must be given practical application. To this end, newly-created programs like “Called Camp” and “Bike For The Light” are just a sampling of how the next generation of believers is being equipped through the ministry of the New Mexico Assemblies of God. With summer camps swelling to maximum capacity, Fine Arts programs rivaling the best churches in the nation, preparations for missions trips to Brazil already underway, and Pastor’s Kids Retreats tenderly caring for the needs of the family of clergy in New Mexico, the youth and children of the state are in good hands. No history would be complete without a vibrant future in sight to extend such a great legacy.
The prodigious network of churches, ministers, ministries, and adherents calling itself the New Mexico Assemblies of God, is doing its part to fulfill the original charter of those ardent Pentecostal pioneers, who in 1919 assembled in Portales, New Mexico and declared the desire to organize a “systematic method to evangelizing New Mexico on Pentecostal lines.” Furthermore, the efforts put into effect for the evangelization of the state when the New Mexico District Council of the Assemblies of God was created in Tucumcari, New Mexico in 1940 are still carried out faithfully by the heirs of the tradition. Those Pentecostal forebears could not have known what the workings-out of these charter purposes would look like throughout the next seventy-five years of life. From the original thirty-nine churches to the current ninety-six, the New Mexico Assemblies of God enjoyed an increase of 146% percent within those years of life. The ministerial numbers are even more revealing: from an original seventy ministers to 240 today, there has been an increase of 242% percent! Lastly, the growth in numbers of average attendance in churches across New Mexico since the first year it was tracked has grown 204% percent from 4,873 in 1956 to 14,851 in 2012. Thus the explicitly-stated aspiration of encouraging “a greater effort… by the ministers of the New Mexico section for the evangelism of their own state…. [and advancing] the cause of Christ to better advantage… [and multiplying] membership and churches of the Assemblies of God…” verifiably set in effect the manifold churches, revivals, conversions, missionary endeavors, sacrificial giving, and Pentecostal fervor that New Mexico now enjoys.
Outstanding among the greatest contributions of the New Mexico Assemblies of God—the 205 churches started within the last one hundred years (measured from the very first time that an Assemblies of God church was opened in New Mexico), innumerable acts of service, incalculable number of lives touched, and more than $57 million dollars given to missions—is the most important statistic for any Church movement: the 95,521 conversions recorded through efforts of churches and members of the New Mexico Assemblies of God since 1956. Truly, the New Mexico Assemblies of God, like the original Assemblies of God in 1914, became an agency for evangelism. Yet—obviously not able to measure the spiritual impact—these numbers do not tell even part of the whole influence of the New Mexico Assemblies of God because such statistics were not recorded until 1956! Furthermore, the legacy of starting new congregations continues as church planting in New Mexico is being revived and readied for initiation within the next year. The aforementioned New Mexico School of Ministry is budding with a fresh crop of leaders. And youth and children are continually being called into the ministry through the tireless efforts of Network leadership. Such a noted heritage is truly worth celebrating as the work advances. Even counting oneself as an adherent to the fellowship of the Assemblies of God in New Mexico has been a blessing to its ministers as one member declared: “Thank you for allowing me to be a part of this wonderful network of people who are sacrificing to take the gospel to the world." This type of delivery of the Gospel to the world is certainly what Pentecostal forerunners envisaged; and this work, far from finished, is still being written. Network Pastor Micheal Dickenson imagines this sacrificial, Gospel-disseminating future of the New Mexico Assemblies of God in this way: “I have every confidence that the leadership that God is raising up today will, without a doubt, take New Mexico to places that we can’t even dream about today, should Jesus tarry.”
As the New Mexico Assemblies of God looks to a bright future, the ministers of tomorrow are assured of an enduring foundation on which to build. The redeemed bootleggers, victims of murder, lowly, widows and widowers, pagan priests, broken, inhibited, neglected, disabled, forgotten, wounded, proud, and ne’er-amount-to-anything spiritual ancestors all testify to God’s ability to transform lives into their becoming mighty servants for His purposes, all the while granting them the privilege of exemplifying their stories to a new generation. From the darkest of places to the highest of heights, the people of the New Mexico Assemblies of God have truly been renovated to, in turn, change their world. The previously-quoted thesis that “history is nothing more than the compilation of innumerable biographies, its individual lives writ large how it makes a change for better or for evil,” skillfully illustrates God’s Church in New Mexico.[vii] Since the Church is not a building but, conversely, is found in the story of the lives of those who have been redeemed by Him, New Mexican believers compose the great history of His work within themselves. The heritage of the New Mexico Assemblies of God, therefore, is indeed not about “bricks and mortar,” but rather it is about the many lives that have joined the Kingdom of God through the work of a few believers who clung to the banner of Pentecost. Thus, while some search for the story of the Assemblies of God in New Mexico in its buildings, finances, and foundational documents, its true legacy is found when believers gather in heartfelt worship in the small Native American community of Ojo Encino; when they tenderly care for toddlers and infants at the vast First Assembly of God in Las Cruces; when New Mexican missionaries zealously reach out in the slums of Brazil; when they form communities of believers across the world; and when they unite to partake in humble prayer to see God’s message of life spread to all peoples. Together as the Church, Pentecostal believers have been the most effective method of growing the Assemblies of God; indeed they are the Assemblies of God itself! Our narrative will advance ever forward as God continues to raise up future generations through the Church until the consummation of the age. This is our testimony of God’s faithfulness. This is “Our Story.”
To Be Continued…