Bringing The Gospel to the Prairies (1921 - 1927)

"What is that place over there? Is there a church in that town?"

"No."

"Do they ever have any Sunday School there?"

"No."

John Woodward and his friend continued their drive. More grain elevators appeared, the same questions were asked, the answer always the same. All that afternoon as they travelled, they were seeing communities, school houses on the prairies, but no churches.

The evidence bothered John. Within a few days he was in the Public Library doing some research. He discovered that in the three western Canadian provinces, there were more than 2500 organized school districts without Sunday School or religious activities of any kind.

John Woodward, his wife and daughter had been living in Hamilton, Ontario. They had planned to go to the mission field. Then A. W. Roffe, the superintendent of the Alliance District of Canada, had given him a letter with a request to start a branch of the Christian and Missionary Alliance in Edmonton, Alberta.

After much prayer, the interest in other opportunities for ministry faded as God softened the Woodward's hearts for the need in Western Canada. John left for Edmonton in August 1921 by "harvest train" along with the men seeking fall employment on the prairies. His wife and daughter stayed with her family in Hamilton for several months while John explored the West and determined how to begin a ministry.

On one occasion, he was riding down a trail. While passing a school yard of children, he stopped his horse and asked, "Do you know Jesus?"

The tallest of a group of boys looked at him quite innocently and replied, "No, sir, he doesn't live around these parts."

Other incidents followed. In all of them, ignorance of Biblical truth was evident. He found, to his amazement, vast stretches of prairie without any religious organization of any kind. God challenged him, "How shall they hear without a preacher?"

God was calling him, not just to organize one church for the Christian and Missionary Alliance, but to reach the Prairies with the Good News of the Gospel. While he worked to establish the first Alliance church in Western Canada in 1921, he also spent time looking for people who would come to the Prairies willing for the rigors of a pioneer ministry. When the Canadian superintendent, A. W. Roffe, came for a fall tour, John showed him some of the areas, pointing out their need.

The following summer he launched the "Great Western Mission," with the goal to bring a personal Gospel message to each homestead on the prairies. This same burning zeal to bring the Gospel to the neglected had motivated Dr. A. B. Simpson, the Founder of the Alliance.

John needed workers for the Great West Mission. He conceived the idea that missionary candidates for pioneer mission fields ought to have rugged prairie northland training for their foreign work. He went to the Alliance Training School in Nyack, New York and told the students of the need in Western Canada.

Several responded to the need. When they arrived at their own expense, John gave them a horse, a saddle, a blanket and a map of their territory. They were responsible for covering each homestead and each community on that map, and to report back in a month, assignment completed. They were encouraged to have Sunday schools and meeting wherever they could; in the open air in good weather, or in some shelter, such as a school house, when available. There was no salary. They would be dependant on God to provide all their needs. They would eat what people were kind enough to feed them, and sleep where people were kind enough to bed them. If the people were not that kind, they would need to trust God to provide in another way.

This method was slow, and John sensed an urgency to spread the Gospel more quickly. Other methods of communicating the Gospel evolved. He ordered a one-ton Ford chassis, and contracted a specifically-designed body to be built on it. The "Gospel car" became a mobile home and backdrop for outdoor Gospel services wherever they could gather a crowd. A tent seating 1,000 was ordered to gather large masses of people in a central location for a week of mid-summer teaching. A radio station was erected to broadcast the Good News of salvation. It also gave isolated farm children Sunday school lessons, and encouragement to those who had no church near enough to attend.

John Woodward bathed all these efforts in prayer as he felt the burden of the unreached people of the Prairies.

Meanwhile, God was at work in Harry Turner's life. Born into a wealthy family in Campbellford, Ontario, Harry left his Christian upbringing at nineteen for the new Canadian provinces of the West. He lived a life of unrestraint. When tuberculosis nearly killed him, he faced some sobering facts. He was friendless, except for an atheist who had given him a place to stay. He was estranged from his family, in physical distress and spiritual agony. In desperation, he turned to God. God not only saved him, but healed him instantly of tuberculosis. He sensed God's call into full-time ministry.

After making peace with his father, Harry entered Albert College in Belleville, Ontario to study for the ministry. A copy of the "Alliance Weekly" first introduced Harry to the doctrines of the Alliance. Through the personal ministry of Dr. R. A. Jaffray, a prominent Alliance missionary, he received a call to missionary service. Later, in a private service in Toronto, Dr. A. B. Simpson, the founder of the Alliance, laid his hands on Harry's head and set him apart for God's service.

Harry spent nine years serving God in Argentina before returning to Canada. After a period of rest, he was ready to move back into full-time ministry. He moved to Winnipeg in 1922.

In getting direction from God, Harry Turner could not have known that he was to be an answer to John Woodward's prayer. While travelling to the East one time, John had spent an entire day waiting for train connections at the Winnipeg station. He had used the time to pace the platform and talk to God. One of his requests was, "Lord, this greatest city in the West is in need. All that is being done is worthy, but it needs something and someone to go out into the prairies of Manitoba from this strategic centre. Lord, give us friends in this city. Give us a base in this city."

In 1926, after working as pastor of an independent church in Winnipeg, Harry Turner contacted John Woodward, asking if he would come and hold some services in his church. Harry was hoping that his congregation would vote to become identified with the Alliance.

Harry's hopes and John's prayer were answered when the congregation agreed that they wanted to join this missionary-minded organization.

God was working in other centers on the Prairies. A yong couple moved to Saskatoon from Stoughton, Saskatchewan in 1920. Cliff and Mildred Broughton had tried farming for the first three years of their marriage. Things were not working out. They felt that a move to Saskatoon, a city of 25,000 held more potential for them and their son, Lance, now one year old.

They watched during the next few years, as the city grew in population. Expanded water and sewer facilities, increased medical and educational resources, and flourishing social and artistic life made the future of this prairie city very promising. The hunger for the truth of God's word could be monitored by the number of churches that sprang up.

Built as a Methodist church in 1900 to seat 160 people, the Knox congregation grew rapidly. Two additions during the next ten years expanded the building so that it could finally hold 700 worshippers, and still the church grew. The decision to relocate and build a larger facility left the Knox Methodist church building empty for 10 years.

In 1924, a man of God, Rev. O. J. Lovik, was directed to organize an Apostolic Assembly. One year later, his successor, Rev. J. A. Erickson led the 85 families as they moved into the vacant old Knox church. The congregation enjoyed the worshipful facilities where their numbers could increase.

In the summer of 1927, Dr. Charles Price held a city-wide crusade in the Arena, on Spadina Crescent. God had led him to this city where he asked all churches to support his meetings. In a recent campaign in Seattle, he had recorded 8,000 people who had accepted Jesus Christ as Saviour. He also planned to have meetings specifically to minister to those needing prayer for their physical health.

Mildred Broughton understood the Gospel message and accepted Christ during that series of meetings. Cliff accepted Christ a few days later in the privacy of their home. Their six-year-old daughter, Irene, also became a Christian and was healed of a long-standing stomach ailment.

When Dr. Price's campaign was over, the Broughton family joined others attending the Old Knox church.

Historical Flashbacks were researched and written by Lorraine Willems. Contributors are noted on the related pages. Copyright 2003 and 2013 by copyright holders.

Sources for the history of 1921 - 1927 include a manuscript of messages presented at Canadian Bible College by Dr. John H. Woodward in 1964, oral history by Irene Broughton and Rebirth by Lindsay Reynolds.