This is a complete and accurate transcript of the tape of the oral history interview of Armin Richard Gesswein (CN 517, T2) in the Archives of the Billy Graham Center. No spoken words have been omitted, except for any non-English phrases which could not be understood by the transcribers. Foreign terms which are not commonly understood appear in italics. In very few cases, words were too unclear to be distinguished. If the transcriber was not completely sure of having gotten what the speaker said, "[?]" was inserted after the word or phrase in question. If the speech was inaudible or indistinguishable, "[unclear]" was inserted. Grunts and verbal hesitations such as "ah" or "um" were usually omitted. The transcribers have not attempted to phonetically replicate English dialects but have instead entered the standard English word the speaker was expressing.
Readers should remember that this is a transcript of spoken English, which follows a different rhythm and rule than written English.
... Three dots indicate an interruption or break in the train of thought within the sentence on the part of the speaker.
.... Four dots indicate what the transcriber believes to be the end of an incomplete sentence.
( ) Words in parentheses are asides made by the speaker.
[ ] Words in brackets are comments by the transcriber.
This transcript was made by Timothy Gulsvig and Wayne D. Weber and was completed in May 2007.
Collection 517, T2. Interview of Armin Richard Gesswein by Robert D. Shuster, April 24, 1998.
SHUSTER: This is an interview with Reverend Armin Gesswein by Robert Shuster for the archives at the Billy Graham Center at Wheaton College. This interview took place on April the 24, 1998 in Reverend Gesswein’s home in San Juan Capistrano. Did I pronounce that right?
GESSWEIN: San Juan Capistrano. That’s right.
SHUSTER: Last time, we talked about...got up to about 1931, when you had your first pastorate in...on Long Island, New York, with a Missouri Synod church. 1931, was that also the year that you were ordained?
GESSWEIN: Yeah, I was ordained in August...August 2nd, that year, 1931, yes, in LaPorte, Indiana in a big Lutheran church...St. John’s Lutheran Church. My father, who was a Lutheran minister, helped to arrange that meeting, and three of us were ordained together, graduates from Concordia Seminary, St. Louis, classmates, and next.... It was a big meeting, wonderful meeting.
GESSWEIN: The preacher was called the Billy Bran [?] of the Missouri Synod. Luncanow [?] was his name. He was the vice president, and he could preach. And he was up in that high pulpit, and he talked to us three candidates sitting in the chairs in the front of that great audience and he said, “Young men, laborers.... [feedback]
SHUSTER: Go ahead.
GESSWEIN: He had the text, “The harvest truly is plenteous...
SHUSTER: That’s...go ahead.
GESSWEIN: ...but the laborers are few. Pray ye, therefore, the Lord of the Harvest that he would thrust forth laborers or reapers into his harvest.” [Matt. 9:37, 38] And he was up in that high pulpit, and he...he thundered down at us at one time. He said, “Young men, laborers, not eight hours, not ten hours not twelve hours, often night and day.” You know I never forgot that. And the next day, we got...I got on the train and went to Long Island. Didn’t know anybody there. I was called by the district back east to start churches on Long Island.
SHUSTER: Who...who ordained...who were the ministers who actually laid hands on you? Was your father one of them?
GESSWEIN: Well, Lucanow [?] was the ordaining minister. He did it in that same church. He was sent by the Synod. I mean he’s an official man [?]. I mean it was a big official thing.
SHUSTER: So your father was not one of the ones who actually ordained you.?
GESSWEIN: No, my father didn’t help to ordain me. He helped to get the meeting to put together, and the pastor of the church knelt with him, but no, Dr. Luncanow [?] did the ordaining really, [unclear] from some others.
SHUSTER: And you had received a...?
GESSWEIN: No, we...I went on a train..and went along. Here’s your town...go to work, start a church. There was some Lutherans. It’s a little kernel...a little group there that was the core of our start from.... So, I pushed doorbells...went from door to door. Hired...we hired the school auditorium in the center of town, town of about 3,000 people, and organized. After three months, we had quite a few people.
SHUSTER: Looking back now, looking at yourself as a minister starting his first congregation with his first congregation, how do you access what you...your strengths, and what you would guess yet to learn? What were you were strengths and weaknesses at that point, do you think?
GESSWEIN: My strength, well, we got them from the...the synodical training at the seminary. We were a very strong seminary in the Bible business. The Word of God, not just...not just contains the word, it is the Word of God. So, that was into me. That’s the greatest thing I got from our whole seminary. I got a wonderful lot of things. We had some godly professors in those days, and Dr. Walter Maier, of the Lutheran Hour, famous...
SHUSTER: We even talked about him last time, yeah.
GESSWEIN: ...I was with him when he started that work. And he was my personal friend in many ways, and he was that interested...he was influenced my...where I was to start. I had heard that later, anyhow, those were great days. Now, my whole beginning in the ministry was just...I never wanted to preach...I got converted. Had a Luther experience, something like Martin Luther, and really came through a great struggle to knowing Christ as my Savior and Lord, and then I was called to preach. So I was working in LaPorte, Indiana at the Punch Press, the old Olive Whole Tractor Wheel Shop. Then, God called me to preach, and I said, “Can’t do it. No way.” I said no for a whole week, and I would never be able to have a funeral, and I’d never be able to do the work of a minister, and never...I’d lose sleep even thinking that I had to speak before a big audience, and I said, “I can’t do it.” Then, the Saturday morning, I remember it, it came to me, “Woe is me if I preach not the Gospel.” [I Corinthians 9:16] So, [laughs] I began to get a little scared, and I....
SHUSTER: And we talked about that some, yeah.
GESSWEIN: The big story...I soon packed my bags and went on to seminary, St. Louis. Now, I had been out for two years, playing baseball and all kinds of things. I always thought about going in that direction. Then I head for the seminary. So, it was...it was a great time for me at the Seminary. But the big thing, back to your big question is.... We were taught...we had slogans like this: Sola Biblica...Sola Scriptura. [The Bible alone...Scripture alone] What’s truly Biblical is truly Lutheran, and I thought that....
SHUSTER: Sola Scripture...only scripture.
GESSWEIN: Yeah, that’s great. And I thought, if it’s truly Biblical, I want it. So, I had a standing prayer with the Lord when I began the ministry, and it was like this: “Lord, if you can show me anymore from Scripture, plain Scripture and plenty of it, I want it. I’m a candidate.” And after about three months, and we’d already organized on Long Island, had twelve men on the board and things like that, God answered that prayer and showed me the book of Acts. A-C-T-S. Just plain Scripture. A-C-T-S. Plenty of it, twenty-eight chapters. I’d never gotten into it. I’d nibbled it...it a little bit, but we didn’t seem to have any course on it in my time at Seminary, and I never got into it. So I began to read the Acts, and here I see that Jesus was starting his church, the first church, and he was doing it differently than the way I...I was doing it. He started with getting together in prayer, and then the upper room there, Acts 1:14, he built a prayer meeting. It’s plain English.
SHUSTER: So, up to that point, prayer had not been a predominant part of your ministry?
GESSWEIN: No, no corporate prayer. We had no prayer meetings like we know them. No free praying. We had believed in prayer, but none of this get together praying that we considered that...Hi, Honey....[tape stops and then restarts]
SHUSTER: So, you were saying about how you have had some...you have had some prayer, but not...it wasn’t a predominant part of your ministry.
GESSWEIN: Yeah, we stressed prayer, but not like the Acts was a brand new brand of praying to me. Praying together with one accord in one place. Free praying, prayer meeting praying. We didn’t have prayer meetings, and so I was very wary of anything like that.
GESSWEIN: Because we were taught against it. We were taught against this. We didn’t mix with other Christians anyhow. We didn’t mix with...not in those days. It’s changed now. We didn’t even mix with other Lutherans, so you can see. And we....
SHUSTER: When you say you were taught against it, do you mean you were taught against prayer meetings, or free praying.
GESSWEIN: Free praying is...gets...gets into fanaticism.
SHUSTER: That’s what you were taught?
GESSWEIN: Yeah, and we were afraid of anything like that. I could say a whole lot more. Anyhow, here I read the Acts, and what hit me in the fourteenth verse of the first chapter already is that Jesus put together that prayer meeting. I’ll tell you what, that shut my mouth in a hurry and humbled me quickly. Jesus did it, not some crazy group. Jesus did it, formed that prayer meeting. And, I’ll tell you, I had to make some quick...some quick thinking. What’re you going to do about this? While, my prayer was plain Scripture and plenty of it, so I really raced through the Book of Acts almost to see if there ‘s any more about prayer. And I never read such a praying book in my life: prayer, prayer, prayer. Somebody said, “They’re praying in every chapter but two, and they’re in trouble there.” So what...I had a big decision to make, “What are you going to do with this? Are you going to sweep this under your theological rug and forget about it? Here, you’re building a church. You want to follow the Word of God.” You know, when it came down to this. I said, “I’ve got to do something about this.” So to boil it right down, I prepared for a prayer meeting. We didn’t pray with others. I didn’t mix with others, so I didn’t know just how to go out about that. So, I announced that we’d have a prayer meeting, and a big home was open to us. Saturday night, eight o’clock, out there on that home and that road. And you should have been there. [laughs] I thought, my they’re talking all about this thing here round.
SHUSTER: Who was? The members of your congregation?
GESSWEIN: This young Lutheran minister coming to town. He gonna kinda ruin our church, start a prayer meeting.
SHUSTER: Who was saying that? The other...the members of your church?
GESSWEIN: Well, the people around town. See, a town of 3,000 people, they know each other pretty well. Some people know some other people too well. And so it was buzzed around to some extent certainly, and I thought where are we gonna put all the crowd? At least it was a big home. Lots more room as much room as we have in all this complex here. And a lot of things in that beautiful home. And, you know what, the man and his wife were there, because they couldn’t get out of it?
SHUSTER: Who owned the home?
GESSWEIN: They offered the home to us for this kind of a meeting. And the three of us, and we went into the big living room, and one other man came in, a deacon. He was not...didn’t know Christ yet himself on his own confession later. He said he heard his pastor make the announcement. He thought he ought to be loyal and...and come, and so he came.
SHUSTER: So there were four of you.
GESSWEIN: Four of us. Like two of us sitting here. Four of us in a little corner there. We all had Bibles on our laps. I said, “I don’t know much more about a prayer meeting than you do, but look, this is what I found in God’s Word.” So, we read Acts 1:14, Acts 4, Acts 12, where they had an all-night prayer meeting in the house of Mary, the mother of John Mark, where it says “many were gathered together praying.” Acts 12:12. They all saw it. I never needed to preach to them on prayer meeting. They immediately said, “We see it. That’s a prayer meeting.” They didn’t even need another translation. King James Version was good enough. So, they were committed, I was, from the reading of the Word of God. I never had a sermon on the prayer meeting. And after taking good time, that’s important, with the Word of God, where it’s plain and plentiful, we said, “We’ll have prayer.” And we went to our knees and had our first prayer meeting. It was the shortest one [laughs] I think I’ve other attended. They all prayed. I don’t remember what...remember what they prayed. Short. We were all up from our knees in a little over a minute. And that was our first prayer meeting. And then it grew and developed and other things with it, and others came, and we needed that room, that big room on a Saturday night. So, our whole work began to change. If I took that whole story, I’d take two hours on that. So, that’s where it started.
SHUSTER: Well, what...what were the results of having prayer meeting?
GESSWEIN: Then I began to preach stra...differently.
SHUSTER: In what way?
GESSWEIN: Well, I...I...there was things going on among my people. S-I-N is the word for it. And there are plain Scripture about that, and I began to preach on those texts, and God began to work. And one Sunday morning, they really repentance [sic] throughout the congregation, and many were repenting of their sins in godly sorrow.
SHUSTER: And this was...?
GESSWEIN: And turning to the Lord, and receiving Christ that same day. That’s when the revival really broke into our work there. It was strong.
SHUSTER: This was during the service, that people started repenting.
GESSWEIN: Right after, while I was preaching and after, yeah. On Sunday morning, in that school house, where we had the services.
SHUSTER: And so people came forward or they stood up and confessed?
GESSWEIN: Afterwards, I asked them, “If they mean business, kneel down...I’ll ask God, I’ll kneel here and ask God to have mercy on us.” And so they prayed. They...some knelt by their seats, some knelt in the aisle, and I prayed as best I knew how. And anyhow, the story is...and I was surprised at how many were really, genuinely converted, and....
SHUSTER: So not just repenting of sins, but of coming to know Christ.
GESSWEIN: Christ...oh my, no only that. They were prayer meeting Christians right away. They were ready to pray half the night, some of these, right away. Never even had to beg them to come to a prayer meeting. So that was real revival. It was a Finney [Charles Finney, 19th Century evangelist] kind of a revival. Not as extensive, but just deep and strong, and in it, at noon, when I stepped out the door...it’s as one story after the other, then God called me to revival right there. “That’s your ministry.” I knew it. “I’m not telling you somebody else, his ministry.” But I knew that was mine, from the Lord, ever since. And I worked at it all kinds of ways ever since. [coughs] Then you see our work began...then we began to fellowship with other Christians in the prayer meetings, and that wasn’t done, and it wasn’t....
SHUSTER: How do you mean that? You invited other Christians to come to your prayer meetings?
GESSWEIN: Prayer meeting. Well, I didn’t even invite them. They came. They heard about it, and they came. What was I going to do with them? So, that was another decision, and that’s where I learned fellowship with other Christians, in a prayer meeting. But that wasn’t supposed to be done, in our circles, not then. That has changed now. No pulpit prayer or altar fellowship with other Christians at that time.
SHUSTER: That was a formal prohibition or an actual...
GESSWEIN: Yeah, you...that was their...that was their stance.
GESSWEIN: Separatist stance.
SHUSTER: So, what reaction was their...?
GESSWEIN: [coughs] Well....
SHUSTER: So what reaction was their among other Lutheran Missouri Synod churches?
GESSWEIN: Oh, yeah, well then, that’s a one...as I say, one story leads to another, the chapter after chapter, really. That I had a official meeting, of course, with the leaders.
SHUSTER: Of the Synod?
GESSWEIN: Then, they...they felt I couldn’t go on like that, anymore, and they never excommunicated me or had any church heresy trial on me. That’s interesting. But they...they wanted me to leave quietly...leave the town...not disturb the work, and so on and so on and so that was another great crisis, but my board wanted me to stay and form...
SHUSTER: The board of your congregation.
GESSWEIN: ... an independent Lutheran church. And I said, “No.” I discerned that that’s not the thing for me. I need to know a lot of things. To go right to the end of that story, I had...I left...I had no more salary and I left with a broken heart, many tears. And driving a car down that Southern State Parkway on Long Island, I had an old car there, it came to me that old hymn that says, “Hast though not seen how thy desires all have been granted in what he ordaineth.” So, God began to open up...open up...open up, and one thing after the other.
SHUSTER: How long were you at this church altogether from...?
GESSWEIN: Nine months.
SHUSTER: Oh, nine months?
GESSWEIN: Yeah. We had quite a..... Well, that church later became a big church.
SHUSTER: What was the name of it?
GESSWEIN: Lutheran Church. I named the church. They asked me to name it. You said...they said, “You be...you started it, you name it.” I named it, Lutheran Church of our Redeemer or Our Redeemer Lutheran Church. So, there it is. It covers almost the whole block there now, on that little town on Long Island, anyway. We never had any other parting of the ways in that, except I was not officially in the Synod anymore. And then I went on and on, and then after I helped to start a couple of other works and....
SHUSTER: Also on Long Island?
GESSWEIN: On Long Island. And I had, for a while, a little church in Garden City Park. It was a time of quiet before the Lord. I had a chance to get to know Scripture. And like the Apostle Paul on the back side of the desert for a while, you get into the Word. And then, I was...had a wonderful guidance to go to Norway, and that’s another story.
SHUSTER: Before we go on to that, you’d mentioned the Garden City...
GESSWEIN: Garden City Park.
GESSWEIN: Not Garden City.
SHUSTER: I’m sorry. Garden City Park.
GESSWEIN: That’s a big cathedral there.
SHUSTER: When did that...when did you start that church?
GESSWEIN: I didn’t start it. It was a community church, the only church in the community.
SHUSTER: And it was an independent church?
GESSWEIN: It was...it was started in connection with the Dutch Reformed Church. They held the property rights and all, but they’d never really had a Dutch Reformed minister to my knowledge. I had a tent meeting in Hampstead, West Hampstead, and several were converted from that area, and in that congregation they asked wouldn’t I come over and...and preach for them. I did, and then they asked if I wouldn’t be their pastor. And I’d never thought of being any pastor in a place like that. And I said, “I’ll pray about. You pray about it, and I’ll let you know next Sunday.” And I told them, “Look, I’m not going to join any other denomination, now, and it wasn’t required. But I want to preach the Word of God from cover to cover, God’s Word. I want to have Sunday meet...night evangelistic meetings. I want to have prayer meetings.” I laid it all out in a minute, and I said, “If under those simple conditions, you still would like to have me, I’ll come and preach, but I won’t promise how long I can stay.” I laid it all out. And they...[laughs]...they wanted me unaninsly...unanimously to come. And I was there a few years, and I tell you....
SHUSTER: About when was that that you first became minister there?
GESSWEIN: About 1932.
SHUSTER: ‘32, huh.
GESSWEIN: And I had that for some years there, but back in forth. See I lived in Massapequa, 16 miles away, and I’d go there and visit people some, and I’d...I’d had quite a few converts there in that church. But I didn’t give it full boar, like I did the first church. I was learning the Word, making time with God, and all that. I can see it, how clearly it was, but God gave me a...a precious ministry at the same time. During that period that I was learning more about the Lord and his Word. Didn’t get it all. [possibly referring to a cup of coffee he was being served] You got to get...get the whole thing. Alright, so....
SHUSTER: Let me ask you to...excuse me...did you hear anything from your father, a Lutheran minister, about....
GESSWEIN: Oh yeah, sure we were in touch. All kinds of ways we were in touch, and my father watched me carefully for a couple of years. He...you know...the...the idea in those days if you left the synod, you were considered a heretic, or somewhat of a heretic. They didn’t say it that way, but that was there always in the thinking. And my father was broader, though, in many ways. He...he really longed for fellowship with other Christians, and didn’t quite get into it, not in this way. So, he watched me carefully, and then he.... I heard this later. He and I were...got to be ver...very, very close.
MRS. GESSWEIN: Would you like some more? [Mrs. Gesswein was pouring tea]
GESSWEIN: Just a wee bit. He was a very gifted man. He said to somebody in our town in LaPorte. He said, “Armin is not a heretic, because God has not forsaken him...because God has not only not forsaken him. He get’s things from God in answer to prayer that I don’t.” So that began to influence my father’s thinking. Later on, we had wonderful times together.
SHUSTER: So yourself...?
GESSWEIN: All...all my relatives were strict Lutherans, and I had whole time, in the course of time, ministering to all of them. That’s a whole other book almost.
SHUSTER: So your Dad saw fruits in your ministry that convinced him that...
GESSWEIN: Oh yeah.
SHUSTER: ...you were still...?
GESSWEIN: We had beautiful fellowship later on. Yeah.
SHUSTER: Were you also...? You mentioned you were also leading tent meetings and revival meetings during this time.
GESSWEIN: Yeah. I began to have revival meetings, and that was my call. And God began to work.
SHUSTER: How were...how were your meetings usually organized, then. How did you...?
GESSWEIN: Well, like they are, and by the local churches or committees and whatever in the towns. But in the course of those years, while I was at that other church, I did a few such meetings, not many. But then....
SHUSTER: When you say a few, two or three times a year...?
GESSWEIN: Well, I can’t remember now what that was. But it was very limited compared to what I got into. But I sought the Lord so much about what is the proper setup of a good church. Order and the whole plan of a congregation. I was studying all that too. What’s the biblical plan of God for a congregation? I was congregation minded. We were taught that in our Seminary. That was good teaching. They used to teach us the congregation is supreme. Well, I buy that. Not, didn’t always work that way, but that’s the biblical truth. And the Scriptures, ever since the day of Pentecost. The church...the church...the church...the church...the church...the church. In the Holy Spirit, the rubber meets the road with the congregation all through the New Testament. Hey, I gave him that other picture.
MRS. GESSWEIN: Wanted you to see. [laughs]
GESSWEIN: He’s seen that. Thank you. Anyhow, that’s...that’s my thinking.
SHUSTER: This is...let me...let me just explain to the people listening on tape Mrs. Gesswein just showed a photo with Reverend Gesswein and Billy Graham. You say the cong...the church...the church...the church...the church is supreme. How do you mean that? What is the...? It is supreme in what?
GESSWEIN: Well, the congregation from the day of Pentecost, you know, they...that was when...the church they said was born on the day of Pentecost, and after that, the Apostle Paul and the others went through evangelizing. They didn’t just breeze through a town and sneeze some gospel and call that evangelizing. They established churches, churches, churches, churches. After the pattern, which was standard then. Strong, upper-room praying, spirit-filled congregations. That’s all through. Then, the Epistles. The letters were written to some of those churches thus founded be...especially by the Apostle Paul. And finally the Book of Revelation. John on the Isle of Patmos. Seven churches. “He that has an ear let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.” [Rev. 2:3] So all the way from Pentecost through the New Testament, the Epistles, to Patmos, it’s the churches, which is the whole thrust in evangelizing the world. And of course....
SHUSTER: To start churches.
GESSWEIN: Yeah. That’s, to me, one of the big things about Billy Graham that he came forth when others were wobbling on that, and there were more parachurch groups, and that’s okay to. But he centered his work in the churches, and he really did. He meant business on it, and that’s the strength of his work. Operation Andrew, [a program during a Billy Graham Crusade meeting by which Christians are encouraged to attend with non-Christian friends] that’s the best part of the work, because it’s centered in churches. And they’d load the buses and bring these people, and when they bring them, they’re in the lap of the church, not only in the lap of Billy Graham and the crusade. They’re in the lap of the church already. If they make a decision at the crusade, then they’re back on their buses back home. They’re in the lap of the church that brought them, which fosters and feeds and brings them up. This is beautiful. I told Billy Graham, by the way, in 1950 at Winona Lake [Indiana]. He started in Los Angeles here in 1949, and I was in the thick of that thing. I said, “Look Billy it’s always difficult to win to churches those that are not won through the churches.” That’s New Testament, and he agreed right off.
SHUSTER: Meaning that somebody might be...?
GESSWEIN: Now Billy...Billy was quick to see that. I don’t know how he says it, whether he.... That’s the way I see it, for him.
SHUSTER: Meaning that somebody might be converted to Christ but not join a church, and that’s...?
GESSWEIN: Yeah. You see, that...if they don’t follow up.... That’s why he was very concerned also about follow-up, talking a minute more about Billy. And then he got a hold of Daws [Dawson] Trotman [founder of The Navigators]. And Daws and I were very close. And all these...we were all buddies, you know, back in those days. And, in effect, he was saying, “Daws, I’ve got to have this follow-up.” And Daws said to him in effect, “Billy, you know, I’d...I’ve not been strong on churches. I’ve even...I’ve even fought preachers.” And this is a classical word that puts Billy in his beautiful position, when he said to Daws, “Daws, come aboard., let’s learn together.” That’s a wonderful spirit. And they did. And Daws helped set up that whole counseling program without...with that the Billy Graham work would be...you know, you just go to a town and preach the gospel. No, no, no. It ran into the churches. It’s a church related thing. So, in there, those that called Billy Graham’s work as much revivalistic as it is evangelistic, and because it affects the churches, at least to that extent.
SHUSTER: And Dawson Trotman, of course, was the founder of the Navigators and was, for several years...worked with the BGEA [Billy Graham Evangelistic Association] to set up their follow-up program and counseling program I guess you could say.
GESSWEIN: They set it up in Portland, Oregon, 1950.
SHUSTER: And Charlie Riggs, who has been head of that for so many years was originally a Navigator and a staff member of Navigators.
GESSWEIN: What would they do without that plan? And then, my goodness.... Now, Billy Graham’s thing is there’s not just a man coming to town and preaching from a tent. It’s a many splendor thing. And it has great honor and reputation because.... Now look it, got with bishops and church leaders of all kinds. He’s a church man really.
SHUSTER: “Come, let us reason together.” [Isaiah 1:18] After...you mentioned that you become pastor about ‘32 of the...of the church in New York, and you were there for several years. How did you come then to go over to Europe and to England and then to Norway?
GESSWEIN: Well, I was always praying about revival and noting...and how the building of a structure of a church and what should be...the way with your leadership and everything. And I wrote to England about that to a man that I had read about, I didn’t know him. And he wrote back, and to my surprise, he said, “Wouldn’t you be able to co...can’t you come over for a little time of fellowship?” And I thought, Oh my, I have no, no ambition to cross that Atlantic.
SHUSTER: What was...what wa....
GESSWEIN: It’s a big story, and I was led to go over there.
SHUSTER: What was the man’s name that you wrote to?
GESSWEIN: Well, we can just...I don’t...I’d rather not get into that now, because, not that it matters, but it...I had been led later into wider perspectives than that. I...I honored those people very much, but I was after New Testament Christianity with revival, and there they had a lot of wonderful things and teaching, but it wasn’t the revival I was...I’d experienced or what I’d looked.... You see I got a little away from the original one at...at my first church.
SHUSTER: Got away in what sense.
GESSWEIN: I got into the Bible, into other things and got...I didn’t know anything about prophesy and those parts of scripture. And I got into prophecy, teaching and thinking that you can’t have revival now anymore. That was kind of current in those days in Long Island. There weren’t to many great strong churches on Long Island in 1931 and those years.
SHUSTER: So even though you’d had a revival in your first church, at this point you were thinking you couldn’t have a revival anymore?
GESSWEIN: While, they were saying, these are the days...the last days, declension and falling away, apostasy, and you can’t expect revival anymore these days.
SHUSTER: Who was saying that?
GESSWEIN: Certain teachings of prophecies, and I won’t name them either, but it was kinda current.
SHUSTER: This was in...within independent churches or...?
GESSWEIN: While, no. Not just...it was...it...it was a...a certain brand of dispensationalism that was getting off on that side that you can’t expect that anymore. The...you weren’t living back in those days, so that was...it’s a different era now.
SHUSTER: But this was a strain of thought that was influencing you?
GESSWEIN: While, that was into Norway, too. That it get in there all that’s story after story on that. But I got to thinking while maybe you can’t have great revivals anymore, and this is apostasy time. Then, I woke up to the fact the apostasy is here. That’s for sure. But I don’t want it in here in me.
SHUSTER: And you’re pointing at your heart.
GESSWEIN: If I’m gonna be a committee of one by the grace of God to see that it does not get into me. [laughs] God began to wake me up, and that’s one thing that.... Then God got me back on track when he [clears throat] led me to Norway. I didn’t have any money or anything. God led me beautifully there, something like Abraham went out not knowing whither he went.
SHUSTER: Now first you....
GESSWEIN: And there, I got into revival again, because Norway was right then in the thick of revival at Bergen, where my boat came, and it was the real thing. And to my surprise, the whole town was influenced by it. And it was within Lutheranism. And I never thought that kind of Lutheranism, because we didn’t have revivals, or think of that kind of Christianity.
SHUSTER: Now...now first you’ve gone to England, right?
SHUSTER: And how long were you there?
GESSWEIN: I was there about a month, and then...then I went on over into Norway, and....
SHUSTER: How did you come to decide to go to Norway? You’d heard of the revival there?
GESSWEIN: The Holy Spirit laid on my heart to go, and I went.
SHUSTER: Had you heard of the revival there before you went?
GESSWEIN: I had heard that there was some revival in Norway. I didn’t know anybody there, and then I....
SHUSTER: And you didn’t know?
GESSWEIN: One man I knew was there, and I didn’t know where he was at the time. And there, [laughs] we met.
GESSWEIN: And he was being used of God in Bergen in that revival.
SHUSTER: What was his name?
GESSWEIN: His name was E. M. Anderson. Great evangelist, and with the Evangelical Free Church, and a wonderful man. He had...he lived in New...New...New City, New York, near Nyack, and there’s a whole story with him. I had known him, but...and he was in Norway, but I didn’t know where he was at the time, and I [laughs].... So, in Norway, God called me back. Gave me a second...like a...like the potter and the wheel in Jeremiah, “Call me and make it again.” [Jeremiah 18:4] And I had never back-slidden, but I’d gotten away from the ke...the edge of the revival vision clean. And then I saw the Book of Acts, simple Christianity, fool [sic]. And we had lots of revivals in Norway. I was there for nearly...about a year and a half or so. And there I met my wife, married there, came back. We started to live on Long Island, began to travel, and so on.
SHUSTER: Did you know Norwegian when you first went?
GESSWEIN: Didn’t know anything. Didn’t know any...didn’t know of the language. I knew one word. That was “Ikke.” Didn’t know what it meant.
SHUSTER: What does it mean?
GESSWEIN: It meant “no.”
SHUSTER: Oh, well.
GESSWEIN: I had heard this man say “Ikke” many times, and I concluded it means “No, don’t do it.”
SHUSTER: You mentioned you first arrived in Bergen, and you went to a revival meeting that night. What was the service like? What happened during the service?
GESSWEIN: Well, that was in a big Lutheran mission hall. And you see, Norway didn’t know this at all. It was full of revival in Lutheranism through...back from the days of Hans Nielsen Hauge, H-A-U-G-E. Back in the early 1800's, a farmer boy called of God, back of the plow, burdened for his land and his people. And the great Scripture was on him. [Gesswein spoke in Norwegian] In the English, “Oh Earth, Earth, Earth hear the word of the Lord.” In Norwegian, “Oh land, land, land hear the word of the Lord. And he started having little meetings with the farmers. He was a very spiritual, praying man, but he was a practical man as well. He knew a lot of things, and he’d help the farmers by day and have little meetings in their homes at night: gather, Bible, prayer. And that started a whole movement. Became a powerful movement. Affected all of Norway, and changed actually the face of Norway. And all these prayer houses, in all over Norway, large and small, Inner Mission, and all these are in the Lutheran fold in Norway, and they were revivals. So the same people that go to those simple meetings also go to the high church meetings if they want to. And there’s a relationship there in Norway. I didn’t know anything about that, and so while I was getting a big education in a lot of things at Norway at the same time.
SHUSTER: You say this was a movement throughout Norway. Did it have a name or...?
GESSWEIN: [clears throat] The Haugegay movement...
SHUSTER: The Haugegay.
GESSWEIN: The Inner Mission movement. And so forth. They have schools. They have missionaries. Norway, by the way, with the Free Church Movements, and Lutherans and otherwise, has sent more missionaries out, proportionate to their four million plus membership than any other country. But that’s another part of that story anyhow.
SHUSTER: We have some interviews in the Archives with Norwegian missionaries to Ethiopia and other parts of Africa....
SHUSTER: ...that came from the Lutheran Church. When you arrived in Bergen and went to your first meeting that night, what was it like? What happened during the meeting?
GESSWEIN: The street was for...full of people going to a big meeting hall, and I was along, going there with this...I met this man that...that I knew from America. He was there.
SHUSTER: Anderson. Mr. Ander....
GESSWEIN: Anderson. And he said, “You’ve got to give a greeting tonight.” I said, “No. No. I came here not to give any greeting. I prayed on the way across the North Sea last night the Lord to get me into the revival as far...fast as possible, but more than that, get it into me. Don’t spare me either. And here I was walking along with him, and he said, “Give a greeting.” I said, “No, no. I am just coming along. I am a candidate before God and myself.” But he prevailed, and I was...had to sit in the platform in the front. Here’s this great crowd, balcony almost hanging over with people, on a weekday night. No advertisement in the papers that I knew about. People were coming back and forth to that Inner Mission Hotel, where I had checked in, to be saved, like ants coming back and forth. Even there, there was something going on, and during the day, and at night, we went on to the meeting.
GESSWEIN: And there, all this crowd. And I said, “Look, these people.... I thought, at first, a lot of old people. They had these shawls around, and is this an old folks meeting. No, look. They get a lot of young people, all kinds of young people, in and mixed in with the old, and most of them Lutherans, at least in...nominally in background. And I was getting another education in a hurry, sitting there in the platform and looking over that crowd.
SHUSTER: In what way?
GESSWEIN: Well, all this was that which I just told you, because we didn’t have that in our brand of Lutheranism.
SHUSTER: You mean you didn’t have young and old together?
GESSWEIN: Not like that. No. But there I learned, later, that’s...that was a pattern in Norway in those revivals. The young and the old loved each other. Prayed together. There was no generation gap, whatever, in those days. That’s another story. But then my friend was to speak that night.
SHUSTER: Reverend Anderson.
GESSWEIN: Anderson. And he spoke about ten minutes, and all at once, I could sense the...the Holy Spirit was just...sort of just falling on that meeting. That’s the only way I can describe it. More like a gentle Portland, Oregon rain, or something, and the people.... And he quit preaching, and they began to kneel all over the place, and many were weeping and repenting and helping people. And they didn’t have any come forward after meeting. That’s the way they began to change. [?]
SHUSTER: They were praying together.
GESSWEIN: ...That night, at least that night, and [cough] and in it I said, “God, you’ve already answering my prayer last night on...over the North Sea. You’ve got me into the revival right away, and herein, you’re getting into me. Don’t spare it. Go to work. Keep on.” I went on to Oslo the next week.
SHUSTER: If I could just ask you the question, you mentioned that all during the day, people were coming to the Innermission Hotel to get saved. Does that mean they were coming to counsel with the ministers there and...?
GESSWEIN: Yeah. Some of the leaders were there.
SHUSTER: So, they would be coming to talk with them.
GESSWEIN: They were coming out of conviction. The word in those Norway revivals, all through the 1930s, the strong key word, was “syndanurd” [?], and that means “conviction of sin.” They expected that...It was an unwritten...Lutherans and Free Churches. This was a big, general revival. It became that, but it was church-centered all-over. Broke out in churches in mission halls and spread that way. Well, I went to Oslo, and that’s another story, and therein, God called me.
SHUSTER: So, conviction of sin would lead people to seek God and lead to revival, or God would give...or the Spirit would give...?
GESSWEIN: [unclear] repentance and faith in Christ. Then, they would help them to be saved, you know. They’d come forward. They did...in all those meetings, when they would preach, they preached for a verdict. They...like Billy did, you know. Preached that God would convict of sin, righteousness, and judgement. Then, they would respond, come forward if they were ready. If not, sometimes they’d go from the meeting, hold out against God for a long time. Then, it finally...couldn’t anymore. Even...even during the night, they’d be convicted and want to call on the preacher to help them to get saved. See, it wasn’t nearly...there was no cheap grace in those days in Norway, no easy believism. Repent, not just the remission of sins. They preached repentance and remission of sins, that’s the important.
SHUSTER: So, changing your way of life. Walking in the Spirit. Is that what you mean?
GESSWEIN: Yeah. Repentance means a change...complete change. Repent: change of mind, change of thinking. Agree with God. That’s basic to the repentance, and faith in Christ. And the born-again...they were wonderfully converted in the Norway revival, so strongly converted, that they were prayer-meeting Christians immediately. Prayer meetings all over. Prayer houses. [Gesswein spoke in Norwegian]. That’s what that’s about. [laughs] And, so that’s basic to any revival. I don’t have...know of any revival that’s worth the name that didn’t come out of prayer. There is no such thing. There are pseudo-revivals, but not the real ones.
SHUSTER: Had there...talking with people after you’d been there for awhile, had there been prayer before this revival?
GESSWEIN: While, yeah. That’s always the first phase of a revival, like in Acts chapter one. The prayer meeting in the upper room in Jerusalem brought forth the revival. They birthed it, they birthed it, and all of the revival history story...Edwin Orr, for example. Our dear friend, and he...and we used him so much in our conferences. He’s shown without question, in all of his writings, and he’s the one who’s researched revivals like few, the last couple hundred years for sure, showed that no revival can ever come other than that same way in the upper room in Acts chapter one.
SHUSTER: For the Norwegian revival, who had been praying?
GESSWEIN: All kinds of people. Never got their names in the paper.
SHUSTER: But you met some of them, and they told you about their experience?
GESSWEIN: Oh, yeah. I had...I could tell you story after story about those people, but the churches were full of prayer, the prayer spirit. They used to pray [Gesswein spoke in Norwegian] “Let the Spirit of Prayer rest over the congregation.” And it did. And in that atmosphere, the preaching took hold. If you...the preaching was strong...on repentance and remission of faith in Christ and so on, but if...I’ve often observed and I’ve said it. If you preach repentance, without the spirit of prayer, it will either backfire or misfire, or there’ll be no fire. And that’s...that’s no good either.
SHUSTER: How do you mean backfire?
GESSWEIN: Well, they won’t take it.
SHUSTER: So there’ll be no fire.
GESSWEIN: They won’t take it. They just won’t take it. React to it. They react anyhow, but this other way is...there’ll be action. There’ll be some reaction, as well.
SHUSTER: So, at this first meeting that you went to, there was a very brief sermon. And then you sensed the Spirit, and people broke up into groups, prayed together, repented. Was that the pattern for the other meetings you attended during revival?
GESSWEIN: They had after meetings. They had prayer rooms. They had places where they could go and pray and help them...lead them to Christ, just like Billy Graham does. They had all that. Yeah. Now this was...all through the 1930s, that revival went on in Norway. And now, this whole generation also over there, that most of them did not even know Joseph, as the Scripture says. But there are those living, that were into that revival, and so when they pray rev...for revival in Norway now, those that were in that revival, not withstanding the newer movements, charismatic and all, have in mind “that was the revival” in their mind.
SHUSTER: That’s the motto in their mind, yeah.
GESSWEIN: Very interesting, very instructive.
SHUSTER: So they pray to have that again, when they pray.
GESSWEIN: That....[tape recorder is stopped and cassette is turned over]
SHUSTER: You were saying that the Lutherans and the Free and the Pentecostal were into that revival.
GESSWEIN: Yes, it’s like all the boats get lifted when the tide gets...gets....comes in. And nobody had a monopoly in a sense on it.
SHUSTER: Was their any Catholic participation?
GESSWEIN: There weren’t many Catholics in Norway. I don’t know to what extent they got in at....at all. I...there were very few Catholics at that time.
SHUSTER: And of course, the Lutheran Church is a state church in Norway.
GESSWEIN: Well, yeah. They got in...that was.... Yeah.
SHUSTER: You mentioned then that you went to Oslo to speak at meetings. How did that come about?
GESSWEIN: Well, from Bergen, there was an arrangement made through Anderson that I should stop in Oslo and speak on my way. I was going to go back...Europe...back through Europe to London again, and go back to my congregation on Long Island. I thought I’d be gone six weeks maximum on that whole trip. In Oslo, then, I was staying with people that knew English, and have.... Walking in the grove or woods nearby, it was raining, and I had been praying, seeking the Lord almost continuously those days about full revival renewal in my own life and ministry. That sounds selfish, but I had to...that was unselfish in the sense that I wanted to...to be all out for the Lord and what he had originally called me to, and I wanted to be full...full into it again.
GESSWEIN: When God broke me up, so it was a...I went through many tears and evide...evidently a...a dog had been walking along that pathway with a bleeding foot. And broke me up. The Blood of Jesus cleansing from all sin. And in that melting time, the Holy Spirit got to work at me again in this way. That, “you must stay in revival, in Norway. And I want you to be here now, entered in this revival.” And I said, “I can’t do that. I have a church on Long Island. I told people I’d be back in 6 weeks, maximum. And I don’t know the language. I have no church connection here, no official invitation from anybody, and I don’t...don’t have any money. What...and they have preachers all over the place. What should I do in Norway?” I mean, I tried to get out of it, and I couldn’t.
SHUSTER: Like Jonah.
GESSWEIN: God gave me no peace until I yielded to that point. After that, he began to open up, and I.... It’s a story how he took care of my church on Long Island. One thing after another began to work in answer to prayer. Prayer has been my method for everything. There is no other way. If God’s gonna do it, it’s got to be by prayer. “If you’re gonna do it,” he seems to say, “go ahead and do it, then make it.” Then you get what man can do, so that’s...I learned that early, but I was learning more about it. Pray everything into being. Jesus’ method, as I see it, was not just to pray about things. That’s our method. That’s the American church method, too, by and large. But Jesus’ method was not to pray about things, but to bring things about by prayer, and I was learning that.
SHUSTER: And how do you mean the difference there?
GESSWEIN: Everything Jesus did was an answer to his praying. It’s just that simple. People have to see that. You can’t make anybody see it. It’s as plain as anything in Scripture. That’s the trouble with... [laughs] that’s what Revelation is about, to see what...not that something is mysterious and....and mythical and way-off in the beautiful isle of some-where. But real biblical Revelation, the Apostle Paul prays for that in Ephesians is to see what’s plain in Scripture. That’s the strange thing about it.
SHUSTER: Can people see what’s plain unless the Spirit opens their eyes?
GESSWEIN: Can’t see it unless he.... They couldn’t see Jesus unless the spirit revealed it. They looking right at him, walking with him, working with him. They didn’t see who he really was, and Peter even didn’t see it, until God revealed it. And then said...Jesus said, “Blessed are you Simon, son of Jonah, for flesh and blood has not revealed it unto you, but my father which is in heaven.” [Matthew 16:17] Reveal what? The Messiahship! Who Jesus really was. Same thing with the Bible; same thing. And so we need Revelation, in that sense, all the time. One thing sluffed after...af.... one peeled off or unfolded after the other, like a...almost one thing....
SHUSTER: An onion.
GESSWEIN: It’s unfolded. It’s...I see things now-then that I never saw when I first became a Christian. I never thought in those days that you.... You know I thought I wanted to die and go to heaven. I wanted to be sure of that, and I sure got cure of that.
SHUSTER: That’s what we used to call....
GESSWEIN: But I’d never thought that there’s a whole, new, Christian life for you to live right down here now. And that’s the life of Jesus, and with him, and by him, and through him, and for him. Never saw that in that moment. Yet, there’s may I did not. But that was a unfolding in everything and that. The ministry, I used to think, you work for God, and then you ask God to bless it. I had to have a whole a new revelation about that. The ministry is the Lord’s ministry. Who’s building this church? I had to learn that, and how to walk and talk and work with him. [laughs] I mean all that is really revelation of plain Scripture. I work biblically. If it’s not in plain Scripture, and plenty of it, don’t count me in. That’s my method.
SHUSTER: I think it says in First John, “The life that we live in the world is Christ’s.” How would you.... George Muller, of course, is well known for praying...
GESSWEIN: Oh, he was a great....
SHUSTER: ...for his needs and for...the only....
GESSWEIN:. He was a role model for me at one time, and Hudson Taylor, and those men, [Dwight L.] Moody, [Albert B.] Simpson [founder of the Christian Mission and Alliance]. All those great, godly men: A.J. Gordon, and all those., Andrew Murray; they still are the giants in my opinion. When it comes to solid, all-the-way-for...with God, non-divisive Christian leadership. And that’s why...one of the reasons...one of things I admire a lot about Billy Graham he is...had to wrestle through that, to have a full fledged ministry without being divisive. That’s a tough one. It’s not easy.
SHUSTER: And, yet it seems always the case when there is revival that it raises opposition.
GESSWEIN: The right kind. Jesus raised plenty of opposition.
SHUSTER: Was that true in Norway? Was there opposition to revival there?
GESSWEIN: Oh yeah. Of course, you can’t have the real thing without having...you can’t have that. Sure but that’s where the battling came. [laughs]
SHUSTER: What kind of opposition was there?
GESSWEIN: Well, opposition in every kind, families, churches, state churches. But the other thing happened, and both things were going all the time, as is the case. Families....
SHUSTER: But what...I...I don’t mean who was opposing, but what were the kind of arguments that people had against the revival or comments against it.
GESSWEIN: Well, the argument that they have when they go against Christ. Why don’t they see Jesus? They...He’s got everything they need and want, and they don’t want it. I mean it comes to the same thing, whether it’s on the personal or on a larger scale. It’s the enemy, Satan, massing his forces, in many different ways. And...and revival is birthing and battling, both. Two big Bs, and the churches don’t know too much about that now.
SHUSTER: Was there opposition from Christians or from churches?
GESSWEIN: Nominal Christians.
SHUSTER: Oh, nominal.
GESSWEIN: Not the real ones.
SHUSTER: And what kind of arguments would they have against the revival?
GESSWEIN: What would they have? Again, the same arguments they had against Jesus. They...they couldn’t charge with being sinners. They just were not conforming to their worldly pattern. There are two patterns, in which one is the kingdom of darkness, the other the kingdom of light, and there’s a conflict. Whether they go and commit adultery or whether they sin like the Pharisee, it’s the same. The Pharisees and Sadducees both ganged up on crucifying Christ, and they were religious people, the great religious leaders of the day. They were the main opposition.
SHUSTER: So you saw this same pattern in Norway, too.
GESSWIN: Yeah, even that. But you had great leaders too that would [unclear] to have that today, have it in all the different churches. You have the Anglican churches, where they’re all out for this and all out.... It gets more subtle, of course. Their training. They do it subtly. Yeah, we’re up against the same thing. We’re not.... That’s not going to change. There’s the kingdom of God, and there’s the kingdom of Satan. Two kingdoms in struggling with each other, kingdom of darkness, kingdom of light. And that’s still on now. What’s the difference?
SHUSTER: Did you see in the....? And you were there from ‘37 to ‘38, right, in Norway?
SHUSTER: Did you see in the larger society the revival starting to have some kind of impact?
GESSWEIN: Oh, you bet. Leaven to lump [of dough]. Light...you know...how far does light go? And then you get the candlesticks burning...the lampstands of churches on fire, the whole neighborhood’s going to know about it.
SHUSTER: Can you think of s....
GESSWEIN: As they come, that’s what fills the meetings, and others go against it. You have...that’s the struggle, but it affects the whole community.
SHUSTER: Can you...can you think of some examples of how it affected the larger community?
GESSWEIN: Well, yeah, like Bensen...Bergen with its revival [unclear]. It was the talk of the town all the time. Every morning, you get up, because you got saved last night, you know. And that...it was all over the town, and you have a lot of them praising God and thanking the Lord, and others taking an opposite view of that. That’s the sign that God’s working. Like [Charles Haddon] Spurgeon used to say, “The best evidence that you’re in the will of God is the Devil’s growl,” and we sure had that. If you didn’t have that, you wondered if you had the real thing. But, not dividing Christians from Christians, and that’s a thing that’s got to be watched. There’s one division, as I see it, with Jesus and the Gospels, with him or against him. Not splitting up God’s people, who’re born of the Spirit. That happens too, but that’s the Corinthian situation is with us. Paul was against that. He was for unity.
SHUSTER: So how do you guard against that? How do you guard against...?
GESSWEIN: Just like the Apostle Paul did. Paul’s epistles are loaded with the burden for Christian unity, as well as being true to the powerful working in the Spirit. He got both operations working together. In a lot of the new movements, Charismatic as well, there is a tendency, let’s go for power, whether we unite or not. That’s not the New Testament way. I’ve written a book on that which em...embodies that idea. I got very concerned about that. I see that the Apostles were as Charismatic as anybody today, and they were equally adamant in holding the line on Christian Unity throughout the New Testament as they were in stressing the powerful working of the Holy Spirit. Both equally strong. Now that second one on unity, it’s got to come back, and it’s coming back. We’re finding Billy Graham again is a...he’s a kind of a John the Baptist in that way. That is he shows in his great gatherings where the real unity is among God’s people.
SHUSTER: “This is how they’ll know you’re my disciples, if you love one another.” [John 13:34-35]
GESSWEIN: Well, Billy Graham, in my opinion, and I loved him and worked with him a lot, is more than an evangelist. He’s an evangelist in his own class. But he has done many more things than that: counsels, con...church, these great gatherings...what are they called again? The....
SHUSTER: Oh, the Congresses, yeah.
GESSWEIN: Congresses, “congresses” is the word. Congresses. Nobody else could do that. What is it? Bringing together...bringing together those that really are together in the Lord. That’s the essence of it as I see it. And he has been raised up for that, as well as a lot of other things. [clears throat] He’s a kind of a modern John the Baptist in...in that sense, showing where the...preparing the way of the Lord. Where the Lord’s real lifeline is unity in Christ. Born again people of God wherever they are as the base of his operation. And they come together. They come like...all come out of the woodwork. That’s a new miracle. It’s a wonderful thing. We’re in it. We’re in a lot of things like that. The new prayer movements today bringing it up. So we’re on our way to great things, as I see it. I don’t work on the kingdom of darkness side. I’m not in that kingdom. I work on the other side, by the grace of God entirely. And I think that in the conflict between light and darkness, which wins? Which wins? Light always wins. And I’m...I’m believing that is God’s working more and more and more, even though the devil is also working more and more and more. And it will culminate somehow at the coming of the Lord, but the evangelization of the whole world is very vital to the Lord. He’s the one who does it, through his people. So that’s going on today, and we’re increasing in the same, plain, biblical way again. I can remember the time when we came back from Norway to preach revival in this land was like a voice in the wilderness in some circles. Now, it’s not.
SHUSTER: There was no interest in revival.
GESSWEIN: Revival was on the back burner in this country for a long time. It’s not now. Not that they have it all, but the concept, the mind set is there. That is important. That’s come about with the Lord.
SHUSTER: Going back to Norway for a moment, can’t help thinking that a few years after the revival.... Of course, Norway was at war, and then occupied, and under the Nazis for several years. From....
GESSWEIN: Five years and more.
SHUSTER: How did that effect...?
SHUSTER: ...the church? And how many...how did that affect the church that had been revived?
GESSWEIN: It prepared the church...prepared the people for it, you might say. Then during the Nazi occupation, which was a terrible thing, the church never was so united as then, and they received honorable recognition...deserved position...frontal position really in the minds of the people in the war against Nazism. That is another story in Norway. It should be...it’s written up, but Norway, being a...a country of only four million plus people, the whole world doesn’t tend to read all that and go in for that so much, but that’s.... You know, it’s amazing. Little Norway has taught us a lot, and a lot that we can learn from even today. I thank the Lord I feel like I’m a part of Norway. I go to other countries, and I come back. And after two weeks, I’m...I run out. I’m not...my word about that country’s not very strong anymore, but not Norway. I’m sort of like a missionary comes back. That’s in me. It’s part of me.
SHUSTER: As you say, the Spirit called you to Norway, and it’s....
SHUSTER: You also mentioned you met your wife there. How did that come about?
GESSWEIN: Way up north. I was sent up there by a committee...I didn’t even know them...to take the place of the great evangelist Frank Mangs, M-A-N-G-S. The great reviv...the great evangelist of Scandinavia. He was to go up there to the north of Norway for the first of it’s kind conference of young people, and north Norway hadn’t had the revival like south Norway, and Frank Mangs was the key figure in the revival in the south of Norway. Especially in Oslo, where it spread. And so, he was to go. And he took sick in the hospital with appendicitis and couldn’t go. And the committee...I didn’t know them...sent a man to my hotel and asked me to go up there and take his place. I was scared. I went up there. It took me three days to get there, way up in north Norway.
SHUSTER: You were scared because you didn’t know anybody there, or you...?
GESSWEIN: To take the place of Frank Mangs, the great evangelist.
GESSWEIN: Took the train to Trondheim from Oslo. That took a day. And that took three more days to get by boat up to this place. Finsnes. F-I-N-S-E-S. There’s a school there, youth conference, and there we had a revival that...all that week. The end of that week...and in it I met my wife. She was there from Tromse with young people, and we met there. And the next year in July the next year we were married up in the little country church in the inland of north Norway. And she...she was converted in the great Oslo revival, 1936. Frank Mangs was the...the chief man of God in that revival then when she was converted, so I recommend finding your wife in a revival. [Shuster laughs] And to me, she’s...she’s a wonderful woman, of prayer and everything else. We’ve been...had great years...wonderful years together.
SHUSTER: How did you...how did it come about that you left Norway and returned back to the United States?
GESSWEIN: Well, after we married in August of 1938 (August the 6th), then we knew, and that’s another story, that we would go back to Long Island and set up our family...our home together there, which we did. And I began to travel then. We lived in another town in Long Island, first in Roosevelt, then in Hampstead. And I traveled, and things opened for me and I began to have evangelistic meetings around. And then, after God blessed and after a few years.... See, it was about 19...let’s see, ‘35, ‘40...1933 I went to Gordon. Dr. Nathan Wood and others from Gordon College and Divinity School....
GESSWEIN: Yeah. I had....
SHUSTER: This was before Norway?
GESSWEIN: No, I had been in Norway in 19....
SHUSTER: Was it 1943?
GESSWEIN: Oh, yeah, ‘43. It should be right. Thank you for [laughs] telling me that. ‘43, yes, yes. They had heard me preach in chapel there, and I always had a great blessing in the Gordon Chapel. And Dr. Nathan Wood called me for lunch and said, “We know you...a little more about you than you know about us. Couldn’t you come and get on the faculty here and give what you have through the fac...through the media, the classes, and have a student gathering once a week.” I didn’t have any idea I’d do anything like that.
SHUSTER: When they say student gathering, do they mean a prayer meeting?
GESSWEIN: Once a week, or was it once a month? I said, “No, I don’t think I can do that. I’ll pray about it.” I went back to Long Island, and God laid it on my heart to go. And I tell you, I was very young, and I had to create my courses. And...and we had a precious time, and I was learning more than they were I guess.
SHUSTER: What courses were you teaching, what...what were your subject?
GESSWEIN: I had courses in...I had a course in the Book of Acts and for the senior college class, before they graduate. Dr. Wood wanted me to have that class (it was a big class and a grand group of young people) before they would graduate. So, I had a course on the person and work of the Holy Spirit centered strongly in the Book of Acts. And then I had other courses in the Divinity School on revival, the resurrection of Christ, the Old Testament and the New, and a few courses. They were crudely put together, and I think I learned more than they did, doing it, and then, I took further while I was there, and was acknowledged. And then Charles Fuller, who I met out here in the West.... He was the head of the Old-Fashioned Revival Hour, which was a big thing then. That broadcast and the Lutheran Hour with Dr. Walter A. Maier were at that time the two biggest broadcasts, and that was before television.
SHUSTER: Hmm-hmm. Radio broadcasts.
GESSWEIN: So, I met Fuller here in the West in 1945 at Mount Hermon. We met...no, I’d met him before, but he wanted to meet with me. And at...at Mount Hermon, he was a speaker there, and I was a speaker. And he said, “Armin, can we meet for lunch?” So, we met. And Sy Nelson was then the head of the...running the Mount Hermon conference. The three of us met for lunch. [coughs] Pardon me.
GESSWEIN: Then, after lunch, we, Dr. Fuller and I, went out sat under a tree somewhere and he unburdened about a burden...a vision he had, a concern to have a new kind of a training school started in the West for evangelists and missionaries and some kind of a pattern of going in and coming...going out. He didn’t know just what to do about it, but he had a burden, and would I come and be a part of helping that thing. That’s another whole story, and so I did.
SHUSTER: Why did he think a new school was needed? What did this school have that...?
GESSWEIN: A training school.
GESSWEIN: Not an academic.
SHUSTER: So, it would be like a Bible school?
GESSWEIN: Well, practical training for evangelists and missionaries that would help them to (already in the work) but do it better someway. They had it started getting people together on getting the thing put together, and he wanted me to come and help on the evangelism side, and then I came West in 1945. Lived in Pasadena. Began to travel around and explore this thing for Dr. Fuller. Went to Wheaton, went to other places, and got the educators together and asked them how...what they thought about this kind of thing, and they had a lot of favor on it. Also it started to come together, and then they thought maybe it would be a college, and finally, in 1947, the Fuller Seminary got started. That’s how it got started. Dr. [Harold John] Ockenga, I think it was essentially his vision, and Dr. Fuller agreed to go with it and back it up, and that’s when the Fuller Seminary got started. But originally, they wanted a training school, not a seminary, and that’s another whole story.
SHUSTER: So, the shift was when Dr. Ockenga got involved. Became more of a seminary.
GESSWEIN: Well, he had a vision of...of scholarship for the evangelical world, which was slipping, and needed to be in the forefront on that score. And where the evangelicals were short on that, and a lot of the liberal scholars were...were saying the evangelicals are not...they’re not really learned men, and they’re...what they’re saying is not on a great scale of learning, and so on. And it’s a whole story there, but that was essentially.... I knew Dr. Ockenga very well, and God blessed that vision. And the first ten years they had a lot [feedback from tape recorder] of revival at the seminary. One time Dr. [Edward John] Carnell, when he was president, wanted me to come on the faculty for the Chair of Evangelism, and I said, “No, that’s really for me. Mine is the practical field of action.” Of course, in the meantime, our work got started to, and Dr. Fuller encouraged me on that. He used to say to me, “Armin, let it unfold.” And our Revival Prayer Fellowship got started and developed.
SHUSTER: Going back to...you mentioned that about ‘43 you started teaching at Gordon, and you were there for three years, is that right?
GESSWEIN: Yeah. Three years.
SHUSTER: How...did you also teach courses there on prayer? You mentioned some of the other things you taught.
GESSWEIN: No, not essentially, but I worked it in. That’s what’s needed. We’re up again...we’re to that now. We have a...not...not gonna get into that in this interview, but we have helped start a college of prayer, [clears throat] and that’s going to spread by the grace of God and also get into more institutions and bring that thing back into the colleges. Not...again not academic, but discipleship style. That means lifestyle stuff. But in an academic setting, where you can also use the material. You don’t have to reinvent...reinvent the wheel. Use what’s there. Get the students also, but bring people form the outside in, and kind of a go in and out pattern for three, four days. Have it like we do the...for our summits, where we have a lot of worship and prayer and praise and scripture and, in that setting, a lot more teaching, discipleship type teaching that pertains to revival in their lives and in their churches. It’s church-oriented really. But it’s called a college of prayer. I don’t want to go further on that here, but that...this particular interview is not on that, so, but that’s in the offing because that’s what’s needed.
SHUSTER: How did you come to leave Gordon?
GESSWEIN: Dr. Fuller called me.
SHUSTER: Oh, that’s....
GESSWEIN: To go west.
SHUSTER: That’s to go out and....
GESSWEIN: To help to start a new school.
SHUSTER: And that’s when you moved out west and...made your home here, yeah.
GESSWEIN: That’s when I moved to Pasadene in 1945.
SHUSTER: But by that time, Revival Prayer Fellowship had already been started, is that right?
GESSWEIN: Already started it.
SHUSTER: How did that begin?
GESSWEIN: That began actually on Long Island already. After I had this revival in our Lutheran Church, I had...
SHUSTER: Oh, this is before you even went to Norway?
GESSWEIN: Yeah, way back in 1931, way back. I began to have a burden to get together with other ministers to pray, and that wasn’t done in our circles. But I thought what will I do about this, and then I had the Scripture: “We know we pass from death into life because we love the brethren.” [I John 3:14] It didn’t say Lutheran brethren, it just said brethren. And I began to gather ministers on a Monday morning, eight or nine of us, different churches, groups. And boy did we have a good time. We couldn’t wait for those meetings. We’d share everything. What did you preach on? Who got saved? What happened in your services, yesterday? And we’d throw in a lot of stuff. Actually, we got our whole, planing meetings out of that, and then we’d pray and pray then [?] in the morning, and then we’d have lunch. In the afternoon, we’d do other things, or go to the city, or whatever they wanted to do. But those Monday mornings for...let’s see...all those years 1931 right up to 19...let’s see...when I went to Norway it was ‘37, ‘38, ‘39, it went on then.... Oh yes, I had come out west, here, in the summer. Summer after summer. Didn’t live here, but guest for conferences five years, and then, in 19....
GESSWEIN: Let’s see 1940, yes, 1940 I came West first, and Frank Sutherland had the Christian Alliance Church in downtown Los Angeles, Eighteenth and Georges Streets. He had been one of our original eight or nine on Long Island. And I came out to hold a camp meeting out here, and I didn’t know anybody but him. He’s the only man I knew when I came West. We had this camp meeting, and he said, “Armin, after the meeting, we’ll start a meeting in our church, here in Los Angeles. Let’s have a starting date, but let’s not set...set a closing date.” Which we did, and we had nine weeks of meetings. We lived with Frank and Gertrude, his wife, in Los Angeles, my wife and I and my...our little son. And that’s how.... Then I said, “Look.” I didn’t know any other ministers, so one time in his church I met two others. So one Saturday night, I said to Frank, “Look, remember how you used to liv...meet on Long Island? Why don’t we...got a phone and call these other two men whom I had...have met, see if they won’t meet with us on Monday morning, like we used to meet on Long Island for prayer, for revival in our own lives, and churches.” I went to the phone. Yes, they would come. We met that next Monday morning, four of us, in a downtown room in his church in a nice room downtown...downstairs in the basement. And four of us. That’s how we started. Had no plans. The Lord blessed us. Said, “Let’s meet again next Monday.” We know some others that our like-minded. We’ll invite them. We had more came the next Monday, and that’s the way it started, and never quit to this day.
SHUSTER: And this was all ministers?
GESSWEIN: That was all ministers, then. And that Monday...that Monday morning meeting grew. They came from around. Herb Richardson took the trolley car all the way from Rodondo...North Rodondo Chapel came. And I after I had met these men...and they were a part of it. It became a kind of a movement. And I had no plans, except that after a while, after a couple years of this, then I came West. And then we continued it. In the meantime, it had been going on...Frank had kinda sparked the thing along...and they kept on meeting. Then, it began to really take off in new ways, and.... Then, we took a further step with that to have a monthly meeting, morning and afternoon ‘til three-o’clock, also on Monday, in a big home up in Altadena, part of Pasadena. We met in Dr. Morrison’s big home up there by the mountain. That was beautiful. The revival spirit was strong in those meetings. Then, others began to come there, including Dick [Richard] Halverson, who became the Senate chaplain. He used to come with a couple Presbyterians. Dick was on his face before God in those meetings with his Bible. And he told me years later that was one of the three things that influenced his life, that Revival Prayer Fellowship. And on and on it went. Then, first, did we take a step to have a new conference, a new kind of conference that we hadn’t known about, revival prayer conference. Now, we hadn’t any patterns, really. We did it prayerfully. We went out the Palisades, where I originally had that camp meeting. And we had forty-two ministers there, that first one, I remember.
SHUSTER: This was a...?
GESSWEIN: There I met others I’d never met before. Quakers. I hadn’t known about them. And in that conference, it went on, and then we...God so blessed, we said, “We must meet again,” so we had it every half-a-year. More came, more came...it grew...became a very wonderful thing, many were revived there.
SHUSTER: What happened during the conference? I mean was it...did you have Bible teaching or...?
GESSWEIN: We would have lots of prayer. A setting of prayer. I stayed in the front, pretty much, and led that prayer spirit. And in that prayer spirit (praise, worship, and prayer), we would, at proper times, have a speaker, who would give main messages. We didn’t spare on that, but because we had strong praying as the base of the operation, actually, it generated spirit of power. The message, the teaching had profound effect. And it resulted in...we’d have invitations. A lot of things happened. Many were...were revived in that and had a new life of revival in their ministries through that, and...and Billy Graham came out to that in 1949. We started that in ‘47 I think. [coughs] We had Ockenga there as a speaker. We had all kinds of different speakers, Corrie ten Boom, a lot of different speakers. But in that setting of prayer, there messages grabbed hold with power, and we learned that, that method, the prayer method, for everything as God’s method. The upper room method, Acts...the Acts method. But this went on and on, and in the meantime, I had meetings carried on. I had evangelistic meetings and did both. I had city wide meetings, a lot of them, for fifteen years, not to Billy Graham size, but that type. Had a soloist with me. And then, more and more time given to that, so one thing led to the other letter...like in a telescope one came out of the other.
SHUSTER: If you were to sit...say you were flying some place, and you sit next to somebody who is a non-Christian, knows nothing at all about the things of the Lord, and you tell him about your ministry, and he asks you for a few sentence, simple definition of what revival is, what would you say?
GESSWEIN: No, I wouldn’t...I wouldn’t even start with that with that person. I play golf. I’ve been an athlete, and I’ve done it all. On the golf course, I don’t start there. I don’t come up to a man and say, “Do you know the plan of salvation?” I start with golf, and get acquainted with the man, and get him to know me and have some confidence. And I’ll work on the other end of the spectrum, from evangelism rather than revival. And like Jesus did, also like Paul says, “All things to all men.” [I Corinthians 9:22] There I would work that method, and after a while, like I may play nine holes with the guy, and he doesn’t even know that I’m a preacher. And then he begins to realize, and then he asks questions. And I have to close many times, and I have a little message on my own that’s been printed with the Gospel of John, and I say, “Look, I do a lot of writing. This is one of the things I write, and I’d like to give it to you.” And he’s ready at that time, so I don’t start cold on him or bug him about that. They...they say, “Who’s this preacher now, meddling with me? I want to play golf.” No, we need wisdom there. There...but in a church situation, yeah, there I go to work. There, we got a light. We better face it and walk in that light. And we get prayer meeting light, and we need to repent. And that I work differently there than you. There, I work from revival to evangelism. I work the other way to, but.... Recently...I might throw in this in here. I was with Billy again in Oakland, when I gave you that picture.
SHUSTER: This was last year in...?
GESSWEIN: October 26th, last year, 1997, and they arranged for me to have time with Billy. And I said a number of things to Billy, and the question came up, “When did we meet?” I said, “Billy.” He didn’t recall that. I said, “I recall it very well. We met in the Moody Church in Chicago. While, it was about 1947 or ‘8 when.... Anyhow, I was in Chicago area having meetings and, Saturday night. And you were beginning to come along, and your name was known, and you had a Saturday night Youth for Christ meeting in the Moody Church, and you were supposed to preach. And I didn’t have a meeting that Saturday night. I said, ‘I’m going to go and hear this Billy Graham [of YFC]. You didn’t preach. You were there. You introduced Bob Cook, the vice president, and he preached, gave a good message. You said some [clears throat] very kind words about him, and I thought, “Is that Billy Graham?” So, later we met in the aisle,” and he said something about knowing about me because he’d been a student at Wheaton. And I had three series of meetings in Wheaton in Doc. Edman’s [President of Wheaton College] time. He and I were very close friends. And I guess Billy was there, so we were talking in that aisle. And he s...either one or the other said to the other, “What’s your burden?” And I said, “Mine’s revival.” He said, “Mine’s evangelism,” just like that, and it was. But he’s had revival on his heart all the time, and to some extant, that to say, Billy is, being a church man, a church background approach largely, not only, but largely. He in that sense, percentage wise, is revivalistic. I don’t think you get any more results. The ratio between revival and evangelism is always there. That is....
SHUSTER: Reviving Christians and bringing in the unsaved.
GESSWEIN: Yeah, the Spirit goes to the non-converted in the measure in which he first works in converted people. That’s to me, the law or principle of revival. I have a booklet on that, called the Law of Revival, or God’s Law of Revival. Yeah. But there we met, [laughs] and that’s interesting.
SHUSTER: How...what is your basic definition of revival?
GESSWEIN: Simple. Word tells it if you’d pay attention to it. Revive. Renew. Revitalize. Repent. Those that have life, and its slipped, and they’ve backslidden or gotten off, [clears throat] gotten away from it, need to be revitalized. That’s the main definition, and that’s what the main thing is. God’s people that are called by his name humble themselves and pray and seek his face and turn from their wicked ways. Then, God says he’ll hear from heaven, forgive their sin, and heal their land. [II Chronicles 7:14] God’s people. [clears throat] Have a [tape skips] water or something here.
SHUSTER: You mentioned a couple of times about J. Edwin Orr and your friendship with him. Could you just reclect...recollect some of how you met him and your impressions or memories of him.
GESSWEIN: Yes, I’ve...he wrote the book Can God? We got a copy of this on Long Island, and I said, “That’s something. You’re not supposed to have revival, and here he’s going around and having it.” And I was impressed. So, when I went to Norway, I wrote to him. Didn’t know him. He wrote back. He told me later, “It was one of the letters I wanted to answer.” And so, when he came to Long Island he was going to be ordained in the Baptist ministry, and he and Carol, his wife, were looking for really a place to stay without saying too much about it. We sensed that. We lived on Long Island. We asked them to come stay with us. They lived with us about six weeks or so on Long Island. My wife said, “We...we had little, and they had less.” And those days, he was seeking the Lord about should he take more training, and out of it, he went to these schools in Chicago. Got his degrees, and went on and on, and got into that educational field, and became great in that. And then we got him back on this track again in Minneapolis when we had a big gathering. Paul Rees and...the other man that was Presbyterian.
SHUSTER: William Riley, no.
GESSWEIN: Who is still with the Billy Graham Crusade.
SHUSTER: Oh, Cedar?
GESSWEIN: No, he’s... [tape ends]
END OF TAPE