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‘The Devil Who Heals’: Fraud and Falsification in the Evangelical Career of John G Lake, Missionary to South Africa 1908–1913



An analysis of the missionary career of John G Lake shows that the initial spread of Pentecostalism and Zionism in southern Africa was facilitated by the systematic use of fraud and deception. After having fled from Zion City in America in 1907 to escape popular justice, Lake and his missionary party introduced to South Africa an array of faith healing techniques used by the original Zionist John Alexander Dowie. They used these and other forms of deception to build a unified Zionist/Pentecostal movement. Additionally, they trained a number of influential African Zionists to use these methods – a factor that further contributed to the rapid spread of this new religious movement.
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African Historical Review
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‘The Devil Who Heals’: Fraud and
Falsification in the Evangelical Career of
John G Lake, Missionary to South Africa
Barry Morton a
a Ivy Tech Community College, University of South Africa, USA
To cite this article: Barry Morton (2012): ‘The Devil Who Heals’: Fraud and Falsification in the Evangelical
Career of John G Lake, Missionary to South Africa 1908–1913, African Historical Review, 44:2, 98-118
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pp 98–118
African Historical Review 44(2) 2012
ISSN Print 1753-2523/Online 1753-2531
© University of South Africa Press
DOI: 10.1080/17532523.2012.739752
‘The Devil Who Heals’: Fraud and Falsification in the
Evangelical Career of John G Lake, Missionary to
South Africa 1908–1913
Barry Morton
Ivy Tech Community College, USA; University of South Africa
An analysis of the missionary career of John G Lake shows that the initial spread of
Pentecostalism and Zionism in southern Africa was facilitated by the systematic use of
fraud and deception. After having fled from Zion City in America in 1907 to escape
popular justice, Lake and his missionary party introduced to South Africa an array of
faith healing techniques used by the original Zionist John Alexander Dowie. They used
these and other forms of deception to build a unified Zionist/Pentecostal movement.
Additionally, they trained a number of influential African Zionists to use these methods – a
factor that further contributed to the rapid spread of this new religious movement.
Keywords: John G Lake, South Africa, Pentecostalism, Zionism, faith healing, missions
The American evangelist John G Lake (1870-1935) was a major player in the early
development of both Zionism and Pentecostalism in South Africa. His 1908–13 mission
introduced both the speaking of tongues (glossolalia) in South Africa as well as the use of
‘Faith Healing’ practices in worship services. He was also the organizer and leader of the
Apostolic Faith Mission (AFM), which successfully incorporated most of South Africa’s
Zionists and Pentecostals under a single umbrella. Simply put, Lake was instrumental in
spreading this fusion of Zionism/Pentecostalism that is unique to southern Africa. If we
are to accept rough estimates of the current size of the offspring of this movement, then
around half of southern African Christians today are adherents of it.1 Beyond any doubt,
Lake played a decisive role in the spreading of this ‘second evangelization’.2
Historical scholarship on Lake and also the Zionist/Pentecostal movement has been
relatively scarce, despite the fact that it was by far the most successful southern African
religious movement of the twentieth century. Much of the writing on the Zionists (such as
the classic works by Sundkler3) has been sociological/anthropological in nature. In recent
1. See A. Anderson, Bazalwane: African Pentecostals in South Africa (Pretoria: UNISA, 1992),
2. J. Comaroff, Body of Power, Spirit of Resistance: The Culture and History of a South African
People (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1985), 11.
3. B. Sundkler, Bantu Prophets in South Africa. 2nd Ed. (New York: Oxford University Press,
1961); Zulu Zion and Some Swazi Zionists (New York: Oxford University Press, 1976).
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years a biography and other scholarship produced by scholars writing from a Pentecostal
or Evangelical perspective have been fairly thorough in explicating the development
of Zionist ritual and theology,4 as well as the diffusion of the movement from its early
centers on the Rand and the Highveld.5 This paper will not replicate this material, but
instead will focus on a far more sinister side of the ‘second evangelization’. To date,
the Zionist enterprise has largely been treated with kid gloves by academics. Secular
observers such as Jean Comaroff have been inuential in labeling the Zionists as a
‘resistance’ movement, ‘a dissenting discourse’ that enabled southern Africans to mitigate
the sufferings imposed by capitalism, colonialism, and apartheid.6 Religious writers have
tended to view the spread of Zionism as divinely inspired, and have sometimes gone so
far as to assert that various Zionist leaders were directly sent by God to southern Africa.7
Once there, they are credited with having orchestrated massive healing campaigns using
nothing but the laying of hands to cure disease and inrmity of all kinds, to raise the
dead, and to perform miracles of all kinds.8 Thus, as Landau has noted about Zionist and
other ‘African-Initiated Churches’ (AICs): ‘Both secular and academic scholarship tend
to judge AICs as innately positive developments. AICs are seen in elevated terms, as
symbolical theaters or places to perform wellness, and as centers for social networks.’9
All this writing on Lake and the early Zionists has not, however, taken up the way in which
the movement was actually rst organised and disseminated. John G. Lake was, simply
put, a fraud (or ‘con man’ or ‘false prophet’, depending on one’s outlook) throughout
his entire career, a preacher who consciously used deception both to gain tithe-paying
adherents, and to defraud and control them once they were in his organization. In his later,
post-South Africa career, for instance, Lake was arrested both for peddling worthless
securities to members of his Oregon congregations, and also for impersonating both
4. Anderson, Bazalwane; K. Burpeau, God’s Showman: A Historical Study of John G Lake and
South Africa/American Pentecostalism (Oslo: Reeks, 2004); C.R. De Wet, ‘The Apostolic
Faith Mission in Africa 1908-80: A Case Study in Church Growth in a Segregated Society’,
(PhD Thesis: University of Cape Town, 1989).
5. L. Chandomba, The History of Apostolic Faith Mission and other Pentecostal Missions in
South Africa (Milton Keynes: AuthorHouse, 2007); O. Kalu, African Pentecostalism: An
Introduction (New York: Oxford University Press, 2008), 55-9; D. Maxwell, ‘Historicizing
Christian Independency: The Southern African Pentecostal Movement c.1908-1960’, Journal
of African History 40 (1999): 243-64; C.G. Oosthuizen, The Birth of Christian Zionism in
South Africa (Kwa-Dlangezwa: University of Zululand, 1987).
6. Comaroff, Body of Power, Spirit of Resistance, 11-2.
7. H-J. Becken, ‘Amanazarite History’, in I. Hexham and G.C. Oosthuizen, eds, The Story of
Isaiah Shembe Volume I: History and Traditions Centered on Ekuphakameni and Mount
Nhlangakazi. Translated by H-J. Becken (Lewiston: Edwin Mellen, 1994), xiv.
8. Burpeau, God’s Showman, 90-2; Chandomba, The History of Apostolic Faith Mission, passim;
Kalu, African Pentecostalism, 55-9.
9. P. Landau, Popular Politics in the History of South Africa, 1400-1948 (Cambridge: Cambridge
University Press, 2010), 184-5.
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police ofcers and a ‘Mohammedan’ mind-cure healer named ‘Abdul Ben Shinandar’.
Although Lake claimed to be able to use ‘Divine Healing’ to cure all manner of disease
and disability, at times his ‘cures’ were also exposed as frauds in the American press.10
In the literature on South African Pentecostalism and Zionism these unsettling sides of
Lake’s personality, often reported in the press in his day, have simply been ignored.11
Nor has anyone examined whom he trained and inuenced in these arts, even though he
was closely associated with some of the most inuential Zionist leadersin South Africa.
What this paper will argue is that Lake learned the religious con in John Alexander
Dowie’s original Zionist church in the decade prior to his South African mission.12 When
these activities are placed alongside the ctitious religious persona that he crafted for
himself, it becomes clear that he was involved in an array of deceptions before, during,
and after his South African mission. Whether Lake actually believed in the religious
messages that he propagated is impossible to tell. This was a question that also bafed
John Dowie’s detractors during the latter’s lifetime.13 Even in the event that Lake was
a fervent Pentecostal at heart, nevertheless conscious deception lay at the center of the
religious activities of which he took charge.
Lake’s activities at the time he led the Zionist/Pentecostal movement seriously call into
question the characterization of the movement as ‘resistance’ to colonialism, while also
making a mockery of its allegedly divine inspiration. But before any revision of the
nature of the Zionists can be attempted, it is necessary to lay out in considerable detail
the nature of Lake’s schemes – schemes that inuential Zionists such as Edward Lion and
Isaiah Shembe would utilize to build up their own followings.
There is no better way to get a taste for Lake’s effrontery than to examine the narratives
of his party’s journey from Indianapolis to South Africa in 1908. Although the events
attending Lake’s journey have frequently been cited as evidence of divine support for
the arrival of the Pentecost in Africa, we can in fact draw a more sinister conclusion
– that fraud and misrepresentation were central to the early spread of Zionism and
Pentecostalism in South Africa.
10. The iconoclastic websites (viewed October
2011) and (viewed Nov
1911) list a range of frauds he committed in the American northwest following his return from
South Africa.
11. See especially Burpeau, God’s Showman, 162-6, 169-75, 184-5.
12. Dowie organized and controlled the Christian Catholic Apostolic Church in Zion from 1895-
1906. Based initially in Chicago, it relocated to the utopian community of Zion City in 1901.
See P.L. Cook, Zion City Illinois: Twentieth Century Utopia (Syracuse: Syracuse University
Press, 1996).
13. E.g. see J. Swain, ‘John Alexander Dowie: the Prophet and his Prots’, The Century 64 (1902):
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In late 1907, Lake, Tom Hezmalhalch, and J.O. Lehman, all supposedly endowed
with the gift of tongues, emerged as the unofcial leaders of the edgling Indianapolis
Pentecostal community. All were new arrivals in the city, each using the peripatetic and
uid nature of the early Pentecostal church to provide cover for histories they preferred
to obscure. But following the imprisonment of the local leader Glenn Cook, after he
nearly beat a member of his brass band to death, the three new arrivals took control of a
hall in the city center where local Pentecostals gathered. Rather than remain long in the
Midwest, the three soon received the imprimatur of global Pentecostalism’s unofcial
leader, William Seymour, to raise funds for a missionary party to South Africa. To this
end, they organized and advertised a conference in late January 1908. Lehman, who
claimed to have spent ve years in South Africa as a missionary, made an impression
by translating a woman’s glossolalic utterings as being direct communication to the
assembled ‘Saints’ from God in isiZulu!14 Following the end of the conference, the group
received the necessary funding for the mission. As Lake later recollected:
One day during the following February my preaching partner said to me, ‘John, how much
will it cost to take our party to Johannesburg, South Africa?’ I replied, ‘Two thousand dollars’.
He said, ‘If we are going to Africa in the Spring, it is time you and I were praying for the
money’. I said, ‘I have been praying for the money ever since New Year. I have not heard from
the Lord or anyone else concerning it’. He added, ‘Never mind, let’s pray again’. A few days
later he returned from the post ofce and threw out on the table four $500 drafts saying, ‘John,
there is the answer. Jesus has sent it. We are going to Africa’.15
The Lake party had seventeen members, including three other missionaries, wives, and
children. The group paid $25 each for their third-class steamship tickets to Cape Town,
a price that included free meals.16 This would have left $1575 over for the party to get
established in South Africa. According to Lake, though, this was not the case, since the
entire group had no more than $3.50 left over when it departed from Indianapolis!17 As a
14. Indianapolis News, 28 Jan., 1908; see also ‘Missionary Convention at Indianapolis, Indiana’,
New Acts 3, 5 (1908): 15. Lehman began claiming in early 1907 that he served ve years as a
missionary in South Africa. His biographical accounts, like Lake’s, are full of inconsistencies.
We can be sure he attended Levi Lupton’s Missionary Training School in early 1907, from
where he went to Indianapolis and received the gift of tongues. See C.E. McPherson, Life of
Levi R. Lupton (Alliance: by the author, 1911), 106; and New Acts 3, 4 (July/Aug 1907): 2.
15. Cited in Lindsay, John G Lake, Apostle to Africa (Dallas: Christ For the Nations, repr 1972),
22, based on Lake’s later sermons. There is no corroborating evidence regarding the $2000,
although it is clear that Lake’s party did receive funds following the conference. The Pentecost
1, 1 (Aug 1908): 2, noted that ‘God opened the way for them to go, supplying their fares’. The
money was probably donated by George Studd. See C.M. Robeck, The Azusa Street Mission
and Revival: The Birth of the Pentecostal Movement (Nashville: Nelson, 2006), 294ff.
16. See Lindsay, John G Lake, 22; and letters from the Lake party reprinted in The Pentecost 1, 1
(Aug 1908): 3, 6.
17. See Lake’s letter to Flower, May 30 1908, reprinted in The Pentecost 1,1 (Aug 1908): 6.
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result of this alleged penury, Lake was able to convince other passengers to buy his sister
a train ticket to her home town and to pay for the party’s laundry bills. Lake was also
successful in getting another large bill paid off by an unwary mark:
I knew that just as soon as we arrived at Capetown there would be dock fees and transfer
accounts and hotel bills, etc, right away. Mrs. Lake and I held the matter steadfast before the
Lord, and before we left the ship, while it was yet at the docks at Capetown, before the gang
planks were put down, a passenger touched me on the shoulder and called me to one side. He
handed me an American Express order for $200, saying, ‘Boy, the Lord told me to give you
that, and He has been telling that for the last two and a half weeks.’ It paid all my expenses and
landed us in Johannesburg.18
So although his party would appear to have been fairly well-nanced, Lake from the start
presented it as being without funds and hence in desperate need of immediate donations
to continue. This was the message put through not only to fellow ship passengers, but
also to the wider Pentecostal community that was contributing to the venture. It was to be
a consistent theme of Lake’s South African ministry. Nor should we be surprised about
Lake’s chicanery on steamship voyages. John Alexander Dowie, the original Zionist faith
healer whose church had trained Lake as a religious leader, admitted under oath in court
to defrauding steamship companies in order to reduce his travel expenses. Nor did he
deny boasting about it to his associates either.19
A major part of Lake’s religious aura was his alleged decision to abandon a lucrative
business career in late 1907 in order to become a Pentecostal evangelist. This was a
myth he used primarily to create legitimacy for his leadership role in various Pentecostal
communities. It would also appear that these tales stirred up a sense of awe and wonder
amongst credulous audiences.
Lake’s claims about his early (pre-1904) business career were not nearly as exaggerated
as those he made about his 1904-7 activities. He maintained that as a young man he moved
to the Chicago suburb of Harvey to found and publish the Harvey Citizen newspaper in
1891. After a few years he then returned to his hometown of Sault Ste Marie, MI in
1896, where he founded the Soo Times and developed a ‘lucrative real estate business.’
Following these successful ventures, he moved in 1901 to Dowie’s new utopia, Zion City,
Illinois, where he claimed to have been in charge of the latter’s construction department.20
18. Ibid. This story was retold and embellished many times throughout Lake’s career.
19. ‘Stevenson v Dowie’, Illinois Circuit Court Reports 3 (1909): 172-3.
20. Most available documentation on Lake can be found at the Flower Pentecostal Heritage Center,
Springeld Missouri. Since this material has been reprinted I will refer only to published
versions. See R. Liardon, John G Lake: The Complete Collection of his Life Teachings
(Whitaker House, 2005), 10; Lindsay, John G Lake, 3; W. Reidt, John G Lake: A Man Without
Compromise (Springeld, MO: Harrison House, 1989), 14-6; John G Lake: His Life, His
Sermons, His Boldness of Faith (Ft Worth: Kenneth Copeland, 1994), 89, 269.
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All these claims about his early business career are false. Instead, there is clear evidence
that he spent this time as a contractor and roofer. His contracting activities were always
small-scale, and receive only occasional mention in local newspapers. Lake did not
bid on public contracts, and also did not advertise his services in the newspapers.
Rather, he refurbished existing properties, and his real-estate activities were conned
to what we would today refer to as ‘house-ipping’. As a result of buying dilapidated
properties, xing them up, and selling them, Lake made a modest income and moved
regularly.21 Turning to Lake’s claims about his journalistic career, it is clear that he had
no involvement in either newspaper that he claimed to have founded.22 Nor was Lake in
charge of construction in Zion City, as he maintained, but was instead a mere repairman
in the department. 23
Once this period working for Dowie’s construction department came to an end, Lake
maintained that he moved to downtown Chicago in 1904 and quickly turned himself into
a wealthy businessman. Working as a real estate investor and salesman, Lake claimed to
have made $2,500 in his rst day of work, and had put $100,000 in the bank by the end
of 1905. This money was made on his own, as well as for the business nancier Jim Hill.
After this initial success, Lake was asked by a consortium of wealthy capitalists to form
a trust of three large life-insurance companies and was given a salary of $50,000 a year.
With this fortune and with these connections he became a millionaire, and was also able
to purchase a seat on the Chicago Board of Trade.24
Of course, none of the story checks out in any way. Even Lake’s apologist biographer
has noted, ‘no evidence outside of Lake’s own assertions has been found to verify Lake
had any involvement with these nanciers and industrialists.’25 What the record shows
is that Lake never left his residence in Zion City at the time he was allegedly making
his name in Chicago, and he remained in Zion City until moving to Indianapolis. Lake,
though, did quit his job in Zion City, and after 1905 worked in Waukegan (a neighboring
town) as a salesman for a prominent local real estate speculator, E.V. Orvis.26 In addition
to hawking Orvis’s properties, Lake also sold re and life insurance for the People’s Life
Assurance Society. As an evangelist, Lake maintained that he had founded People’s Life
21. For some examples of Lake’s business activities and properties, see Sault Ste Marie News, 12
Dec. 1896; 6 Sept. 1897; and 18 Dec. 1897.
22. The Harvey Citizen was founded by the consortium that developed the new town of Harvey,
not by Lake, while the Soo Times was started by George Ferris. See The Town of Harvey,
Illinois: Manufacturing Suburb of Chicago aged two years (Harvey: Harvey Land Association,
c. 1892); and Sault Ste Marie News, 6 Mar. 1897.
23. See remarks of Tindall and Ferguson in Zion Herald, 12 July 1907. Lake is never listed as
head of construction in any of the church directories published regularly in Zion Banner from
24. See Lindsay, John G Lake, 3; Reidt, John G Lake, 15; and John G Lake, 89.
25. Burpeau, God’s Showman, 57, n.112.
26. Waukegan Daily Sun 2 Jan. 1907.
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Assurance himself with the backing of an array of Chicago’s leading industrialists. In fact
it was a small company founded by other people.27 So whereas Lake portrayed himself
later as having worked out of fancy ofce buildings in Chicago, he actually operated
out of modest ofce space in downtown Waukegan. He clearly was not wealthy. He
rarely featured in the local press, although individuals such as his boss E.V. Orvis were
covered constantly in the social and business sections of the local newspapers. It was also
commonly known among the Zionists who their wealthiest members were, and Lake was
never named among them.28 He was simply an ordinary, small-town insurance salesman.
From early on in his ministry, Lake developed a set of stories detailing his calling to
Africa. These testimonies, which he told hundreds of times, maintain that Lake received
direct communication and revelation from both God and the Holy Spirit. These stories
served not only to ingratiate Lake with his audiences, but also to shield his involvement
in highly unsavory affairs that occurred in Zion City in 1907 – affairs that precipitated his
rapid departure for Indianapolis in October that year.
I went to Indianapolis, Indiana for a 10-day visit with Bro. Tom [Hezmalhalch] who was
preaching there. Then I assisted with the services and work. While visiting the home of a Bro.
Osborne…the Spirit of the Lord came upon me and God talked to me concerning Africa….
for years I had felt that one day God would send me to Africa, but never possessing what I
regarded as the Divine Equipment necessary for a successful Christian worker. I had banished
the thought and stied the voice within….God gave me at this time a spiritual vision of Africa,
especially of the Zion work thereso accurate, that when I arrived in Africa 14 months later
I found it correct in every detail.29
Not long later after this alleged incident, Lake went to pray with “Bro. Pearse” back in
Zion City:
As we knelt to pray, my soul was in such anguish I felt myself being overshadowed by the
Holy Spirit, then commenced the most vivid spiritual experience of my life….Oh how he
showed me His love for me. He showed me the lost world, dying souls, the sick and suffering,
saying ‘all this I did for thee, what hast thou done for me?’ until my heart broke and, in
anguish, I cried and told him I would go all the way with Him even unto death….Then the
27. People’s Life was a small concern run founded by Elona G Nelson and Fremont Hoy, whereas
Lake maintained it was a national organization nanced by Jim Hill, Tom Lawson, Ed
Harriman, and Thomas Ryan. The latter four were heavily involved in developing the suburb
of Harvey Illinois in the early 1890s when Lake was a migrant worker there. Cf ibid, and
Burpeau, God’s Showman, 39ff.
28. E.g. see Waukegan Daily Sun, 3 Jan. 1907, regarding Deacon Lewis.
29. Lake’s “diary” preamble [c. 1910], in C. Blake, ed., John G. Lake’s Writings From Africa
(Dallas: Xulon Press, 2005), 144-5.
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Spirit said, Will You Go? I said, ‘Yes Lord, any place, anywhere. But, Oh Jesus, the burden
must be yours, the responsibility is yours’. Then came a series of different visions of different
cities came before me: rst, Zion City, IL, where the Glory of God overshadowed the old
Dr. Dowie tabernacle in Shiloh Park as a heavenly light….Then he showed me the down-
town district of the city of Indianapolis, Indiana, and the same illumination of God’s glory….
Then, Johannesburg, South Africa, and a wonderful illumination of God’s glory lighting up the
whole land….Again, I heard the voice, ‘Will you go?’ ‘Yes, yes’, I cried, ‘if you will prepare
and equip me and go with me’.…..’Lord, I will go. I’ll go at once’.30
What these stories seek to obfuscate are the disastrous nature of Lake’s rst attempt
at Pentecostal ministry in Zion City in 1907 – the city from which he and his partner
Tom Hezmalhalch were forced to ee from in October that year. The details can be
overwhelming for those unfamiliar with early Pentecostal history, but essentially ow
from the slow dissolution of Dowie’s Zionist enterprise in 1906 and 1907. In the face
of their leader’s demise, the Zionists split into numerous factions. Lake’s allegiance
eventually fell to Charles Parham,31 who resided intermittently in Zion City in late 1906
and who sought to convert all of Dowie’s adherents to Pentecostalism.
During the later months of 1906, Parham held a revival in Zion City that attracted Lake
and a number of his friends. News of the Azusa Street revival and the new phenomenon
of speaking in tongues attracted many Zionists to Parham’s banner, and many of them
were soon ‘Baptized in the Holy Ghost’ as a result. Newspaper accounts of the time
show that there were roughly 3-500 ‘Parhamites’, and Lake himself actually made the
newspapers after he spoke in tongues for the rst time in early 1907.32 Not long after this,
though, Parham left Zion City for good when the municipal water tower collapsed on top
of his revival tent.33
Despite this hasty departure, Parham’s followers continued to pay him tithes and to show
considerable resiliency in the face of opposition they encountered in Zion City. Tom
Hezmalhalch, who arrived in Zion from Azusa Street not long after Parham’s departure,
seems to have played a considerable role in stabilizing the group. He was able to get
William Seymour to visit Zion City and to otherwise keep the group connected to the
burgeoning Pentecostal movement.34 Lake himself rose in prominence within the group
30. Ibid, 146-7.
31. Parham (1873-1929) is generally considered the founder of the modern Pentecostal movement,
although his student William Seymour would eclipse him once the Azusa Street Revival began
in Los Angeles in 1906. His mission to Zion City is described in S. Parham, The Life of
Charles F. Parham: Founder of the Apostolic Faith Movement (Baxter Springs, KS: Apostolic
Faith Bible College, 1930), 148-60, 171-7.
32. Waukegan Daily Sun 3 Jan. 1907.
33. See Chicago Chronicle 21 Jan. 1907.
34. Most information on this group comes from the frequent denunciatory accounts in the weekly
edition of the Zion Herald 4 May 1907ff.
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over the course of the year, and by summer was leading services and was generally
considered (along with Hezmalhalch) as the unofcial leader.
Lake’s increasing prominence within the Parhamite sect coincided with the group’s
apparent descent into a collective frenzy of insanity, demon possession, and murder. The
trigger for the Parhamites’ implosion was the July arrest of Charles Parham in Texas for
soliciting sex from a teenager in Texas. These charges appeared to conrm rumors about
his pederastic tendencies that had been circulating in the Midwest, and which would
ruin his reputation in Pentecostal quarters thereafter.35 Parham’s fall, which came in the
aftermath of John Alexander Dowie’s downfall, meant that his followers had seen two
cherished leaders disgraced in quick succession. In the meantime, Zion City’s economy
was struggling and most of the Parhamites were in nancial straits. To make matters
worse, their biggest enemy, W.G. Voliva, was tightening his grip on Zion City’s theocratic
structures. In the face of these setbacks, the Parhamites came to view the source of their
problems as diabolical. In the weeks following Parham’s downfall, nine (seven women
and two boys) Parhamites would be possessed by demons.36
As the frenzy continued the Parhamites met practically daily for long, emotional services:
‘insanity becomes common, ravings of lunatics are heard on every hand, adulteries are
committed’.37 Both the Parhamites and the Voliva faction had been preaching about the
imminence of the ‘end times’ since early in 1907, which undoubtedly contributed to a
heightened atmosphere. Meanwhile, Voliva and the mainstream church members in Zion
City were relentless in their attacks on the Parhamites, calling them ‘intoxicated’, ‘demon-
inspired’, ‘a fanatical set’, ‘an abomination’, and a ‘barbarian horde’. Denunciations of
the new ‘Tongues Church’ were a regular feature of sermons and newspapers. Meanwhile
lurid descriptions of the Parhamite services, which featured excessive ‘emotionalism’,
including dancing, jumping, waving hands, ‘insane ecstasies’, shouting, rolling on the
oor, spasms, trances, and visions, were accompanied by warnings from Voliva that this
behavior ‘would lead to demon-possession.38
To deal with these possessions the Parhamites fell back on Dowie’s teachings, which
maintained that insanity and mental illness were caused by Satanic forces that had
invaded and taken control of an individual’s body and mind. They also relied on Dowie’s
35. See J.R. Goff, Fields White Unto Harvest: Charles F. Parham and the Missionary Origins
of Pentecostalism (Little Rock: University of Arkansas Press, 1988), 137-8, 224-5. While
Goff disputes the validity of charges against Parham, nevertheless the Indianapolis Pentecostal
leader Glenn Cook had been making these charges on his return from Azusa Street in early
1907. See Zion Herald 2 Aug. 1907.
36. See Indianapolis News 22 Sept. 1907.
37. Zion Herald 20 Sept. 1907.
38. See Leaves of Healing 20 (1906): 59. Zion Herald has numerous pieces on the Parhamites
throughout 1907, e.g. “Frenzied Religion,” 2 Aug. 1907.
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old exorcism techniques, which relied on prayer to invoke God’s assistance, combined
with the use of physical force to expel the demon from the body. The possessed individual
would be tied up and restrained, while the healer would then use physical force to twist
the demon slowly out of the body, limb by limb. These attempts could last for days at
a time, and typically the aficted individual would also be denied all food, water, and
comforts in order to induce the demons to exit the body.39
These exorcism methods ultimately led to the deaths of two sect members. Hezmalhalch
and Lake did not conduct the sessions themselves, apparently because they felt they
lacked the ‘necessary spiritual power’. Referring back to this period several years later,
Lake recalled that he and Hezmalhalch ‘had been praying for greater power for the healing
of the sick and the casting out of demons at this time’.40 Instead, Harold Mitchell, who
was a regular attendee of their services,41 had a vision ‘in which Mitchell was ordered to
quit work and devote his time to casting out demons from the sick’.42 Of the nine cases in
which Mitchell and the Parhamites took on, there were two fatalities, and indications of
others. Because the Zion City undertaker was a Parhamite, many of the corpses were not
ofcially registered with the State coroner. Many unnatural deaths did not get reported as
such – as had been going on throughout Dowie’s tenure in Zion City.43
In the case that brought the Parhamites to national attention, Mitchell and four others
held down a possessed, bed-ridden woman named Letitia Greenhaulgh in her bedroom
against her husband’s wishes, and during a marathon exorcism eventually killed her after
breaking her arms, legs, and neck while trying to force the demon out of her.44 Over the
next few days, lurid photographs of both the accused and of Greenhaulgh’s mangled
corpse were published in newspapers across America and evoked extensive outrage.
Because Lake and Hezmalhalch were not directly involved in the exorcisms, they were
not prosecuted by the authorities. But neither of the two showed misgivings about
what had occurred. Lake himself remained obsessed with demon-possession in months
following the Greenhaulgh tragedy. Immediately after decamping from Zion City he
went on a long fast. According to his own testimony on the fth day the voice of God
39. See the string of newspaper stories in Chicago Tribune following the botched exorcism of
Millie Logan in May 1900. ‘Bound at a Dowie Home’, 24 May 1900; ‘Followers Hit At
Dowie’, 3 June 1900; and ‘State Beards Dowie in Zion’, 9 June 1900. For Dowie’s version of
events see Leaves of Healing 7 (1900): 238-9.
40. Blake, Writings From Africa, 148.
41. Zion Herald 27 Sept. 1907.
42. Indianapolis News 20 Sept. 1907.
43. Indianapolis News 22 Sept. 1907. This was done to minimize public knowledge of the
recurrent and catastrophic failures of the faith healing process.
44. See ‘Tortured in Rites of Fanatics: Dies’, Chicago Tribune 21 Sept. 1907. This story followed
in all the major American newspapers for the next three days.
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came to him and told him that ‘from thenceforth you shall cast out demons’.45 Soon after
this, Lake claims to have cast out a demon successfully in Indianapolis. In early 1908 he
was boasting to newspaper reporters about his power to ‘heal the insane’, maintaining
that ‘insanity is a kind of demon--a “nutty” demon’.46
If the state authorities did not hold Lake and Hezmalhalch responsible for the exorcism
deaths, the local population of the Zion City area did. W.G. Voliva, the town’s theocratic
mayor, demanded that all the ‘Wizards and Necromancers of Hell’ be ‘driven from
Zion’.47 Further declaring that ‘Parham, Tom [Hezmalhalch], Lake’ were ‘responsible in
a greater or less degree’ for the Greenhaulgh outrage, Voliva declared that ‘the time has
now come for these religious fanatics to cease forever proclaiming their hellish doctrine
and to forever quit our town….they have put themselves outside the rights of citizens.
They are enemies of sane mankind, though claiming to be religious….They must move
on.’48 Secular voices were no less harsh: ‘it is too much to expect Lake County people to
stand any more for the Parhamites of Zion City, which these ferocious fanatics are said to
belong to, and the entire sect should be driven out of Zion City and out of Illinois without
In the face of these threats Lake and Hezmalhalch moved quickly to Indianapolis,50 while
the rest of the Parhamites scattered too. Within a month, newspapers reported that ‘you
cannot nd a Parhamite in town anymore’.51 In order to explain his lack of funds, Lake
then quickly invented his story52 about having abandoned his business career and giving
all his money away to the church.
In the light of these events it is clear that Lake and Hezmalhalch did not leave Zion City
in response to divine calling. Instead, they ran away to escape popular justice. Why
then did they choose to organize a mission to South Africa? We can infer the impending
departure of the Reverend William Bryant from South Africa enabled the Lake party to
replace him as leader of the South African Zionists. Bryant, who had been sent to South
Africa in 1904, had quickly developed Dowie’s biggest foreign congregation there.53
45. Blake, Writings From Africa, 149. See also Lindsay, John G Lake, 21-2.
46. Indianapolis News, 28 Jan. 1908.
47. Chicago Tribune 23 Sept. 1907.
48. Zion Herald 20 Sept. 1907.
49. Waukegan Daily Sun 20 Sept. 1907.
50. Lake’s nal act before leaving was to go to court on 7 Oct. to recover money owed to him
by another individual. This is a far cry from giving away his million dollar fortune as he later
alleged he was doing at this time! See Waukegan Daily Sun 8 Oct. 1907.
51. Zion Herald 1 Nov. 1907.
52. That he began using the story in Indianapolis is clear in The Pentecost 1, 1 (August 1908): 4.
53.On Bryant, see Sundkler, Zulu Zion, 34-41, and Oosthuizen, The Birth of Christian Zionism,
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Although most members of the church were impoverished African peasants, Bryant
had also organized many successful tithes-paying white congregations on the Rand,
including Krugersdorp, which was called ‘one of the most protable centers’ in the entire
church.54 During the period from 1904 on Bryant’s region reported far more baptisms
than any other section of the church, and was clearly the most successful.55 Following
Dowie’s demise, Bryant had emerged as a minor contender to the Zionist leadership, but
was eclipsed by his hated rival W. G. Voliva. This defeat prompted Bryant to pull his
South African congregations out of the Zionist church.56 But rather than remaining in
South Africa, Bryant decided to relocate to California. As a result an existing, protable,
leaderless organization was thus ripe for the taking.
Lake and Bryant had had signicant dealings in the past as mid-level ofcials in Dowie’s
church,57 so it is likely that the two orchestrated a hand-over. In any case, Lake clearly
corresponded with various people prior to his arrival in South Africa, and his family
was given a house to live in rent-free on the day of his arrival. He and Hezmalhalch
also seamlessly took control over Bryant’s former members, brought them into the
newly-formed AFM in May, and were nancially supported by them from the beginning.
Everything points to a carefully-orchestrated move to South Africa, rather than an
impulsive, divinely-inspired one.58
Lake and the early AFM leadership utilized a whole host of forms of religious fraud to
attract tithes-paying members to their church.
It would appear that Lake learned two of these methods directly from Dowie himself,
as he and other members of his family were engaged to perform them. On the one hand,
54. See letter from Emma Bryant in Leaves of Healing 18 (1906): 435.
55. See e.g. ‘A Glorious Year’s Work For God and Zion in South Africa’, in Leaves of Healing, 15
(July 1905): 481-94.
56. Chicago Inter-Ocean, 21 Feb. 1907; Chicago Tribune 23 Feb. 1907.
57. Bryant had been the regional overseer when Lake started a Zionist church in his hometown of
Sault Ste Marie, Michigan in the late 1890s. Bryant visited on numerous occasions to preach
and engage in faith healings. The most notable instance of this occurred in August 1900, when
Lake’s wife Jenny was accidentally shot and fell into critical condition as Lake refused to
let her receive medical attention. In the face of large mobs the two orchestrated a ‘vanishing
bullet miracle’, claiming that the bullet lodged in her stomach had disappeared in response to
prayer. Mrs. Lake recovered thereafter, and the threat of a lynching was averted. For varying
versions of events, see Leaves of Healing 7 (1900): 635; 9 (1901): 226-8; 11 (1902): 130;
Marquette Daily Mining Journal 13 Aug. 1900; and Sault Ste Marie News 4 Aug. 1900. The
two were also corresponding, see Bridegroom’s Messenger 2, 29 (Jan. 1909): 4.
58. See The Pentecost 1, 1 (Aug. 1908): 6-7; 1, 2 (Sept. 1908): 2; Burpeau, God’s Showman, 74-7;
De Wet, ‘Apostolic Faith Mission’, 51-4.
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Lake and members of his family often appeared at Zionist services and provided false
testimonies about miraculous faith healing cures that Dowie had performed. For instance,
in 1900 Lake traveled to Chicago from Michigan and testied that his sister Maggie had
developed ‘ve cancers’, all of which eminent surgeons in Detroit were unable to treat. As
Maggie approached death’s door, Lake took her to Chicago, where Dowie ‘utterly healed’
her in an instant by laying hands on her. Several days after this cure had been affected,
Lake was able to insert his hands into his sister’s chest and extract the black tumors,
which had become detached from the body!59 Another fraud the Lakes aided Dowie in
perpetrating was to help him stage ‘distant miracles’. In this con, a dire message about
the rapidly deteriorating health of someone would reach Dowie at a religious gathering.
The Lakes and other placemen in the audience would pretend to have knowledge of the
allegedly sick person, and would provide further details to the audience. Dowie would
then lead a group prayer, and by the time the service had concluded a telegram or phone
call would be received of a miraculous healing.60 Written records of these scams show
that Lake himself, a brother, two sisters, three sons, and his wife, were all rescued from
death’s door (some on multiple occasions) in a period of eight years!
Given this history with Dowie, it is not surprising that during their rst year in South Africa
the Lake party relied heavily on religious fraud in its services. Lake and Lehman engaged
in the vast majority of the trickery, while Hezmalhalch tended to deliver sermons or to
enunciate on doctrinal issues. In fact the early AFM meetings were practically obliged
to use religious fraud, given that their advertising broadsheets promised audiences
‘Baptism of the Holy Ghost with Signs Following’, along with ‘Miraculous Healings’.
Hence, they had no choice but to provide ‘signs and wonders’ with each performance.61
Although it can be conceded that there were some often-times spectacular placebo cures
of individuals suffering from psychosomatic illnesses, nevertheless most of the ‘signs
and wonders’ were staged.
The source of many acts of fraud was Dowie. Just as the latter had done, Lake decorated
the entire altar of his Johannesburg tabernacle with an array of old crutches and therapeutic
devices allegedly discarded by the formerly disabled.62 Thus the allegedly crippled were
routinely brought in and made to walk again through the laying of hands. Variations on
the theme included instant on-stage cures for the ‘deaf’ and ‘blind’.63 ‘Distant miracles’
were another staple, and at his Johannesburg performances Lake was able to cure women
as far away as England and Iowa, and also through prayer enabled the barren Queen
59. Leaves of Healing 7 (1900): 440, and John G Lake, 200.
60. See Leaves of Healing 3 (1896): 100, involving Maggie Lake Otto.
61. 1908 broadsheet reprinted in Liardon, John G Lake, 43.
62. De Wet, ‘Apostolic Faith Mission’, 78, and photo in The Pentecost 1, 4 (1908), n.p.
63. See Latter Rain Evangel (Nov. 1908), n.p.; John G Lake, 293-5; Blake, Writings From Africa,
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of the Netherlands to have children again.64 The onstage extraction of ‘tumors’ and
‘cancers’ was made use of frequently, and bottles containing these tissues were often
on display during services.65 Other common frauds included supernatural showdowns
with ‘hypnotists’ or others possessing diabolical powers. After a short, dramatic stand-
off these opponents of God were usually rendered catatonic.66 Fake exorcisms were
also employed. Another trick that Lake and Lehman employed was the ‘tongues con’,
in which placemen in the audience claiming to be from distant lands would interpret
glossalalia as direct communication from the Almighty for the benet of the audience.67
To sum up in the words of one AFM historian, ‘one realizes that most probably many of
the healings and miracles reported by the early workers in the AFM could be exaggerated
and could not stand up to scientic evaluation and testing’.68
Raising the dead was another means by which Lake claimed to have demonstrated his
spiritual power, a power that many of his African successors also claimed to have.69
Lake claimed to have orchestrated ve resurrections in South Africa, including that of
Maggie Truter in July 1909. Lake often brought the latter, the stepdaughter of one of his
lieutenants, onstage in his services.70 Here is Lake’s version: ‘Maggie…was violently
ill for a long time. After several weeks’ illness, one night the death rattle came into her
throat. She kissed her parents and brother goodbye.’ At this point Truter, a trained singer,
sang a verse of a pentecostal hymn, and then
her breathing apparently stopped, and so far as human judgment went, she seemed to be dead,
and I have seen many die. As this went on, a strange operation was going on in my spirit. I
seemed to see her leave the body and rise upward. She kept getting further away, very slowly.
It seemed to me that I was holding her spirit by a grip of my spirit. The Holy Ghost was upon
me in power.
After a time, I realized she was getting out of my control. I roused myself, prayed with more
fervency, and, nally, with command, I said, ‘You are not going away. In the Name of Jesus
Christ come back’….Then, in a little while, she was breathing easily. God had heard. The
64. John G Lake, 245-6; Apostolic Faith 11 (Nov.-Dec. 1909): 5.
65. Apostolic Faith 11 (Nov.-Dec. 1909): 2.
66. E.g. Lindsay, John G Lake, 28, 77ff; Latter Rain Evangel (Nov. 1908); ibid, 6.
67. For early use of the tongues con, see Lindsay, John G Lake, 27: John G Lake, 244-5; Condence
(Mar. 1909): 74-5; Apostolic Faith 11 (Nov.-Dec. 1909): 4. This trick was probably learned
from Charles Parham, who originated it. See Apostolic Faith 1, 7 (Dec. 1905): 4.
68. De Wet, ‘Apostolic Faith Mission’, 77.
69. A. Anderson, African Reformation: African Initiated Christianity in the 20th Century (Trenton,
N.J.: Africa World Press, 2001), 116; Chandomba, The History of Apostolic Faith Mission, 46;
Hexham and Oosthuizen, The Story of Isaiah Shembe, I, 46-7, 139.
70. Truter was the step-daughter of a defrocked minister, R.H. Van De Wall, who joined Lake
early on, became a key ally, and served as the secretary of the AFM. See Condence 2, 2 (Feb
1909): 5.
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blood-availed Christ was conqueror. On examination, we found that she had apparently been
dead 35 minutes.71
Lake’s version of events, and the version which he would have Truter testify to, are
contradicted by secular newspaper reports published immediately after this incident. The
Rand Daily Mail, which had run occasional articles in the past casting doubt on the
veracity of Lake’s miracles, printed Truter’s mother’s account of events the day following
this healing. Mrs Truter was adamant that a faith healing had occurred, but Lake does not
seem to have been involved:
Yes, her daughter had been in terrible agony, and they had quite expected that she was ‘going
home’. But they had prayed, and the sick girl had prayed. ‘If the words of Jesus is true,’ the
girl had said, ‘I will get well.’ And shortly the crisis had passed, leaving the girl much bet-
ter ….My daughter’s wish’ [according to Mrs Van de Wall] has always been to ‘go home’.
But when she saw my grief today at the thought that she was leaving me she prayed for
herself. It was then that she recovered. It was a miracle.72
Even though an alternative version of events had been published in a newspaper, Lake
nevertheless persisted in using the story of Truter’s resurrection in his services and fund
raising campaigns. Lake also claimed to have, along with his protégé Elias Letwaba,
raised four people back to life on an expedition to the Waterberg in May/June 1909. These
and other miraculous healings were rst publicized in late 1909 on a fund-raising trip in
California that netted some $3000 in contributions (and were also testied to frequently
thereafter).73 A perfunctory ofcial investigation of these claims, launched due to the
skepticism of Lake and Letwaba’s landlord, could not verify any of the claims. Letwaba
insisted to ofcials that the resurrections had in fact occurred, although he conceded that
71. Lake’s diary entry, Johannesburg, 6 Dec. 1910, in Blake, Writings From Africa, 160-1. Lake’s
‘diary’ appears to have existed in part for him to invent various miracles and events that he
could use in sermons and publications.
72. ‘Choosing to Die: Spread of ‘Faith Healing’—Rand Girl’s Sad Story’, Rand Daily Mail 7 July
1909. Mrs v. d. Wall had testied at AFM gatherings to have “been cured instantaneously of
heart disease after eleven doctors had treated her unsuccessfully.” Her husband, meanwhile,
was Lake’s closest supporter, and was later accused of irregularities in court in sworn testimony,
‘Bother Among the Brethren: Apostolic Mission Squabble’, Rand Daily Mail 24 Nov. 1910.
Maggie Truter would appear to have been pressured to testify about her “resurrection” by Lake
and her parents—in the same manner that Lake and his family had provided false testimonies
for Dowie.
73. See ‘God Has Visited Africa’, The Apostolic Faith 11 (Nov./Dec. 1909).
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one of them had happened “twelve years earlier”.74 All these ‘resurrections’ would appear
to be very dubious.
A nal technique that Lake and his acolytes used in South Africa was the ‘precognition’
scam, which proved particularly successful in rural areas. An episode from May 1910 is
a good example:
They felt they should go to Basutoland….The day before they arrived the mother of a native
chief had a remarkable dream in which the Lord told her that the next day at 12 o’clock some
white men would come of a different religion from theirs, and that they were to receive them
in the name of the Lord and that through them the people would be greatly blessed. She went
around all over the Kraal and told the people in the morning what the Lord had shown her. Her
son was the chief and she also told him. The mother herself had a great internal tumor.
At 12 o’clock precisely, the brethren came, as the Lord had saith, and when they came
they found the whole Kraal in excitement of expectation awaiting them. The woman was
healed. The chief gave his heart to God….Brother Van Schele told me this morning that
so far as he was able to know the entire Kraal was saved.75
‘Precognition’ was thus a simple tactic that only required the assistance of a seemingly-
unrelated person to go ahead and make a prediction about the imminent arrival of
strangers with unusual powers. In this case, it was followed with the standard ‘tumor
extraction’ technique to apparently great effect.
Lake trained at least three inuential African preachers in this wide range of methods:
Edward Lion, Isaiah Shembe, and Elias Letwaba. The rst two formed the Zion Apostolic
Faith Mission and the Nazarite Churches respectively (the second and third largest Zionist
congregations), with Lion himself being the mentor of Engenas Lekganyane, founder of
the largest Zionist group, the Zion Christian Church.76 Letwaba, who remained in the
74. Transvaal Archives Depot SNA 472, NA 2441/10, Hook to Godley 29 July 1910. There are
sharply varying accounts of the AFM mission to the Waterberg. The Rand Daily Mail 7 July
1909 describes a asco, noting that three of the six person party had died of malaria. This
version is corroborated by Lake’s initial description of the trip, Condence 2, 8 (Aug. 1909):
185, in which he blames the mission’s failure on lack of funds and transport. The ofcial
enquiry also shows that few healings took place. Lake’s later published versions describe
a multitude of healings so amazing that Prime Minister Louis Botha was moved to send a
hundred ox-wagons to support the effort. See Ibid., and Lindsay, John G Lake, 35-6.
75. Blake, Writings From Africa, 92-3. Cf. ‘Tsa Maloti’, Leselinyane 9 Apr. 1910.
76. On Lion see Anderson, Bazalwane, 40-1; G. Haliburton, ‘Edward Lion of Lesotho’, Mohlomi
1 (1976): 64-70; C. Murray, ‘The Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit: Resistance and Abuse in
the Life of Solomon Lion’, Journal of Religion in Africa 29, 3 (1999): 341-86. Shembe’s ties
to the AFM are described in B. Morton, ‘Isaiah Shembe and the early Zionists: A Reappraisal’,
(unpublished ms, 2012).
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AFM fold, nevertheless was particularly inuential since he founded and ran the Patmos
Bible School for over twenty years. This was the only African-run seminary in South
Africa. ‘And so Letwaba as no other man carried on the great work started by John G
Lake in Africa. It is still going on today’.77
After a barnstorming rst year in South Africa, Lake began to be attacked by a number of
less prominent leaders. These accusations, from which Lake was eventually exonerated
by his hand-picked AFM leadership, led to the secession of many white Pentecostals
from the AFM.78 By the same token, they also allowed Lake to tighten his grip on the
organization. So although he successfully quashed his opponents, it appears that their
accusations bore considerable merit.
The major source of dissension was the arrival of new Pentecostal missionaries from
America and England. Lake and his party’s propaganda in Pentecostal publications
(always accompanied by desperate pleas for money) had made it appear that incredible
events were occurring in South Africa. The editor of Condence, who regularly published
Lake’s letters and solicited donations for him, noted that ‘in Africa the scenes and
salvation have been a repetition of the Book of Acts, only possibly on a larger scale. Whole
sections of the regions of Johannesburg and Pretoria, South Africa, accepted this Gospel
of the Kingdom, this original Gospel with signs following’.79 “Meanwhile, the leading
Pentecostal J. Roswell Flower, a fundraiser for Lake who had met him in Indianapolis,
wrote that ‘reports from the great revival in South Africa ll us with awe; there has been
nothing like it during all the gospel age for healings and miracles’.80 Unfortunately for
the newly-arrived missionaries, they found on arrival that the Pentecostal campaign was
far more mundane than had been portrayed. In the face of this disappointment, ‘very
disquieting reports’ began to make their way back to Europe and America about Lake.81
Although none of these many letters were published nor are still extant, the broad
nature of the accusations they made is clear. The major charge was that Lake was
misappropriating the AFM’s funds. Pentecostals in the United States and elsewhere
had donated considerable sums to the AFM, but only Lake and his party on the Rand
had access to cash. The AFM preachers and organizers in the rural areas, who led large
77. Lindsay, John G Lake, 52. See also W. Burton, When God Makes a Pastor (Clapham Park:
Victory Press, 1934).
78. See Burpeau, God’s Showman, 120-4
79. ‘The Pentecostal Movement’, Supplement to Condence 2, 6 (June 1909): 9.
80. Bridegroom’s Messenger 2, 33 (Mar. 1909): 1.
81. Condence 2, 9 (Sept. 1909): 21.
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African congregations, received little to no funding from Lake at all.82 Given Lake’s
penchant for deceit, along with the fact that he had his brother-in-law installed as AFM
treasurer, there are grounds for believing that Lake and his party made use of the vast
majority of available funding for their own benet.
Other accusations made against Lake were that he was acting dictatorially, and strove to
be ‘a second Dowie’. Furthermore, he had completely exaggerated the scope and nature of
the Pentecostal revival in South Africa to the international community. These allegations,
too, would appear to have merit. More disturbingly, there were also accusations that
Lake was actually a con man, ‘an untrue man’,83 who used occult powers in his activities.
His close friendships with spiritualist con men and his claimed communication with
his dead wife via séance created rumblings in AFM circles. His conduct with his young
ancé following his wife’s death also created problems. When his attempts at curing her
malaria through faith healing failed, he blamed her death on members of his congregation
who ‘had a bad spirit towards her’.84 He was also accused of conducting adulterous
relationships with women in his congregation.85 As Lake himself put it, ‘they say I am
possessed of a devil, that’s how people are saved and healed….They now openly say it
is the devil who heals’.86
If Lake’s handpicked AFM leadership exonerated him of all the accusations, nevertheless
he lost signicant support as a result. Practically all the international Pentecostal
newspapers stopped printing stories from him, and instead promoted the work of
other missionaries. Many white members left to join other new Pentecostal churches.
Meanwhile, Lake forced Hezmalhalch and Lehman out of the AFM. With his grip on the
organization stronger, he began to focus more on developing African preachers such as
Letwaba and Lion – both of whom would be central to the spread of ‘faith healing’ and
Zionist Christianity alike amongst Black South Africans.
Analysis of an array of secular and religious sources, much of it not used by religious
82. See ‘South Africa and Brother Lake’, Upper Room 2, 3 (Nov. 1910): 1; reprinted in Blake,
Writings From Africa, 131-5. For instance, P.L. Le Roux, the AFM’s most successful missionary,
was allotted £5 a month for his work in Wakkerstroom. Few others received anything. Lake
had been given $2200 in one large donation in 1909, and also raised $3000 in the United
States later. Most of this money came from George Studd of the Upper Room Mission in Los
Angeles, a branch of Azusa Street. This was in addition to local and international offerings.
83. See accusations of George Bowie in ‘Row in Rand Church’, Rand Daily Mail, 18 Nov. 1910,
and ‘Bother Among the Brethren: Apostolic Mission Squabble’, Rand Daily Mail, 24 Nov.
84. Ibid.
85. Blake, Writings From Africa, 166, 173.
86. Ibid, 173.
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historians before, makes it evident that John G Lake was a religious fraud. He used
deception to as a means to inveigle himself and his associates at the head of the South
African Pentecostal/Zionist enterprise. Once there he used a host of unsavory techniques
to attract converts. Moreover, he trained a number of associates to use these techniques
and further spread the movement. Zionism, then, started off as a ‘racket’. The late
Christopher Hitchens has eloquently stated about what we need to consider next: ‘this
story raises some very absorbing questions, concerning what happens when a plain racket
turns into a serious religion before our eyes.’87
87. C. Hitchens, God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything (New York: Twelve, 2009),
Barry Morton
Anderson, A. Bazalwane: African Pentecostals in South Africa (Pretoria: UNISA, 1992).
____. African Reformation: African Initiated Christianity in the 20th Century (Trenton,
N.J.: Africa World Press, 2001).
Becken, H-J. ‘Amanazarite History’, in I. Hexham and G.C. Oosthuizen, eds, The Story
of Isaiah Shembe Volume I: History and Traditions Centered on Ekuphakameni and
Mount Nhlangakazi. Translated by H-J. Becken (Lewiston: Edwin Mellen, 1994).
Blake, C., ed, John G. Lake’s Writings From Africa (Dallas: Xulon Press, 2005).
Burpeau, K. God’s Showman: A Historical Study of John G Lake and South Africa/
American Pentecostalism (Oslo: Reeks, 2004).
Burton, W. When God Makes a Pastor (Clapham Park: Victory Press, 1934).
Chandomba, L. The History of Apostolic Faith Mission and other Pentecostal Missions
in South Africa (Milton Keynes: AuthorHouse, 2007).
Comaroff, J. Body of Power, Spirit of Resistance: The Culture and History of a South
African People (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1985).
Cook, P.L. Zion City Illinois: Twentieth Century Utopia (Syracuse: Syracuse University
Press, 1996).
John G Lake: His Life, His Sermons, His Boldness of Faith (Ft Worth: Kenneth Copeland,
‘A Glorious Year’s Work For God and Zion in South Africa’, Leaves of Healing, 15 (July
1905): 481-94.
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... The sixth section will illustrate the implications of links between 1 John G Lake was born in 1870 and died in 1935. He was a Canadian-American who came to South Africa as a missionary to minister the gospel together with Thomas Hezmalhalch (Morton 2012). John G Lake was known for the ministry of divine healing and the performance of other miracles. ...
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Contrary to literature that recognises American missionaries John G Lake and Thomas Hezmalhalch as cofounders of the Apostolic Faith Mission (AFM) of South Africa, this article seeks to demonstrate the role played by the Black Zionist movement in preparing the foundation of the AFM of South Africa. This shall be done by demonstrating the role played by Wakkerstroom Congregation; the Central Tabernacle in Zion; the distinctiveness of the Black Zionist movement; and the distinct Black Zionist leaders in South Africa. I argue through the lens of decoloniality that there was already a group of Black Zionists fellowshipping at what is known as Wakkerstroom Congregation when John G Lake and Thomas Hezmalhalch arrived in South Africa. This congregation later gave birth to the AFM of South Africa in 1908 and other Zionist churches thereafter. The Black Zionist roots of the AFM discussed in this article have three implications. First, they suggest that the AFM is truly a Black and African church; hence, the church grows largely among Black people. Second, these roots are important for sustaining the growth of the AFM in the future. Last, the discussion challenges church historians to consider the Black Zionist roots when studying the foundation of the AFM.
Pentecostalism is a growing movement in world Christianity. However, the growth of Pentecostalism in South Africa has faced some challenges, including the abuse of religion by some prophets. This book first names these prophets and the churches they lead in South Africa, and then makes use of literary and media analysis to analyse the religious practices by the prophets in relation to cultism. Additionally, the book analyses the “celebrity cult” and how it helps promote the prophets in South Africa. The purpose of this book is threefold: First, to draw parallels between the abuse of religion and cultism. Second, to illustrate that it is cultic tendencies, including the celebrity cult, that has given rise to many prophets in South Africa. Last, to showcase that the challenge for many of these prophets is that the Pentecostal tradition is actually anti-cultism, and thus there is a need for them to rethink their cultic tendencies in order for them to be truly relevant in a South African context. Mookgo Solomon Kgatle is Associate Professor at the University of South Africa. He is a National Research Foundation (NRF) Y Rated researcher (2019-2024) in the area of African Pentecostalism, and is visiting scholar at the Centre for Pentecostal and Charismatic Studies-University of Birmingham (2020-2022).
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African Traditional Religion (ATR) represents a primal worldview that encapsulates a certain culturally-innate sense of the world of transcendence and involves belief in a sacramental ‘enchanted’ universe in which the physical is indicative of spiritual realities, in contrast to western Christianity, that to a certain extent abandoned belief in malevolent powers. The assumption is that Africans live in an ‘intentional world’ where nothing happens by chance; all events have spiritual causes. Negative events can be resisted by imprecatory prayers and curses. Sacred and secular realities are inseparable. For this reason, it is argued that pneumatic Christianity is close to the grain of African culture and its worldview resonates with the indigenous worldview. In this article, the African background of Pentecostal theology is investigated. By operating within a worldview that allows ample space for the invisible world determining what happens in the visible world, African Pentecostalism was endeared to Africans. For Africans, what happens on earth is directly interrelated with what happens in the dimension of the spiritual, agreeing with the cosmic principalities and powers that provide the mystical causality of a worldview found in the New Testament. The African Pentecostal narrative is concerned with the solution of personal and societal problems that is interpreted in terms of the African view of rulers, authorities, evil powers, cosmic powers, and spiritual forces in the heavenly realm that focuses on how the spirit world impinges on the visible world to hinder or foster human flourishing. Pentecostalism’s pneumatic spirituality is discussed from a critical theological perspective.
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The Assemblies of God (AOG) celebrates its centenary in 2017. The paper aims to show the historical development of theological education and ministerial training and formation in this denomination. It starts by showing how internationally AOG embraced the Bible Institute movement as a way of evangelism, church planting and growth from the early decades of the 20th century after the birth of the Pentecostal Movement. Then there is a South African scenario, lamenting the de-emphasis of the importance of theological education, though there was emphasis on evangelism and missional endeavours on the grassroots. The research unfolds the development of institutions from 1949 to the present. All in all, 10 institutions are identified and briefly explained, some of them with their demise. The article concludes by historical reflections on what was taught and identifies the gaps by suggesting that the Pentecostal curriculum should be relevant to the context of Africa by embracing inclusivity: Hidden Curriculum, Gender Studies, Inculturation and Liberation ideals and renaissance of pneumatology.
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Over the past twenty years, Pentecostal theologians have published extensively on hermeneutical issues, a subject that had not received much consideration before the mid-1990s. In their discussion of hermeneutical issues, Pentecostal theologians may create the impression that their hermeneutics is so unique that one can speak of a distinctive Pentecostal hermeneutics. This article raises the question as to whether it is possible and/or necessary to speak of such a distinctive hermeneutics. The growing debate among Pentecostals about hermeneutical issues demonstrates that they disagree on several important issues. They should also discount the difference between an academic hermeneutics and what happens on their pulpits and in their pews. Although there are specific identifiable emphases in a Pentecostal hermeneutics, it does not qualify to be called distinctive, and an ecumenical approach demands that the movement should function within the context of the wider Christian church and its history of reading and interpreting the Bible.
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This response to Marius Nel's 2016 article (in Studia Historiae Ecclesiasticae no. 42, 1, 62-85) uses primary source material to refute his claims that John G Lake, the initiator of Pentecostalism in southern Africa, was an upstanding man of God. A wide array of American and South African sources show that Lake invented an extensive but fictitious life story, while also creating a similarly dubious divine calling that obscured his involvement in gruesome killings in America. Once in South Africa, he used invented "miracles" to raise funds abroad for the Apostolic Faith Mission. Before long, he faced many accusations of duplicity from inside his own church.
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This article assesses the evaluation of John G. Lake, one of the founders of South African Pentecostalism, by some historians regarded as a fraud, con man and false prophet in terms of several elements of his life: his business concerns; his mission to Africa; ministry of Spirit baptism and divine healing; and some accusations made by Lake's co-workers. The conclusion is reached that there are valid points of criticism against Lake's ministry and concerns about his integrity, although it is also true that the specific historical evaluation is hampered by presuppositions that preclude any miracles and a seemingly preconceived notion of Lake as a fraud and scam, supported by an unbalanced utilisation and unfair treatment of resources.
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John G. Lake visited South Africa in 1908 as part of a missionary team with the aim to propagate the message of the baptism of the Holy Spirit as experienced at the Apostolic Faith Gospel Mission in 312 Azusa Street, Los Angeles under the leadership of William Seymour, son of African-American slaves. Lake's missionary endeavours that ended in 1913 established the Apostolic Faith Mission of South Africa and eventually also the African Pentecostal churches ('spiritual churches', 'Spirit-type churches', 'independent African Pentecostal churches' or 'prophet-healing churches') constituting the majority of so-called African Independent/Initiated/Instituted (or indigenous) churches (AICs). This article calls for remembering and commemorating Lake's theological legacy in South Africa in terms of these two groups of churches.
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The beginnings and first half-century of South African Pentecostalism are characterised by a tradition of anti-intellectualism consisting of a rejection of theological training, a critical and negative attitude towards theologians, and criticism of the academic world in general. This led to Pentecostals being seen as outsiders without a theological tradition or any contribution to be made to the theological world, or even any interest in developing and formulating a theological structure that can compare or contrast with other theological structures. The historical phenomenon of anti-intellectualism is described in terms of its complicated motivation and nature before the rise of Pentecostal theological scholarship is investigated in terms of its historical development and nature. The article closes with some remarks about the future of Pentecostal theological scholarship. Intradisciplinary and/or interdisciplinary implications: The article reflects a historical survey of attitudes within the South African Pentecostal churches towards academic endeavours and theological reflection, showing how it changed from anti-intellectualism toward a more positive attitude with certain reservations and allowing for the development of Pentecostal scholarship. For historical reasons South African tertiary education has been closed for Pentecostal scholarship, although the situation will be changing in the near future because of the Pentecostal influence.
This article argues that Zionist Christianity emerged in South Africa out of the peasant revolt that occurred in the Boer Republics during and after the South African War. Using the experiences of early Zionist leaders Daniel Nkonyane and Engenas Lekganyane, the article demonstrates the continuity of their theology with the ideology of the ‘Rebellion From Below’ first described by Jeremy Krikler. The early Zionists, like their predecessors, were primarily interested in recreating a world based on communal politics and land ownership – a world without rents, landlords, or white supervision.
Across Africa, Christianity is thriving in all shapes and sizes. But one particular strain of Christianity prospers more than most - Pentecostalism. Pentecostals believe that everyone can personally receive the gifts of the Holy Spirit, such as prophecy or the ability to speak in tongues. In Africa, this kind of faith, in which the supernatural is a daily presence, is sweeping the continent. Today, about 107 million Africans are Pentecostals - and the numbers continue to rise. This book reviews Pentecostalism in Africa. It shows the amazing diversity of the faith, which flourishes in many different forms in diverse local contexts. While most people believe that Pentecostalism was brought to Africa and imposed on its people by missionaries, the book argues emphatically that this is not the case. Throughout, the book demonstrates that African Pentecostalism is distinctly African in character, not imported from the West. With an even-handed approach, the book presents the religion's many functions in African life. Rather than shying away from controversial issues like the role of money and prosperity in the movement, it describes malpractice when it is observed. The book touches upon the movement's identity, the role of missionaries, media and popular culture, women, ethics, Islam, and immigration.
Popular Politics in the History of South Africa, 1400-1948 offers a newly inclusive vision of South Africa's past. Drawing largely from original sources, Paul Landau presents a history of the politics of the country's people, from the time of their early settlements in the elevated heartlands, through the colonial era, to the dawn of Apartheid. A practical tradition of mobilization, alliance, and amalgamation persisted, mutated, and occasionally vanished from view; it survived against the odds in several forms, in tribalisms, Christian assemblies, and other, seemingly hybrid movements; and it continues today. Landau treats southern Africa broadly, concentrating increasingly on the southern highveld and ultimately focusing on a transnational movement called the ‘Samuelites’. He shows how people's politics in South Africa were suppressed and transformed, but never entirely eliminated.
Scholarly study of Christian independency in southern Africa began with the publication of Bengt Sundkler's Bantu Prophets in 1948. A rich literature subsequently followed, much of it deploying his now classic typology of Ethiopian and Zionist Churches. Nevertheless, the historical study of independency has been limited. As one scholar has recently observed, historians have tended to focus on the Ethiopian-type churches, leaving the study of the Zionist-type to anthropologists and missiologists. The neglect of Zionist-type churches by historians meant that early studies on this form of Christianity were historically weak. Missiologists distorted the whole area of inquiry with theological concerns, at first raising the spectre of syncretistic heresy, and more recently making claims about indigenous authenticity. Anthropologists initially viewed independent churches as fascinating examples of cultural resilience. The movements were seen as sources of community, loyalty and security in the face of the atomising and anomic experience of urbanization; or as foci for ‘the process of modification and adaptation’ taking place throughout rural society. But anthropologists rarely paid attention to independency's origins. Where historians did engage with Zionist-type independency, they did so through the spectacles of nationalist historiography in order to demonstrate independency's supposed proto-nationalist character.
In this sophisticated study of power and resistance, Jean Comaroff analyzes the changing predicament of the Barolong boo Ratshidi, a people on the margins of the South African state. Like others on the fringes of the modern world system, the Tshidi struggle to construct a viable order of signs and practices through which they act upon the forces that engulf them. Their dissenting Churches of Zion have provided an effective medium for reconstructing a sense of history and identity, one that protests the terms of colonial and post-colonial society and culture.