Dave Johnson, Led By The Spirit: The History of the American Assemblies of God Missionaries in the Philippines (Pasig City, Philippines: ICI Ministries, 2009), 676 pages, ISBN 9789715033145.
Over twenty years ago Gary B. McGee wrote a comprehensive survey of Assemblies of God (AG) missions, “This Gospel Shall Be Preached.” In it he called for others to follow with regional histories of the various AG fields of missionary service. That call is beginning to be answered. In 1997 Lawrence R. Larson wrote a history of AG work in Fiji that runs over 500 pages. In 2004 A. C. George published his study of the AG in India that runs to nearly 400 pages. Dave Johnson, missionary to the Philippines since 1997, has now given us a detailed history for AG work in the Philippines. We will address three questions about this work.
First, is this history told from the perspective of the “white” missionary to the neglect of the national ministers and church leaders? By focusing on the roles of western missionaries such work as we are reviewing here goes against the grain of current studies of world Christianity. Noted authors like Allan Anderson have stressed the need to tell the stories of gifted and anointed national workers who did much of the “heavy lifting” in establishing missions work; sadly most of their names are lost but much is being done to present “history from below.” But it is also true that the stories of western Pentecostal missionaries are also disappearing at an alarming rate as early generations of pioneer missionaries are gone and records of their life ministry disappear. So it is without shame to say that Dave Johnson has done a great service in preserving the 84-year history of AG missionaries going from the United States to the islands of the Philippines. Johnson’s work does in fact describe the roles and contribution of many Philippine pastors, evangelists, and church leaders.
Second, has Johnson “sanitized” the accounts of these missionaries without mention of their problems and failures? No, Johnson does not hesitate to narrate some of those defeats and failings as my personal knowledge of a few of those missionaries can verify: independent-spirited types, moral failures, and church splits are not glossed over. In any mission field where successful work has produced a national church there will be tension of personnel, administrative control, and mission strategy. For example in chapter nine this work narrates such a moment of tension between the AG Missionary Fellowship and the Philippines General Council of the AG that arose in the 1960s-1970s, reached a peak, and finally resolution.
Third, what resources have been used by the author of this history? Johnson has drawn on a comprehensive variety of sources: Pentecostal Evangel articles, AG missions publications, academic studies, minutes of American and Philippines national committees and councils, taped interviews, missionary newsletters, and emails from current and past AG missionaries.
The nature of Pentecostalism is the taking the message of Jesus to the nations. We can be grateful to Dave Johnson for preserving an important part of that story in the Pacific islands of the Philippines.
Find the book at: daveanddebbiejohnson.com
Reviewed by Malcolm R. Brubaker