First General Council of the Assemblies of God USA
First General Council of the Assemblies of God USA

At the turn of the 20th century, the world witnessed a fresh outpouring of the Holy Spirit, in what came to be known as the“Pentecostal Revival”. Asuza street became the launching pad of a worldwide outpouring, from which the Assemblies of God emerged in 1914. The revival was characterized by Speaking in Tongues and the Gifts of the Spirit. But this was frowned on as heretical, by the other churches at that time. The Pentecostals found fellowship among each other.

With rapid growth, there was need for organization and accountability for a basis for fellowship, doctrinal stability and a need to coordinate the Missionary effort. This brought together, approximately 300 Founding Fathers and Mothers from diverse Pentecostal groups, in what became the first General Council of the Assemblies of God. This group met from the 2nd to the 12th of April 1914 at Hot Springs, Arkansas, USA. In 1916, the General Council approved the Statement of Fundamental Truths, which is the basis of fellowship even today, in the worldwide fellowship of the Assemblies of God.

William D. Grier, his wife and their children
William D. Grier, his wife and their children

A young missionary couple, William D. Grier and his wife, who had arrived in Ceylon the previous year and was serving in Kandy, were part of the founding group of the Assemblies of God. Thus their work in Ceylon commenced at the same time as the parent body in USA and as seen as the beginning of Assemblies of God work in Sri Lanka. The Griers’ work touched Colombo, Peradeniya and Nuwara Eliya. Little they realized, that the seeds they planted sacrificially in those early years, would bring an abundant harvest in the years to come. They left in 1917 handing their work over to Rev. George H. Doyle. Rev. Gryer’s ministry had touched a number of locals, among whom was J.J.B. De Silva a Baptist lay Preacher who received the baptism of the Holy Spirit. In 1924 his work with the Government Audit Department, took him to Jaffna where he found a good response to the gospel and founded the Assembly of God – Jaffna in 1927. He was the first Pentecostal Sri Lankan to establish a church in the country.

In 1922 Anna Lewini a Denish actress visited Ceylon on her way to India. She had found the Lord and had been filled in the Spirit in 1909 in Copenhagen. She held meetings at the Tower Hall in Borella and in the group that responded was another Baptist lay Preacher, John Samuel Wickramaratne, Rev. Colton Wickramaratne’s father, who had already received the Holy Spirit baptism in 1920. Anna Lewini was called by the Lord to return in 1923 to continue her work as a missionary and stayed for 25 years. Anna describing her goal of the Lord said, “I believe God wants this place as a center for the Pentecostal power.”

Anna Lewini with the congregation she established
Anna Lewini with the congregation she established

The congregation she established met at Glad Tidings Hall – Borella, and later Anna Lewini with Pastor J. H. Wickramaratne moved to Makewita, Ja-Ela. The church they planted there played a strategic role in the days to come. In 1924, Walter Clifford, who had served with the British Army was now ministering with the Assemblies of God in India, held a successful healing meeting in Ceylon. He returned in 1925 with his wife and official missionary appointment from the Assemblies of God – USA. Walter Clifford saw the church in Kandy as established by him. The Cliffords took charge of the work in Colombo, where the Colombo Gospel Tabernacle was built at Wellawatte in 1936.

Carl and Bertha Graves
Carl and Bertha Graves

Carl and Bertha Graves arrived in 1931 and in 1935 took over the work begun in Galle by Walter Clifford. They constructed the Galle church in 1936. The Ceylon Bible Institute was begun in 1937 at Galle, by Rev. Carl Graves and shifted to Melbourne Ave. Bambalapitya. The growing work in Ceylon called for more Missionary input, Rev. Alfred and Elizabeth Conston, Sis. Rosa Reineker, Sis. Kathryn Long, Sis. Palma Ramsborg were among those who served at this time. And this group grew significantly in a few years.

With many indigenous Ministers joining them, the work of the Assemblies of God gradually spread into the country and specially in the Hill Country. The work at this time functioned as part of the South India District of the Assemblies of God. However due to the growth of the work it was decided to grant the Assemblies of God of Ceylon an autonomy. In 1947 when the country was moving towards independence, the Assemblies of God of Ceylon was incorporated in the State Council under Ordinance 53. The Governor signed his ascent on the 2nd of July 1947. We have in 1987, 1997 and 2007 celebrated the 40th, the 50th and the 60th anniversary of our incorporation, with the participation of churches and congregations from all over the island.

Rev. Walter Clifford was the first Chairman and was succeeded by Rev. R. N. Asirwadam. Rev. Carl F. Graves, Rev. A.O. Speldewinde, Rev. W.J.G. Beling, Rev. Colton Wickramaratne, Rev. Michael Dissanayake, Rev. David Beling and currently Rev. Dishan Wickramaratne.

When the Missionaries were diverted into other fields and Rev. Cecil Good left in 1962, some felt that the momentum of growth would suffer. But God raised a strong national leadership to take Assemblies of God of Ceylon to greater heights. Churches were grouped into 8 regions in the mid 1980s and we have 11 regions with 140 churches 675 branches in 2010.