THE BREAK OF DAY
The Life Story of William Sowders
Written by: Oneal Carman
Newly Typeset, Introduced,
and Edited by: Ted A. Roberts
Foreword by: John Paul Marlow
TABLE OF CONTENTS
(some chapters are available to read here;
clickable links are in BLUE color)
Foreword by John Paul Marlow
Chapter 2: Echoes from Elco Hill
Chapter 3: Portrayal of the Church
Chapter 4: Other Gems of Doctrine
Chapter 5: Sowders the Prophet
Chapter 6: The Break of Day
Epilogue, by Oneal Carman
Explanatory Note for Chapter 5
Short Biographies of Oneal Carman, John Paul Marlow, and Ted A. Roberts
Preface by Ted A. Roberts
I was raised on the stories of William Sowders by my father, Joe Ted Roberts (an evangelist and bible teacher for the Lord). So, in our home, brother Sowders was elevated to the height of a prophet and teacher no less authoritative than Martin Luther, William Tyndale, John Wesley, the Early Church Fathers, and etc. And, though such a claim today may seem ridiculous to most Christians in these trying times of ours, here in early 21st century America (about a hundred years after brother Sowders got started in his ministry), to truly learn of this man, however, should cause folks to actually agree with such an assessment themselves. Today, it seems more and more that we’re living during a time of false presentations and entertainment when it comes to in-service praise; the audience feeling as if they’re simply being entertained rather than participating in a wonderful life-changing salvation experience. Brother Sowders was instrumental in the directional change of such thin practices, but couldn’t stop all of Christendom from doing so. Such ideas, really, wasn’t his job, anyway – though his passion tried to sway the masses toward better ideas – but, his job was rather to deliver the Word of God in a deeper, richer way. And, that he did, as this book will presently show; for, to give a life story of this man has to certainly include his “new” doctrinal teachings, too – which has raised more than one eyebrow of curiosity during these hundred years. But, and even though I say “new,” I really don’t believe that’s accurate; for, it’s more of a “restoring” of what the early apostles were teaching in their day and time. And, though I would agree with some critics of William Sowders’ teachings, in that he didn’t have ALL truth (but, who really does? – for, even Oneal Carman [the original author of this present book] admits, in chapter 6 herein, that: “Some of his teachings resembled religions before him”), I do believe, however, that he was the only man, in the early 1900’s America, who was at least on the right track toward the truth – hence, he being known not only as “a” teacher, but rather as “THE” teacher: a man called to bring a richer Gospel teaching to 20th century America, and beyond. Doctrines, of which, folks such as myself are in continuance of its expansion. So, like many other ministers, I too began my building process on Sowders – who gave such foundational truths (amongst a host of others) as to whom the devil really is, and of what hell truly is. Truths that have been tossed back and forth in the Sowders movement, and its branches, for many years after he left us to join the Lord in the Heavenly Abode. But, say what you will, Brother Sowders did NOT believe in a physical, personal Being called the devil, as this present book will show – especially in chapter 2 (called: “Echoes from Elco Hill”), wherein he gets into a deep discussion on this topic with a certain “Reverend X” – a conversation which is the highlight of this small book, and of what some of the “old timers” still remember and speak on.
More and more today, I am seeing a drastic movement away from what this man had brought forward: “Let’s get more modern!” “We need new ideas!” “Brother Sowders is dead – and so are his teachings with him!” But, the proof is in the pudding; for, a lot of folks who say such things, and are of such opinions, are hard-pressed to explain the scriptures better than he. Again, the proof is in the pudding; let’s let the scriptures themselves (as Martin Luther used to say) be the final authority on all things doctrinal. The naysayers couldn’t stop him on the devil teaching back then, so they decided to strike at him after he did leave us to join Christ. But, that still doesn’t work either! Scriptures, my friends, must speak; and speak clearly. But, even with scriptures, if a great teacher doesn’t deliver their words in a precise manner (such as brother Sowders had a rare gift to do), then those who speak against him can and do win converts to their own ideas of what the Word of God perhaps says.
But, Sowders, as one should certainly find, is as fresh today as he was a hundred years ago – and, far from being over, many talented ministers still hold onto what’s solid and good from him. So, instead of digressing on what brother Sowders had initially taught us (at least his foundational teachings) – as many have done, and are still doing – we need to first elevate back to where he had left off so that we can finally go beyond, into even deeper truths, as he himself had prophesied would happen in the future; for, even he knew that there was more to be learned and gained – a job that we all should take upon ourselves to help keep this vision alive!
Though I did not write this book (which was actually done by Oneal Carman – “Truth for the Nations” – in the 1970’s – although, there’s no actual date typed inside the original booklet) – I am dedicating this newly typed, newly edited version of the original to Pastor John Paul Marlow of Bradenton Gospel Tabernacle, in Bradenton, Florida; for, he not only continues to keep William Sowders’ teachings alive himself, but was actually prophesied over (in either the late 1940’s or the very early 1950’s), by brother Sowders’ own hand, for him to take this Florida church under his wing. And, that he did. At the age of 90, brother Marlow is still preaching like a house-of-fire, just as a much younger, dedicated minister could do. Brother Marlow is not only keeping William Sowders’ memory alive, but is delivering the word based upon his old teachings on a weekly basis. Which, as I’ve said, aren’t really old, neither are new, but is the Word of God – which does not change from generation to generation.
Not only, but the old, yellow-cover booklet, the original copy of this small book, is very worn and nearly forgotten about (and, as far as I know, has never had a newer copy/version made of it). Both I and brother Marlow had agreed that it needed a fresh, new touch-up so that William Sowders can continue to be shown to future generations . . . Full credit for this work, however, is given on-over to Oneal Carman himself – the original author; and, it is to him, and to him alone, that I respectfully submit that credit; for, he had lived to see, witness, and to hear brother Sowders during his time (just as brother Marlow has as well!); and, though I am not personally affiliated with brother Carman, nor have even met him (though brother Marlow personally knew him), I am too happy to keep his original work alive; for, without my small contribution, this book, perhaps, would be completely forgotten about by the next generation of Christians coming up . . . But, and as to that, there will always be folks, such as myself – of whom God inspires – to make sure that such won’t happen.
On another note, I want to personally thank Pastor John Paul Marlow of Bradenton Gospel Tabernacle (BGT) for his participation of this book project; without whom this new project would not really work well; because, he was there when William Sowders was in full-force teaching, sitting under his ministry as a young man. Many times brother Marlow, from the pulpit (in our modern times), would affirm that he knew brother Sowders quite well, and is extremely familiar with his teachings – especially on the topic of the devil; for, in this modern world, a lot of teachers of the Word have veered heavily away from the course that brother Sowders had set on that subject. And, though that’s not the only thing that this book speaks on (that is, of brother Sowders’ teachings on whom the devil really is), it certainly is a heavy theme within nonetheless (again, an entire chapter is dedicated to it). Some rumors (even if they were well intentioned) have surfaced that William Sowders had a death-bed confession that he was wrong on whom the devil is, and that he finally saw him as a personal Being after-all, of whom is still plaguing mankind. By, again, reading the chapter herein dedicated to that topic, it should be easy to see that he certainly would have been totally out of his mind had he regressed from his original teachings on him, since the intelligence of his arguments, contrary to most accepted doctrinal outlooks, was displayed by him with absolute authority of scripture. Not only, but brother Marlow had assured me, in a personal conversation that I had with him, that such could not have been the case anyways (of such a horrid confession near the end of his life); for, not only was brother Marlow within the reach of William Sowders at that time, in 1952, but his own personal pastor, a certain brother Roberts (not a relation of my own – except for, perhaps, somewhere down the road of genealogy!), who was a close, personal friend of brother Sowders (a fellow minister of his – who also was with him at those ending days) would certainly have declared that that was so, since such a confession would have rocked the churches that this mighty man of God had established.
However, and as we should understand, such a teaching on the devil was just as controversial then (during Sowders’ heyday) as it still is today; and (as we’ll see in brother Marlow’s own wonderful Foreword, coming up next), his teaching on the devil was one of the two things that had led to brother Sowders having to move away from the Elco Campground. He, therefore, would have to have been absolutely solid on his own beliefs before boldly expounding the Bible as he had done. So, say I again, that we have the privilege of seeing herein what he really did believe concerning the devil, in that he’s not an actual, literal Being; but, rather, is a deep description of the foul, carnal nature of mankind – as also believes many followers of his teachings, including myself and brother Marlow.
A Word on This Updated Edition
Though I have newly typed and edited the old, yellow-cover booklet, I have not changed any of Oneal Carman’s intended words – even if I may have, here and there, changed or redirected some sentence structure, or chose a different word (synonyms, though!) than what was originally typed; it’s still, overall, the same words that he had initially given – all of which is another thing that both I and brother Marlow had agreed upon – a new, fresh editing – whereas the old version was in much need of it.
But, what I did do (and, of which, many people may or may not agree with – and, of which, I had chosen to do of my own accord) was to leave out Oneal Carman’s own personal, doctrinal views at the end of his original book. That is (and, in chapter 6 herein, called: “The Break of Day”), I have left-out a lot of its text intentionally . . . But, why? . . . The purpose of this book is to reintroduce William Sowders to a modern-day audience (his life story, his legacy), but not what another man’s doctrinal views were – even if he had, obviously, determined them as Sowder’s conclusive teachings. However, and even so (and, again, during chapter 6), brother Carman adamantly admits, that: “Most of what I am saying is laid upon the foundation of Sowders.” But, he didn’t say that “all” of what he says in chapter 6 is directly from brother Sowders. Therefore, Oneal Carman’s own teachings, though well intended, should only be considered secondary thoughts on Sowders’ life story and beliefs. So, at the end of the day, I felt inspired to keep this biography just as simple as possible, focusing directly on Sowders, and on his own teachings.
As far as any copyrights are concerned, with the original work, there was absolutely no information given in that area in the entire booklet. As far as I know, there is no such copyright – especially since there’s not even an original publication date given within. And, not only, but it wasn’t even professionally published at that time, either – it was just a simple “home-made” booklet – if I may so call it home-made! And, though a God-send, and a legacy for Oneal Carman himself, heretofore (again, as much as I can tell) this work has never been updated or published since. By actually professionally publishing this work now, it certainly is not my intention to either insult or to step-on the toes of Oneal Carman or his family, but to continue the work that he had originally intended with its first print-run. And, that was to send-out word concerning William Sowders – of whom the full attention of this work should go toward anyways! Not to myself, not to brother Marlow, not even to brother Carman, but to brother Sowders, and of what God had given him to do in the ministry all those years ago.
– Ted A. Roberts
The Original Introduction
by: Oneal Carman
2 Peter 1:19
We have also a more sure word of prophecy; whereunto ye do well that ye take heed, as unto a light that shineth in a dark place, until the day dawn, and the day star arise in your hearts.
It’s time that observation was paid, with due admiration, to one of the world’s great patriarchs of religion. In the course of history, during the early 20th century, there emerged one of the greatest spiritual teachers of all time. Luther’s reformation occurred in Germany, Wesley’s began in England, but in the midst of the mighty revival of spiritual outpouring in America, during the early 1900’s, there arose a wise and powerful teacher of the Gospel who introduced revolutionary, spiritual concepts with a bold and adventurous approach. All of these men: Luther; Wesley; Robinson; the Pilgrims; and Sowders were pointing to the break of a New Day, the Day of Christ, the 7th day of the week. The life of Sowders unfolds the greatest and most far-reaching chapters to occur since the Early Church of the apostles. This story has been withheld from the world long enough.
Just paying homage and honor to the name of Jesus was not enough for this young, inquisitive man of God. He wanted to explore into what Jesus taught – the mysteries of the Kingdom of Heaven. Just to be filled with the Spirit of God alone did not satisfy his soul, Will yearned to learn of its source, its operations, its purpose, and the secrets of its continuity. He, therefore, was given to spiritual progress, and made amazing advancements beyond Protestantism and nominal Pentecost.
The Early Life of a Called-Out Man
During the early years of the 20th century, a lonely young man, who had been called into the ministry of Christ, walked along the banks of the Ohio River in Illinois; lean and hungry, preaching by night, hunting food just to survive by day.
One day, as he walked by the riverside, not knowing from where or how his next meal would come, suddenly a man shouted to him, with great excitement: “The Ohio is full of pumpkins!”
The young, God-called minister shouted back: “Could I use your skiff?”
“You sure can,” the man replied.
The young man then took the skiff and gathered fourteen pumpkins as they floated down the river. Later, reminiscing about this, he said: “Those pumpkins looked like rubies and diamonds to me!” This young, spiritually-dedicated minister’s name was William Sowders. He was destined to accomplish a special work on the earth; a unique man of his times – he had actually heard from the glory world.
William Sowders, of German descent, was the son of Charles and Florence Meeky Sowders. Born in Louisville, Kentucky, September 13, 1879, young Will had served as a patrolman on the Louisville police force for several years. He also had worked as a boatbuilder and caulker. At a very young age, Will had become disgusted with life in a large city, and decided to get away by going down into southern Illinois, to a town called Olmstead. His intentions were to spend the rest of his life as a fisherman; but, the man who had enforced laws as a policeman was later to study the law of God; he who built boats was to board the mighty ship of Zion; a fisherman on the Ohio became a fisherman of men; a hunter of wild game became a hunter of souls for Christ Jesus.
Around the time that Will had moved to Olmstead, Illinois, there was a great, nation-wide revival underway with the outpouring of the Holy Ghost and the emergence of the Pentecostal movement. This Pentecostal Revival revolved around the central theme of receiving the Holy Ghost with the evidence of speaking in tongues, of divine healings, and the soon coming of Jesus Christ. In fact, they were saying Jesus could come any night. This was about the extent of their knowledge at that time. Many outstanding preachers were anointed by God during this great outpouring of the Spirit; and, to mention just a few, was A. J. Tomlinson of Tennessee; Charles F. Parham of Kansas; William Seymour of California; and, Bob Shelton of Illinois.
Bob Shelton had received the Baptism of the Holy Ghost in Bloomington, Illinois in 1909. After obtaining this exhilarating experience, Brother Bob – still pulsating with joy! – drove-up in front of the house of his brother and sister-in-law’s, Bye and Clara Shelton, in Olmstead. Brother Bob ran-up to the front porch and exclaimed, with Holy Fervor: “I’ve just received the same experience they received on the Day of Pentecost, according to Acts 2:4, with the evidence of speaking in other tongues!” So, shortly afterwards, Bye and Clara obtained the same experience.
Bob Shelton, Bye Shelton, and their wives – along with a few others – began having meetings in Bye’s home, on the riverbank at Olmstead. In those days, they had experienced powerful and miraculous outpourings of the Spirit of God; miracles occurred in their midst as they worshipped in simplicity, while letting God have His way in their assembling.
In their humble beginning, with Brother Aubrey and his wife, and Brother Knight, and others, they would come into the meeting not knowing what God was going to do from time to time. They were led by the Spirit, having nothing planned, nothing programmed; their worship was informal, simple, and un-ceremonial. It resembled the worship of the Early Church. It wasn’t just routine, of two or three songs, prayer requests, prayer, offerings, testimonial openings, sermons, altar calls and dismissal, but those meetings were adventurous and exciting – each not knowing what wonderful thing God would do next. Prophesies came forth, spiritual freedom prevailed, and divine tranquility filled each merry heart with joy unspeakable, full of glory.
During these meetings, while many were being converted to Christ and filled with the Holy Ghost, William Sowders, going up and down the river, had heard the sounds of singing and rejoicing reverberating from the little river-side house. Being moved by the sincerity of these strange but humble people, he felt a compelling force constraining him to attend their meeting. After attending several of them, he became deeply convicted, and had earnestly sought the Lord for the forgiveness of his sins – so great was his desire for the Lord that he actually lost all desire to hunt and fish.
Shortly afterward, in 1913, Will prayed for and received the Baptism of the Holy Ghost, according to Acts 2:4, under the ministry of Bob Shelton and George Aubrey on a boat at Paducah, Kentucky; for, this little group was actually holding their meetings on this boat, which they named the “Gospel Boat.”
One day, while working on this boat, young Will heard a voice from heaven in loud tones, saying: “Son, I want you to preach My Gospel!” He later recalled that the voice was so loud that it literally took the life out of his body, and had almost busted his eardrums. When he came to himself, he then felt strength come back into his body, and arose to his feet. Since a few people were already thinking that he was starting to lose his mind (over unconventional incidences such as this – even his own brother was thinking so!), he intended, this time, to keep this experience to himself; though he felt a powerful compulsion to holler-out, being so overwhelmed by this surprise, so he tried desperately to muffle the sounds welling up within him by placing a handkerchief over his mouth – all the while others were standing by observing Will’s strange actions with wonderment.
“Look at him!” one of the spectators said, with earnest. “Poor Will – he’s a goner! He had a good reputation, people liked him; but now, the poor fellow’s mind is gone!”
William, no longer able to contain the divine impulses that were penetrating to the core of his being – because of the voice of God that he had just heard – then began yelling-out loudly, into the river, at the very top of his voice. This was a shocking and unforgettable experience for the young river-man who had never even given a thought to the ministry.
About a year later, in one of those great, powerful meetings on the river, the Lord spoke to this called-out man to tell the people that he wanted to bless them that night. Reluctant to obey, he was unable to sing, as the Lord repeated the message. So, the Lord began to shake him, and kept shaking him until he went on over to Bob Shelton, telling him what the Lord had said.
“He didn’t tell me to tell it,” Brother Bob said to him. “You abide in the calling where God called you.”
So, Brother William, speaking up, had said: “Folks, I have a peculiar message. God chose me to tell you that He wants to bless you.”
“Well!” yelled out Brother George Aubrey. “Let’s go down and get it!”
So, they all began to sing:
“Showers of blessings, showers of blessings we need. Mercy drops round us are falling, but for showers we plead.”
Young William, fearing he would be a false prophet, was now in serious prayer. Finally, he had almost forgotten his apparent failure, when Brother Bob shut his eyes and put his foot out. This was his particular manifestation when the power of God would come upon him. With that, everyone was wondering what Brother Bob was going to do.
With this, the Lord again spoke to Brother Will, and said: “I am going to ordain you tonight to preach the Gospel.”
Being young, William didn’t even know what ordination was. But, then suddenly, Brother Bob began to move on over toward him, laid hands upon him, and with a thundering shout, said: “Son, this night thou art ordained to preach the everlasting Gospel of Jesus Christ!”
Later on, Brother William recalled: “Something fell on me, and I was a different man from then on. The Bible was a different book from then on. There was nothing for me to do then but to read the Bible. If I would go down to the river to talk to the men down there, the Lord would say to me: ‘You better go home and read your Bible!’”
Soon afterwards, Brother Will decided to go hunting; so, he crossed-over from Illinois into Kentucky; and, just as soon as he crossed, his knees locked! So, he said: “Lord, if you’ll unlock my knees, I won’t go hunting anymore.” Struggling to turn back, and just as soon as he crossed again into Illinois, his knees got better.
Brother Sowders studied the scriptures and communed with God, day and night, over a period of about two years before he actually launched his active ministry. Within this time, God began to reveal wisdom unto him, along with revolutionary concepts which were advanced beyond the Pentecostal movements of that time; his biblical interpretations were different than the ordinary trend of the religious world; and, God had given him a fresh, new approach for unlocking the hidden meanings of the Bible. He began to see that the Old Testament was a little “type” of the “spiritual” New Testament; that the Old Testament was the New Testament concealed, and the New Testament was the Old Testament revealed. He discovered that the Old Testament and the Law of Moses was symbolically the “moon,” and that the New Testament was the “sun.” Therefore, the Old Testament was merely a “reflection” of the sunlight. He was receiving one revelation after another; a man of progression; he was advancing beyond his colleagues. God was restoring to him the enlightened doctrines of the Early Church teachings which were lost during the long dark ages. He was moving beyond just a knowledge of the Holy Ghost and the second coming of Christ.
Not altogether aware of what was happening at the time, though, the young man, filled with joy over each new revelatory truth, could hardly wait to tell the other preachers, who gathered every morning at 9:00 AM for prayer. But, to his surprise, the older men were not so thrilled!
“Aw!” they thought. “He’s going into heresy! He’s going off the deep-end!”
So, they gave him a good rebuking; or, would exhort him to come-on back down to their level of thinking.
Heartbroken and disappointed, he said: “Lord, I’m not going to read the Bible anymore because I’m so different from these other preachers, and they are falling-out with me! They are turning against me.”
But, at this declaration, the Spirit of the Lord suddenly left him. So, as he was going back home, he prayed and cried, asking the Lord of why He had forsaken him. Of why he couldn’t feel His Spirit any longer.
Later on, during the night – not too much longer afterward – and, while standing outside in his backyard, the Lord said unto him, from directly out of the sky: “You won’t take the Word of God as I give it to you! You want to be like men.”
Stunned by these admonitions, from the Almighty Creator, he responded: “Lord, from now on, I will be exactly what you want me to be!” With that, he suddenly jumped up into the air, for the power of God had come upon him as mighty lightning from heaven. So, from that night on, William Sowders had held his head up and taught precisely what God in heaven had revealed unto him.
Brother Sowders, later looking back upon his early ministry, had said: “I tried and I wanted to associate myself with men. When I would go to a camp meeting, I could not find any place there for my feet. God kept me isolated from everything like that!”
Many had wanted Brother Sowders to come and bring his beliefs to their meetings, and lay them on the table in the Pentecostal world. But, he said that he just could not do it. On only one occasion did he mention even trying to attend other camp meetings of Pentecostal movements, and that was at the insistence of one Brother George Lawson. At 2:00 in the afternoon, at this particular meeting, William began to speak on David and his five smooth stones in his shepherd’s bag. He intended to explain the true meaning of that scripture as a “type” of something spiritual, as referring to the ministry; and, whilst doing so, he was surrounded by preachers. So, as he began speaking, he just started crying and couldn’t stop. He later recalls: “I would look at them, and when I would look at them, I would just weep and weep, until I actually had to back-up and sit down. There was something in me that was crying over those men like a child when its mother had died. They didn’t know their condition, and where they were heading; and, they wouldn’t listen. They won’t listen.”
Brother Sowders held his first meeting in Columbus, Kentucky, in the year 1914. He then came back to Paducah, Kentucky, speaking with the Holy Ghost sent down from heaven. In the beginning of his ministry, this fascinating man was caught-away in the Spirit three times. His soul actually left his body during these phenomenal experiences. Brother Sowders relates one of those experiences as follows:
“My wife and I were traveling through Kentucky, and we came to a place called Sand Ridge, where we spent the night at the home of the Butler family. We were all around in the living room, and when time came to go to bed, we all began to pray. We knelt down, just like little children, and began to pray. All at once, I felt myself going, and I couldn’t catch myself! The Lord took me away before I could close-in on it and hold myself, and away I went! It seemed like I went about a half a mile through space, and when I landed, it was the most beautiful ceiling that I ever saw. Where I landed, it was just like an amber light, just thick. Directly on the right side, I saw four or five objects, but I couldn’t tell who they were, just forms there. I was pressed-up against that ceiling. I drew my head up because I was pressed so tight against it.
“A second later, the Lord said: ‘The time has come for you to go into the ministry.’
“I said, ‘Lord, what about Bertha?’ That was my wife. ‘Bertha doesn’t want to go.’
“He said, ‘I will have her ready when I get you ready.’
“I didn’t say Amen or anything, only I was asking questions. I have been in heaven enough to know that there is no idle words in heaven. There is nothing going on up there but real things. I said, ‘Lord, what about my nets?’ I was a commercial fisherman.
“The Lord said, ‘Time is too short to bother with nets.’
“I thought, ‘alright, it is.’ I asked him several questions, and finally I asked about His coming. I said: ‘Lord, what about your coming? Are you coming?’ Etc., etc.
“He told me.
“I said, ‘Shall I tell that?’
“He said, ‘Tell no one.’
“And, I came down, down, and came back into my body. I knew when I entered into my body; I was cool, just felt comfortable. And, when I got down here into my body, I heard the audible words of the others down praying. I was actually more conscious of things when I was caught-out of my body, because I was in an atmosphere where there was so much life that actually it just seemed like you were just floating there, and so sensitive that everything you heard was just like a tune; like an instrument tuned-up. I have never had any desire to tell what the Lord told me about His coming to this day.
“Another experience, I went into a different place, and there I was in conversation with another person, not with Jesus, but another person. There I was talking about conditions.”
On another occasion, William Sowders recalls: “We used to carry women and men off to one side under the power of God. Those were wonderful, grand, powerful meetings. They didn’t take place in a church like this here today, but it was generally when we had meetings in homes. Many saw Jesus in those days. I was lying on my back one time after falling down on the floor, and Jesus came three times to me. He was so powerful that He took my breath; and, I would have died if He had stayed there. I couldn’t have stood it. Every time I would get to where it seemed my breath was cut-off entirely, He would leave and then come back again. I couldn’t get up. He was as beautiful a man as you ever looked at.”
On another evening, while the young Sowders and Bob Shelton were holding a meeting in Cairo, Illinois, a notable miracle occurred. Brother Shelton spoke in tongues in six or seven different languages; and, there was a Jewish man present, by the name of Mike Riesman, who had written down what Shelton spoke; that is, of the Hebrew language that he spoke, being one of the six or seven. And, the next day, at his store, Mr. Riesman told the people that he understood what that “Holy Roller” was saying. So, afterwards, he had more customers coming in asking if he truly understood what that preacher had said the other night. At which, he replied: “Yes.” Then he proceeded to read from his notes what Bob Shelton had said; to which, he replied, was the finest Hebrew that he had ever heard.
In those early meetings, people would rise up in the Spirit without a thought of a song, and open their mouths and begin to sing. This was the true operation of God’s Holy Spirit. The dynamic fourth-grade graduate, William Sowders, on many occasions, had spoken in tongues in the presence of foreign-born people being in the congregation, who would understand and witness what he was speaking. And, after a few years of these enriched and spiritually versatile meetings, in the home of Bye Shelton, and on the Gospel Boat, the small group had finally moved-up the hill to a church building in Olmstead.
In 1919, Brother Will, and a few others, began holding meetings in Anna, Illinois, in what became known as the “Old Potato House;” but, in 1920, Bob Shelton went to Jerusalem as a missionary worker, and didn’t return to the United States until about 1938. During his absence, God continued to reveal astounding truths to Brother Sowders, while also blessing him in many meetings with great successes. In the course of these meetings, hundreds were converted and filled with the Holy Ghost, while all manner of physical diseases were healed.
During those days, Brother George Aubrey was a prophet – anointed, even, to read the thoughts of an individual’s mind, and that which was upon their heart. But, the Lord was raising Brother Sowders up as a teacher in the final phase of this reformation. He was very sensitive in listening to the voice of the Spirit, and of being led by the Lord.
At one of these early meetings held by Brother Sowders, a few black people had attended. At this, a young woman in the congregation made a terrible remark that, because of this, she would never speak in tongues again! Shortly after this meeting, Will was helping to pack the tents when some people came running up the hill, while hollering: “Brother Sowders! Sister _____ fell, and something terrible is the matter with her! Come quick, she wants you!”
When Brother Sowders got there, he discovered that she had fallen while ironing; and, by now, they had put her in a bed. But, she couldn’t say a word; for, her tongue was completely paralyzed. She couldn’t even swallow. So, as the woman laid suffering, Brother Sowders got down on his knees and said: “My God, heal her now!”
The Lord spoke back to him, saying: “Come back again in three days.”
During that time, she was fed chicken and beef broth with a spoon; and after the three days were up, he again knelt at her bedside. This time the Lord had revealed to him the reason for her ailment – that she had said something that she should not have said; so, he immediately instructed her to repent in her heart. Therewith, the Spirit of God began to come upon her; and, within ten minutes of prayer, her tongue was loosened, and she started to speak in other tongues just as fast as a tongue could move! The woman was healed sound and well.
At another time, he went to pray for a young man who had a paralyzed tongue and couldn’t swallow. Will Sowders began to sing a song called: “Here I am, send me.” Then, after singing it for a bit, Brother Sowders said: “Son, when we say ‘Here I am, send me,’ you say it from your heart.”
Then, as they continued to sing, and as Brother Sowders later testified: “I could feel something coming; and, all at once I saw a white cloud fill the entire room, and it just looked like white cotton packed in that room. When we got down on our knees, I saw that white cloud whirling and go up in a funnel shape. That young man hollered: ‘Glory to God!’ His tongue was completely loosed.”
During the influenza pandemic of World War I, thousands of people had died throughout America. Doctors and nurses were trying to treat the contagion as they went into homes wearing masks over their faces to avoid becoming infected with it themselves. In those days, William Sowders went into homes without a mask, praying for the sick; and, as a result, dozens of men, women and children in southern Illinois were miraculously healed. The young preacher remarked that “there were as many as a family of five all ready to die, and they were healed in a split second. And, we sat down to eat beans, bacon and potatoes right then.” He himself was immune by the supernatural power of God, and was not infected with that flu germ . . . Tumors were dissolved; cancers fell away; and, many incurable diseases were healed. Yes, there were many miracles, healings, visions, and voices launching forth in this great man’s ministry.
In 1921, Will Sowders moved to Evansville, Indiana to pastor a church. It was there that he had begun his first Bible School. From this Bible School, under his leadership, young ministers were taught and sent-out to open churches throughout the country. It was there that he began the unique innovation of permitting people in the congregation to ask questions. For, during a meeting at the Evansville church, he couldn’t find a thing to talk on. So, he prayed: “Lord, what am I to do?” Answering, the Lord told him: “Tell them to ask a question.” This was the first time that he had ever done this. Certainly, this was unheard of in the church world of that day, actually giving people freedom to ask a minister a direct question in public. William therefore pronounced: “The Lord told me to let you ask questions.”
With this announcement, a prominent man rose to his feet. “Brother Sowders, I have been in your meetings since you have been here . . . Is it a fact that speaking in tongues is a Bible evidence of receiving the Holy Ghost and no other?”
Will Sowders replied: “Thank you for asking a question.” Then God inspired him with the Spirit of wisdom in answering. And, after he had finished, he asked: “Are you satisfied?”
The man answered: “Yes, I believe it.”
From then on, on every Sunday, questions were either written in or asked out-loud. These kinds of meetings were interesting, exciting, educational and edifying to the entire church. A great depth of understanding was developed in this order of teaching. Even the children were benefited as well as the adults. For this reason, Brother Sowders did not separate the children into isolated Sunday School classes; but, all the people – men, women, and children – ate from the same breakfast of truth.