John G. Lake(1870–1935)
By: Apostle Skhumbuzo Sangweni
John Graham Lake could be compared to Jacob, the biblical character and schemer. He was ordained in the Methodist Church after claiming to have graduated from a seminary that did not exist. Even so, his passionate desire to serve the Lord would, like Jacob, be changed to make him “a prince with God.”
Born in St. Marys, Ontario, Canada, Lake’s family moved to Michigan in 1886. As a young man, he moved to Chicago and worked in construction. After six years, he returned to Michigan where he claimed to have started several newspapers. He continued to work in construction, however, doing small contracting, flipping houses, and getting into the life insurance business. While only somewhat successful, he claimed to have become a millionaire, with many of the great magnates of the time as his business associates.
In 1893, Lake married Jennie Stevens. Together they had six children and adopted another. During this time, they attended Alexander Dowie’s services in Zion, Illinois, and Lake moved his family there in 1901.
Dowie had a remarkable healing gift, and many consider him to be the father of the modern healing movement. His healing services were so spectacular that the walls were covered with the crutches and wheelchairs of those who had been healed. Dowie’s critics accused him of planting people in the meetings that would claim healing. These claims were never proven, however, and authorities collected evidence of hundreds of healings and miracles in an attempt to prove their case. This turned out to be Dowie’s best vindication and advertising, resulting in the growth of his ministry and drawing people to the Christian community he had started in Zion, Illinois.
Even so, controversies surrounded Dowie, including financial mismanagement and abuse of authority. The worst of these was his claim to be the third coming of Elijah (the first being Elijah, the second being John the Baptist). Lake was in Zion during Dowie’s last years, and he witnessed firsthand the collapse of the community and movement Dowie founded. After seeing what pride and lack of transparency did to Dowie and the Zion community, Lake’s exaggerations about his business accomplishments became greatly tempered, if not stopped.
Dowie died in early 1907, and Charles Parham, a leader in the Pentecostal Movement, started a tent revival in Zion to attract Dowie’s followers. After attending Parham’s meetings, Lake was convinced by the Pentecostal Movement. He was baptized in the Holy Spirit and his testimony of speaking in tongues appeared in the local newspaper. He grew in spiritual stature as a leader of the remaining residents of Zion. However, Dowie’s movement continued to fracture through seemingly constant scandal. So Lake and Thomas Hezmalhalch, another leader from Azusa Street, left for Indianapolis.
In Indianapolis, Lake and Hezmalhalch raised money to begin a mission to South Africa. In 1908, Lake left for South Africa with his family. Just six months after arriving, his wife died. Lake was devastated, but it fueled his compassion for the sick and suffering.
Compassion is a great motivator of true spiritual authority. The next five years of Lake’s life could be considered the most successful by a missionary since the first apostles, or possibly the most successful of the 20th century. Lake spread the Pentecostal Movement throughout the southern continent of Africa. Miracles of biblical proportion became common, birthing hundreds of churches. To this day, many churches in Africa are still part of the movement founded by Lake, the Apostolic Faith Missions (AFM), or its offshoots. As recently as 2012, some have estimated that half of all Christians in Southern Africa are the direct result of John G. Lake’s missionary activity.
After five extraordinary years in Africa, Lake returned to the U.S. where he continued his evangelistic work for twenty years. Lake believed God’s compassion fueled healing power, and he would often pray for people until he felt the Lord’s compassion flow through him. In one account, he prayed for fourteen hours for an individual until he felt this compassion, and he said that he never felt this without the person being healed. This enduring prayer to seek God’s compassion for the sick led to the creation of “Healing Rooms.” At these Healing Rooms, the sick came and were prayed for as long as it took to be healed.
For a time, Lake led a church in Spokane, Washington and then moved to Portland, Oregon. While instrumental in planting other churches, he was devoted to starting Healing Rooms. They sprang up along the West Coast and eventually spread all the way to Houston, Texas.
Lake died in 1935, but the movements he began did not. To this day, Healing Rooms continue springing up around the world. There are now over two thousand in over fifty nations.
John G. Lake lived one of the greatest Christian lives of the 20th century. Millions not only heard about God’s love through him, they encountered God’s love through him as they were made whole.