At the turn of the 20th Century, William Seymour, a one-eyed pastor and son of slaves from the American South, started an unprecedented move of God, the greatest since biblical times. It was called The Azusa Street Revival because it took place in a rundown warehouse on Azusa Street in downtown Los Angeles from 1906 - 1909. There were those present that God would use to perform miracles of healing that the world had never before seen.
Over fifty years later, a 17 year old boy, on the run from the law and an abusive past in Oklahoma, would meet up with an elderly lady who had been part of this revival. She would change his life forever, exposing him to the God he never knew and to the power of God he could never forget. Because of his time spent with her and others who were a part of the revival, God would use him to trigger the next great outpouring of the Spirit of the 21st century.
"Though many others sought them, each of these people in my book believed that I was the one to whom God showed them to tell their stories, and, in the future, I would retell and publish these stories for future generations."
Tommy Welchel grew up in poverty in a welfare family. His alcoholic father was violently abusive and in and out of prison due to drunkenness and illegal activities. His mother was completely illiterate, but she knew Tommy was going to be in the ministry one day because, “…God had told her so…” when she became Spirit-filled. She took him, as a young child, to all the healing evangelist meetings of the ‘40’s and ‘50’s hoping that he would receive their anointing and impartation.
A rebellious teen, Tommy dropped out of school and eventually pursued a life of crime until he met Sister Goldie in Venice Beach, CA when he was 17 and on the run from the law. He became a Christian during his time with the Azusa Street saints. Tommy eventually earned his GED, and his professional career included security work. He was also a licensed Private Investigator. Now retired, his work is solely in ministry.
Michelle P. Griffith is an award-winning writer, producer and editor. She is the co-founder of Iron Image Media, a production company spanning a broad spectrum of work, including corporate media, broadcast commercials, theatrical movie trailers, documentaries and web series. ironimage.com
Michelle graduated from Loyola Marymount University with her undergraduate degree in Communications and continued her film education at USC and UCLA.
Growing up as a follower of Jesus, Michelle had never experienced the gospel with power until she joined a Spirit-filled church in 2009 and read Tommy Welchel’s first book on the Azusa Street Revival. She encountered God in a new and profound way through Tommy’s stories, changing her faith forever. Tommy and Michelle met shortly thereafter and began a friendship and working relationship, culminating in TRUE STORIES OF THE MIRACLES OF AZUSA STREET AND BEYOND, which is her first book.
Michelle’s other writing credits outside of Iron Image Media include freelance journalism. Her articles have been featured in regional and national publications. She is currently working on her first feature script. Michelle lives in Ventura County with her husband of many years, Marc, and their three children, whom they consider their most prized projects. She loves to bike and hike with her family and has sung in worship bands for several years. Michelle passionately pursues more of God in both her professional and private life.
Excerpt from: True Stories of the Miracles of Azusa Street and Beyond
"I kept the stories right here in my head where they had been for over forty years, until the Lord released me, and it was time to talk."
Mama would drag me to all the great revivals - tent revivals. I'm talking about Branham, Coe, Allen, and Roberts. I didn't know what was going on - she just wanted to punish me as far as I was concerned.
I asked her why she didn’t take any of my other 10 brothers and sisters. She said she took me because when she was pregnant with me, the Holy Ghost told her I was going to be a “preacher-man” someday. She took me to all those meetings because she wanted me to come under their anointing and receive impartation from these men. When I saw Branham in 1950, I was only 7 years old. I saw that halo thing on top of his head when he was in Houston. It looked like it was breathing! I was glad I was sitting way in the back. It scared the tullies out of me. I crawled under the pew and hugged the iron legs. That was one man I didn't want to get close to.
By the time I was fourteen, I stopped going to revivals. I knew about the Gospel, but I didn't want it at that time. We lost our farm, and that event exploded my world. I was used to the river and the ponds and the trees, horses, cows, pigs, chickens. We moved to the “big city” of Chichasha, Oklahoma, which had a population of 14,000 people. All I could take was my dog. That triggered my rebellious period.
I was sleeping in bar ditches, haylofts, bacon houses. I started stealing to eat. You better not leave your clothes out on the clothesline overnight. If you did, they became mine. If I could wear them, I did. If I couldn't, they went in the trash bin.
I was no longer afraid of Mama. In the past, if I got mean, she would say, "Alright, I'll talk to your Daddy." Well, I didn't want Daddy to talk to me because he had a razor strap that would cut the blood right out of me, and he would use it. That man was mean. But by fourteen, my daddy went to the state prison in McAllister - the revenuers caught him selling corn liquor.
By the time I was seventeen, I had been living on the streets for fourteen months and was a criminal wanted by the police for burglary. Society was pretty much fed up with my lawlessness and was ready to lock me up and, if possible, throw away the key.
An old friend of mine, Glen, came by and said, "Tommy, the police know who's been breaking into all those houses. The cops said, ‘We want Welchel! We're gonna get him off the streets.’ In fact, they have a warrant for your arrest, and they are gonna come by and get you.”
Tommy would run from the law, straight into the arms of God. God’s unlikely accomplices in His plan were two con artists – a guy named Teddy and Teddy’s grandmother.
Teddy and his grandma were from Venice Beach, and they wanted to go back to California ‘cause things were tough in Oklahoma. They invited me to go with them ‘cause I had a reputation as a good thief. I could be sitting there talking to you and leave with the stuff from your pockets in mine.
I didn't really want to go to California and leave Oklahoma, but Glen reminded me that it was either go to California or go to jail. I went to Grandma and Teddy and asked if the offer was still open. They said, "Yeah." I told them that I had two big boxes of loot that we needed to go and get early in the morning. The next morning, we got my stuff and went on the run.
When we got to Venice Beach, Teddy and I got into a fight over a girl. I whipped Teddy, but I didn't get the girl. Grandma said, "Look, I don't care. I like you, Tommy, but you can't stay here with you and Teddy fighting like this. You hurt him pretty bad!" So, I got kicked out - lost my place to stay AND the girl.
Penniless, homeless and hungry, Tommy was another stray on the Venice Beach strand. He had an Uncle Ed in Bakersfield, but he didn’t have any idea where Bakersfield was or how to reach him. As he sat there letting the California sand sift through his toes and wondering what to do, he had no idea of how his life was going to change in a matter of minutes.
Well, I'm sitting there with this long face, feeling sorry for myself, not knowing where to go or what to do when I saw these two old ladies walking down the boardwalk. I was sure they were looking for someone to witness to. They had those “glory buns” that sat on top of their heads. The higher the bun, the more glorious you were. I’d seen them in all those revival meetings my mother took me to. I can recall that when those women got to shaking by a touch of the Holy Ghost, the pound of bobby pins holding up those glory buns would start flying like machine gun fire! “Get under a pew!” I’d say. Take cover!
These two ladies came over and sat down, one on each side of me, and started talking to me. Now, I’m hungry and in my con mode, so I decide to play along with them, hoping they’ll give me money or something to eat. One of the ladies was the landlord at the apartment where Grandma and Teddy lived. The other lady, kind of small and dainty, was called Sister Goldie.
Sister Goldie did most of the talking while the landlord sat there and held my hand. That felt good - she reminded me of both of my grandmas. They were talking about the Lord, and Sister Goldie asked if I knew anything about Him. I said, "Yeah.” When they asked me if I wanted to pray the sinner's prayer, I thought to myself, "Man, you're here; you don't know anybody. What else are you gonna do?"
I said the prayer for these ladies because it was time to eat, and all 6’2” of me was hungry. At first, I really wasn't serious. But as soon as I said the prayer, it felt like someone turned on an oven inside of me. I began to cry!
I looked at them in astonishment. Somehow these two women broke through a wall that had been built up for years. Preaching to me never worked. I'd rebel, and you didn't want to get me mad. I was liable to hurt you. I told them that I was now a Christian. Sister Goldie replied, “Well, I know you are, son.”
Even though I began the prayer insincerely, God heard it. That day, that prayer changed me completely.
The love and kindness of these two women touched Tommy deeply. Learning he had nowhere to go, they brought Tommy back to the landlord’s apartment where he spent the night on the couch. The next day, Sister Goldie and Tommy took a long bus ride to Pisgah, a community where Sister Goldie had many friends and visited once a month.
Little did Tommy know that Sister Goldie, among others he was about to meet, had been at the Azusa Street Revival. In those tent meetings his mother took him to as a child, he had heard about Brother William Seymour and the famous revival that took place at 312 Azusa Street in downtown Los Angeles. All those meetings of his childhood were in preparation for the next six years of his life. Tommy would live at Pisgah among the “Azusa Street Saints,” as they were affectionately called, from 1960 – 1966. He not only lived in their midst, but he listened to them as they told him their stories.
Every month for that span of six years, Tommy would alternate visiting them and sit at their feet as a sign of respect. Finding out he loved chocolate chip cookies and cold milk, they would serve him these treats while they recounted treasured tales from Azusa Street.
I'm there about a month when Sister Laura Langtroff said, "Brother Tommy, you need the baptism of the Holy Ghost."
"You mean that tongue stuff?" I knew what it was. My mother had done it all the time. "Yes," she said. I didn't know if I wanted it or not.
She said, "Would you do me a favor if you're man enough?"
"What do you want?”
"Read the ninth chapter of Revelation and see if you want any of that to happen to you," she said.
Well, I read it. It scared me - things stinging me, giant things like giant scorpions, rocks falling on me but not killing me. The only people unbothered were the ones that had the name of God on their foreheads. So, I asked Laura, "How do I get the name of God on my forehead?" She said, "You've got it up there as soon as you start speaking in tongues."
I wanted God's name in my forehead. So, the next night, Dennis Bennett's first wife, Jean Stone, John and Joan Baker, and Brother (Pastor) and Sister Smith were teaching old-time Pentecostal songs. These people were what we called charismatics - Episcopalians, Presbyterians, Lutherans, Catholics - that had received the baptism but were staying in their churches. So, Baker asked me would I like to receive the baptism. I said, "You mean that tongue stuff?"
He said, "Yes."
I said, "Yeah!"
Well, I got it. I was really happy.
A month after my baptism, these Azusa Street people started coming around to me and saying, "Brother Tommy, we feel led of the Lord that you're the one."
I looked at Sister Carney. "The one what?"
"The one we're to tell our stories to."
I said, "I am a storyteller. I'm what you call a Keeper amongst the Cherokees. We keep the family history and can tell you what happened and when. I love stories.”
They said, "Our stories are about Azusa Street."
"Oh, Brother Seymour?" They said, "You know about him?"
I said, "Yeah, mama talked about him. Some of the healing evangelists would talk about the great Azusa Street Revival where miracles happened. “
I wasn't but 17 when I first started sitting and listening to these old Azusa Street saints. I heard their stories over and over, every month, for years until they died or until I left. I went to their apartments; most of them lived on the grounds of Pisgah, but a few lived elsewhere. I never grew tired of sitting with each person - sometimes up to a few hours - so I could hear these great saints share their memories of this incredible move of God and the miracles, signs, and wonders He performed through them when they were young at Azusa Street.
I had no idea how many people were wanting these saints to tell them their stories – Demo Shakarian, Tommy Hicks, David du Plessis – but, they wouldn’t tell them. They said, “God will bring the one we’re to tell our stories to.”
I was the one.
I kept the stories right here in my head where they had been for over forty years, until the Lord released me, and it was time to talk.