The Beginnings of Nazarene Compassionate Ministries

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written by Brian Schaffer

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History of the Peniel Mission

The Peniel Mission was established in 1886 as the Los Angeles Mission and later became known as the Peniel Mission. Mr. and Mrs. T.P. Ferguson had been involved with inner-city work in Los Angeles for nearly ten years prior to founding the Peniel Mission. Before they were able to construct their first building, they occupied storerooms in various parts of the city which were used as meeting places. Before the new building they had difficulties coming up with enough money each month to pay rent. It was very challenging to keep the ministry going. However, the Lord was watching out for them, and sent G.B. Studd their way to help. G.B. Studd was an Englishman who had $40,000, and wanted to invest it in a mission that was reaching the inner-city. He became well-acquainted with the Peniel Mission, and decided to put his money into the mission’s work. With the donated funds they were able to construct a three-story brick building in a centralized place of the city. They were located at 227 South Main Street in downtown Los Angeles.

Bresee was one of the most well-known preachers in Los Angeles, so the Fergusons wanted to recruit him for their mission. In 1894, he joined the Peniel Mission, and began his work among the poor. Bresee’s vision of the Peniel Mission was to establish a “center of holy fire” which would eventually reach the whole city. He initiated a publication entitled “Peniel Herald”. In the first edition he wrote an article regarding the purpose behind the mission. Here is an excerpt: “Our first work is to try to reach the unchurched. The people from the homes and the street where the light from the churches does not reach, or penetrates but little. Especially to gather the poor to the cross, by bringing to bear upon them Christian sympathy and helpfulness… It is also our work to preach and teach the gospel of full salvation; to show forth the blessed privilege of believers in Jesus Christ, to be made holy and thus perfect in love”.

Bresee was very evangelistic in his leadership style, and this did not correlate with the strategy of the mission founders. Bresee believed the poor needed a church of their own, but the founders wanted to keep the focus of ministry on mission work. Bresee did not see eye to eye with the philosophy of the Fergusons. One of his areas of disagreement was in regards to the use of young women in rescue work, and the Ferguson’s growing interest in foreign missionary work. Not knowing all of the details behind his stance on these subjects it would appear that he had good reason. It may be that the young women could be susceptible to the deceitful ways of the evil men that frequented the mission. And in regards to supporting the idea of ramping up for foreign missions it would take the focus away from the mission’s objective. Apparently these ideas were floating around the Peniel Mission, and this eventually led to Bresee’s dismissal.

In 1895, Bresee traveled to the Midwest to hold some camp meetings, and then passed through Chicago to study the various missions that were serving the poor. While he was gone the founders of the Peniel Mission dismissed him. His friend, H.D. Brown, was with Phineas when he received the letter from the Peniel Mission. “He and Sister Bresee were staying on the camp grounds, and during the meeting he received a letter from the mission in Los Angeles, dismissing him from their employ without notice or ceremony. I shall never forget the sense of loss of opportunity, of sadness, or darkness in regard to the future, which seemed to settle upon him and Sister Bresee” (Brown, 1930).

In the Los Angeles Times, October 7, 1895, an article was written that tells the story of the Peniel Mission and gives a further picture of the departure of Bresee from the mission work. “A large number of Christians, who sympathized with the doctrine taught by Dr. Bresee, gathered to his support, and for the past year have sustained him in his work at the Peniel Mission. Mr. and Mrs. Ferguson are the owners of the mission, which occupies a large building of its own on South Main Street. They have acted conjointly with Dr. Bresee in conducting this place of worship, but the relations between the parties have become so strained as to result in the withdrawal of Dr. Bresee, who, with several hundred of his supporters, proposes to organize an entirely new denomination. Friends of the doctor claim that, while he was ostensibly in charge or joint charge of the mission, he was excluded from the councils which controlled the movements of the workers, and to use a current phrase, was ‘frozen out’ of the big hall”.

One year after Bresee’s departure the Peniel Mission moved into a storefront location in downtown Stockton, California, and began a rescue ministry, feeding the street people both physically and spiritually. Almost 60 years later, the Peniel Mission officially transitioned into the American inner-cities ministry of World Gospel Mission which headquarters in Marion, Indiana.

The influence of the Peniel Mission is still continuing in the community that surrounds Stockton, California. Until recently the Peniel Mission’s focus was on adults caught up in the addiction cycle, but in the last decade an emphasis has been placed on the children and youth of broken and hurting generations. The directors of the mission want to reach the children early in life, so as to reform them before they reach adulthood. In 1998, most of the missionaries that were affliliated with the Peniel Mission have switched to another inner-city ministry entitled CityTeam Ministries. Even though the name has changed they will continue to minister to some of the poorest neighborhoods that Bresee had a passion to reach.

The World Gospel Mission has over 300 missionaries serving six continents in more than 16 countries. Their ministry objective is similar to that of the World Mission division for the Church of the Nazarene. World Gospel Mission is involved in church planting, evangelism, discipleship, education, medical care, community health and development, agriculture, rescue missions, aviation, and literature distribution.

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