The year was 1910 and she was about to turn 20. Her husband, Robert, was a dream come true. Love at first sight just a few years ago. Barely two years into their marriage, Robert and Aimee were on a passenger ship, traveling from New York to China, for the missionary adventure of a lifetime. Shortly after their arrival in China, Robert and Aimee got into a fight with malaria, and Robert lost.
Now a widow, Aimee was alone in another world, pregnant with their first child, and questioning everything she knew to be true. Struggling with the loss of her husband and raising a child alone, Aimee wouldn’t be able to ignore the voice that led her and Robert to China in the first place. A call from God to preach the gospel to all the world.
That call to preach the gospel would take her to Los Angeles. Hollywood was in its infancy, radio and newspapers were the chatterboxes of culture, and Southern California was booming. Aimee had a knack for getting attention. Young, attractive, articulate and wildly imaginative, she built a temple that would host tens of thousands of people every week. She pioneered illustrated sermons, using local Hollywood talent to build sets and act out dramatic Bible stories. Aimee published a magazine to communicate with her enormous audience of supporters. She started a radio station that would be heard thousands of miles away. Her life, for better and worse, would make headlines throughout the country.
Aimee died in 1944 from a ruptured kidney tube at the age of 53. It was a sudden death to a life that had plenty more to live. Fortunately, her legacy continues today through the Foursquare denomination of churches. Foursquare is nearly 10 million people throughout 140 countries in 7,000 churches and meeting places.
While the above preamble is a flash in the pan with regard to Aimee’s incredible life story and the influence she had on generations of gospel communicators, three lessons ricochet for me today:
1. Don’t let insecurities get in the way
Imagine being a woman in a society that didn’t see much more in a woman than house-bound homework. Aimee was 30 years old before women could vote in the U.S. She came from a no-name family in Canada and, after her husband died, she struggled to understand how God could use someone like her to preach the gospel. No longer able to hide behind the oratorical skills of her evangelist husband, Aimee had to confront her insecurities and overcome the demons that antagonize all of us when they say “You can’t do it. You’re too slow, ignorant and unimportant.”
2. Go to where the people are
Before Aimee built Angelus Temple in Los Angeles, she traveled the U.S. in a “Gospel Car,” preaching the good news to anyone who would listen. She visited brothels and bars because that’s where the people were. Not only were women drawn to her message, minorities flocked to hear Aimee because they identified with the plight of those treated unequally. Once Aimee arrived in Los Angeles, it was clear that it was a city on the brink of a population explosion. Aimee planted herself in a city that she knew would be a crossroads for influencers. Angelus Temple would be a place to come and learn about the good news, seek Good’s total healing, and take that new life back to communities, cities and countries.
3. Get people closer to Jesus
In addition to her elaborate theatrical presentations at Angelus Temple, Aimee was one of the first women to own a radio license and, just before she died, one of the first women to file a broadcast license for television. Yet it was more than using the latest media tools, she was intent on making sure that Jesus was the main attraction, not Aimee. One person remarked that after coming to hear Aimee preach, they left feeling like they were closer to Jesus, and wanted to keep getting closer.
Want to learn more about Aimee Semple McPherson?
The best biography is Sister Aimee: The Life of Aimee Semple McPherson by Daniel Mark Epstein. The story of her life was recently turned into a Broadway musical, “Scandalous: The Life and Trials of Aimee Semple McPherson.” You can also visit the parsonage where she used to live and Angelus Temple, the evangelistic center she built (now the LA Dream Center). Learn more from Foursquare. (Full disclosure: I have worked with and consulted Foursquare for many years.)