The ministry of Jesus laid the foundation for the Church, Christ’s body on earth. The church is a living organism focused on exalting its Divine Head, Christ Himself. By leading sinners to be saved the church glorifies God, witnesses changed lives, and reconstructs whole societies. Above all else, God’s Missionary Church is one arm of the larger body of Christ.
It was the Great Commission that brought Bishop John Seybert into the beautiful, yet sparsely-populated Lykens Valley to establish Evangelical churches in the early 1800’s. Although these churches eventually regarded the high spiritual standards and sacred truth as outmoded, their legacy had undoubtedly paved the way for a later holiness work.On a warm spring day, May 30, 1931, two holiness preachers came into this valley, where they found a remnant of the church still desiring truth. Rev. William Straub and Rev. Daniel Dubendorf pitched a tent in a wooded lot belonging to Mr. Frank Wise. The Holy Spirit had clearly directed these men to this location, although that first meeting saw few results. The tent was removed and taken to Lavelle for a camp meeting. With no plans for the tent after this meeting, Truman Wise, a son of Mr. Frank Wise, implored the two men to return to the wooded lot. The men agreed and God began to pour out His Spirit on both saint and seeker. It was in this meeting that Truman Wise was converted.
Only eternity can measure the victories that have been won as a result of the obedience of those two preachers who pitched their tent in the Lykens Valley on that spring day so many years ago.
His conversion was not the only victory of that tent meeting, however, for George Straub, who had been saved in a tent meeting held earlier on his step-father’s farm, came to this meeting and was graciously sanctified. God was preparing both of these young men for the great work He had planned, for both were called to preach shortly thereafter. The holiness movement was blessed with seven preachers as a result of this meeting: Rev. Truman Wise, Rev. George I. Straub, Rev. Marlin Straub, Rev. Homer Hain, Rev. Marlin Hain, Rev. Harry Daniels, and Rev. Clarence Wert.These men had not imagined that through them a new church denomination was forth-coming. They had intended only to supplement existing denominations which were already established, not to supplant them. However, these men, with souls aflame, did not fit well into the formal churches in which they held membership.
The tent meeting continued until cold weather came. The tent was taken down, and they moved into the old United Brethren Church in Pillow, PA. Here services continued and the work grew. No real work of God has been without persecution, and this one was no exception. The electric wire, leading to the church, was often cut leaving them in total darkness. Tires were slashed, paint defaced, and even worse, sand was poured into the oil pans destroying the motors on those early automobiles. The children did not escape the assaults either, for they were persecuted in the schools. As was the case in the first century church, with this persecution came spiritual and numerical growth.
Men with souls afire could not long be satisfied with filling a post of duty, so they began to look for otherplaces of labor. God honored their enthusiasm by opening a door that no man could close. That door was near Beavertown, PA, in an empty school house where God favored them with a most unusual revival. The meeting was both prayerful and powerful, with the school house crowded every night. After seven weeks of revival, numbers had been saved and sanctified which caused unrest in the churches where they were either members or attending. This fire could not be quenched and it was not entirely appreciated, so these enthusiastic Christians banded together and rented the school house again with the desire to purchase it. Although their request to purchase it was not granted, John R. Zechman arranged for a lease, without remuneration, and later donated ground adjacent to the school house and they began to build. It took four months of hard work to finish the new building.
While Rev. Dubendorf was holding services at Beavertown, the work at Pillow was suffering some hardship and dissatisfaction. This increased to the point of division. Some of the people stayed with the church and pastor, but about one-half began to worship in the home of Brother Adam Bahner, the eldest man in the group and father of the largest family. It was at this time that the new group voted that Truman Wise and George Straub serve as their pastors. These men were former Sunday school teachers, but had no experience as preachers. God did not fail these two young converts. Rev. Wise was quoted as saying, “The day for our first sermon in the old church arrived; it was time for the message; we took our place on the pulpit amidst trembling voice and shaking knees; we read from the 25th chapter of Matthew and announced our text. The Holy Spirit impressed us to raise our hand which we did. It was like touching a live wire. Something struck us. We lost sight of the congregation and God spoke through us. The people wept and others shouted, and we were humbled until we hesitated to shake hands with the people at the conclusion of the service.”
“All we had was a songbook and a Bible.”
Soon it was necessary to locate a place of worship. After several months the old abandoned Evangelical Church was purchased for $900, repaired, and made ready for services. This building is still in use at Pillow.The great revival at Beavertown had a far-reaching effect. In 1934, Rev. Daniel Dubendorf and Brother Nelson Walter rented a vacated Presbyterian Church in Hartleton, about 30 miles north of Beavertown, and began a revival. This effort developed into a mighty revival. Many souls prayed through to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ, some were reclaimed, and others were sanctified. With insufficient means of travel, these people soon needed a church in their area. The present building was no longer available to them so they built a tabernacle-like structure in the little town of Millmont, PA.
A Denomination is Formed
Soon these three new churches were besieged by established denominations and it became apparent that something must be done to save these infant churches. Rev. Wise was quoted as saying that up to this time “We didn’t have a discipline. All we had was a songbook and a Bible.” After much earnest prayer it was felt that they must incorporate or lose their flocks, a condition that could become a spiritual disaster. A meeting was called, June 4, 1935, at the Caketown Chapel, Sunbury, PA, with representatives from the three churches present.
- From Pillow – William Gessner, James Troutman, John Troutman, Truman Wise, Mark Wise, Adam Bahner, Samuel Rothermol, Daniel Rebuck, George Straub, and Lemuel Dressler
- From Beavertown – Nelson Walter, John R. Zechman, John Walter, Luther Bailey, Nelson Kuhns, Carl Kuhns, John Hackenburg, and Daniel Dubendorf
- From Millmont – Clayton Kuhns, Phineas Libby, David Libby, Harry Sheesley, Lewis Boop, and Clarence Kulp.
From this group, Truman Wise was appointed to serve as chairman of the meeting.After prayer and much discussion four alternatives seem to have been presented, namely:
- Join the Pilgrim Holiness Church
- Become members of the Church of the Nazarene
- Join the Wesleyan Methodist Church
- Apply for a charter from the state and become another denomination.
It was decided, by common consent, that they should apply for a legal charter, and by motion this meeting adjourned.At a second meeting, June 11, 1935, it was agreed by all to pray earnestly to God in the Name of Jesus for a name suitable for the organization. After prayer several suggestions were offered. First, “God’s” name should be mentioned. Second, “Missionary” should be included. Third, “Workers” should also be included. By acclamation it was voted that the name should be “God’s Missionary Workers” which was accepted by unanimous consent. Within a short time, the name was revised to “God’s Missionary Church.”A “Board of Managers”, (now known as the General Board), was then elected. That first board consisted of William Gessner, John R. Zechman, Daniel Wise, John F. Walter, Phineas H. Libby, Clayton Kuhns, and Daniel Dubendorf.
At a meeting held June 14, 1935, the newly elected “Board of Managers” was organized and Rev. Daniel Dubendorf was elected to be the Field Manager, a position that was eventually renamed “General Superintendent” and is now titled “Conference President.” William Gessner was elected to be the secretary and John R. Zechman the treasurer. Clayton Kuhns, Phineas H. Libby, John Walter, and Daniel Wise were advisory members. It was further decided at this meeting to call for a general conference to be conducted the last week in December of that year. On the same day, another meeting was called at which time the newly-elected Field Manager asked for a vote to consider joining the Wesleyan Methodist Church of America. It was agreed that an investigation be made. However, while it could have been a possibility, it never was finalized and the work remained God’s Missionary Church.In September, 1935, it was decided to secure the services of Attorney M.J. Potter of Middleburg, PA, to file for incorporation under the laws of the state of Pennsylvania. Both Mr. Potter and Rev. Dubendorf were paid $10.00 for their work in this matter. This is the first recoded payment to the Field Manager for services rendered. At this meeting it was moved and seconded to give Rev. Dubendorf an Ordination Certificate and to grant a preacher’s license to Truman Wise, George Straub, Nelson Walter, Sister Ritter and Clayton Kuhns.At this meeting Rev. Dubendorf was again elected as Field Manager and Rev. Truman Wise was elected Assistant Field Manager. It was decided that the God’s Missionary Church would adopt the discipline of the Wesleyan Methodist Church.
God’s Missionary Church was not born on a Conference floor, in the midst of committee meetings, but in the secret chambers amidst travail and soul anguish.
Organization and Growth
The second annual Conference of the new Church was held on December 31, 1936. Rev. George Straub, who was pastoring at Millmont, PA, and Rev. Truman Wise, who was pastoring at Pillow, PA, gave a very encouraging report of the great tent meeting revival at Zerby, Centre County. This newly formed body of believers in Christ was granted membership, and became the fourth church in the Conference. At this conference, Rev. Truman Wise was elected Field Manager and Rev. Dubendorf became the assistant, who after 18 days resigned. Rev. Nelson Walter was appointed to fill the vacancy.
In 1938, George Straub was elected as Conference President. Under his leadership the Conference grew to include over 40 churches.
On December 31, 1938, the annual meeting was conducted in the God’s Missionary Church, at Pillow, PA. It was called to order by the Field Manager, Rev. Truman Wise, and proceeded with Scripture, prayer, and annual reports. A final decision was made to prepare a church discipline and to meet at Beavertown God’s Missionary Church for the next annual meeting. Up to this time, the number of licensed ministers totaled seven, namely: Rev. Truman Wise, Rev. George Straub, Rev. Homer Hain, Rev. Clayton Kuhns, Rev. Nelson Walter, Rev. Marlin Hain, and Rev. Charles Wolfgang.
At this meeting, Rev. George Straub was elected Field Manager and Rev. Homer Hain became the assistant. Rev. Straub served in this position for more than 40 years. Under his leadership the Conference grew to include over 40 churches.In 1939, a new project was undertaken. A plot of ground was purchased in the village of Penns Creek, where a tent meeting was conducted. Tent meetings were used to great advantage in the establishing of new churches. However, this one developed into an annual meeting known as the Penns Creek Camp. It also became the headquarters for the God’s Missionary Church, Inc. Today there is not only a large church camp there, but a Bible institute and Christian academy.In 1949 a second camp meeting was begun in Clinton County, PA, along Route 880 between Carroll and Rauchtown. The “Mount of Blessing Camp” was started by Rev. Joseph Hoffman and Mr. Edward Embick. From a humble, but blessed, beginning it has grown in spiritual and numerical strength.
A camp meeting was started in Orla Vista, FL, in 1971 to serve the churches of the Florida District. Thiscamp meeting now meets each January near Sun City, FL. The Hanover Fellowship Camp joined with God’s Missionary Church in 1972 and this beautiful camp grove also became the setting for Hanover Youth Camp which began in 1980. By 2007, the youth camp had outgrown the facilities in Hanover and was moved to the Penns Creek Campground. It was then renamed “God’s Missionary Youth Camp.”
Another “new venture of faith,” as it was called, was begun in May of 1949 with the launching of a church periodical titled the God’s Missionary Standard. The first editor was Rev. Thomas Frantz. That first edition proclaimed that the new publication would “cry out against sin and spiritual wickedness in high places.”Although the format has changed over the years, the God’s Missionary Standard continues to hold to its mission with uplifting articles as well as news about the conference. It is published five times each year.
With the increase in drug traffic and immorality in the public school system, the conference saw the value of Christian education and schools were opened in Penns Creek, PA; York, PA; Intercession City, FL; Mahaffey, PA; Spring Mills, PA; Steamburg, NY and Shamokin, PA. These schools operated successfully for many years until home schooling became legal and several of them were phased out. Penn View Christian Academy in Penns Creek, PA, and Otterbein Christian Academy in Mahaffey, PA, are still in operation today.
Seeing the need to train ministers and Christian workers, the conference also started Penn View Bible Institute in Penns Creek in 1966.
Missions has always been an integral part of the conference, with established works in Cuba (now based in Miami, FL) and Haiti which have been operated by the Department of World Missions. Here at home many new churches have been brought into existence through the efforts of the Department of Home Missions.
The summer of 1985 was a special time of celebration, honoring God’s Missionary Church’s 50th year. A history book was published and a commemorative service was held during Penns Creek Camp. The tabernacle was packed beyond capacity that warm Sunday afternoon as people gathered from far and near to reminisce and thank God for His faithfulness through the years. Those who shared in the event included Daniel Dubendorf, Truman Wise, Fred Watson, Russell Herr, Grace Peiffer (daughter of Adam Bahner), the Gessner Sisters and George Straub. Rev. Straub had faithfully led the conference for most of those 50 years, but God’s work for him would soon be over.
Just a few months later, Rev. Straub went home to be with the Lord on December, 16, 1985. The conference lost a hero and Heaven gained a saint. Flags at Penn View Bible Institute were lowered to half-staff and again the conference gathered, this time to honor the memory of a spiritual leader.
Although these were difficult days, God had prepared another to lead the conference. Rev. Paul F. Miller became the next General Superintendent. Rev. Miller, a man of great patience and calm demeanor, lived a consistent, godly life as he led the conference, did evangelistic work, and ministered to the many he came in contact with during these years.
In 1996, Rev. Harry Plank was elected to this position. Rev. Harry Plank faithfully led the conference through many troubled waters, traveling thousands of miles each year on conference business, attending board meetings, revivals, funerals, and much more. Bro. Plank was deeply loved and appreciated for his godly life and hallmark sense of humor.
In 2015, Rev. Jacob Martin took over as Conference President. His inspiring zeal for soul-winning and optimistic leadership has led the conference to expect a prosperous future in Kingdom-building.
God’s Missionary Church was built on a firm foundation of fervent prayer and impassioned devotion to God. Only eternity can measure the victories that have been won as a result of the obedience of those two preachers who pitched their tent in the Lykens Valley on that spring day so many years ago. May we ever strive, with that same fervency, to guard the torch and keep the flame of holiness alive for future generations.