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Abrams, Minnie Florence, (1859 - 1912)

Mark Hutchinson

Southern Cross College

Abrams, Minnie F., (1859 - 2 Dec. 1912), missionary to India, author.

Abrams, Minnie Florence, (1859, Lawrenceville, WI, USA - 2 Dec. 1912, India), missionary, author.

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Born to a fervently religious farming family in Wisconsin (her father, Frankin was a Methodist lay preacher and sometime itinerant evangelist, her mother Julia a volunteer with the WCTU), Minnie grew up in Mapleton, Minnesota. At a United Brethren in Christ Church she both expressed conversion and a call to missions while still under ten years of age. Between 1878-1882 Abrams attended Mankato Normal School to train as a high school teacher, where she showed aptitude in Mathematics and Science. While there she attended a Methodist Episcopal congregation, in which denomination she would continue as she moved to teaching positions in Owatonna and then Minneapolis (1884), where she joined the the Women's Foreign Missionary Society of the Methodist Episcopal Church. Desiring to fulfil her calling to missions in India, but lacking the funds, she applied for a scholarship to enroll in Lucy Rider Meyer's Chicago Training School City, Home and Foreign Missions. Though this was not forthcoming, funding was arranged from a donor in Oak Park, Illinois. Consequently, from 1885 she came under the teaching of missionary promoters such as the eschatologically-oriented William E. Blackstone.

Commissioned as a 'deaconness missionary' of the Chicago branch of the WFMS, Minnie Abrams left Minnesota to work with Sara DeLine at a Christian girls school in Bombay in 1887. Later, as Abrams learned Marathi, an orphanage, a boarding school, two more day schools, and evangelistic visiting and preaching programs were added. The work took its toll, Abrams returning on furlough to the USA to rest in 1892. She returned 16 months later, but continued to be exercised by the relative lack of impact on the lives of the millions who lived in the city. In 1895 Abrams was appointed as conference evangelist for the Poona area of the Methodist Episcopal Bombay Conference, involving her in full-time evangelism and preaching even before she testified to receiving the key Wesleyan experience of sanctification in 1896. In 1897, according to some sources, Abrams received an invitation from Pandita Ramabai to serve as a Bible Teacher alongside other Western and Indian workers at the Mukti Mission which she was about to establish in Kedgaon. Rachel Nalder, Mukti's American representative, portrayed the story in a far more spiritual light when she wrote:

[Ramabail wanted a woman who would come and be her Bible teacher, one who understood the scriptures thoroughly, and He called out Minnie F. Abrams.... She came to Ramabai and said, 'Ramabai, God distinctly said to me, 'Go to Mukti, and I do not know what it means, but I had to come.' Ramabai said, 'Praise God, we have prayed for you for seven years.'" (quoted in McGee 2002, p. 91)

At the time she was a Methodist missionary who did not yet believe in either the Baptism in the Spirit or in Faith Missions. Her time with Ramabai would change both:

"God had a way of subduing me and He did it," she later recounted, and when I was subdued I found myself a faith missionary, working under an East Indian woman, Pandita Ramabai. who was also living by faith. (quoted in McGee 2002, p. 92)

In 1902, she was sent with Ramabai's daughter to investigate reports of an Australian revival in the wake of the 1902 Torrey-Alexander mission.

Ramabai had significant reputation among Australian evangelicals, who were much involved in missions to India. It is also clear that both Ramabai and later Abrams saw Australia as a subsidiary, but still important, source of financial and human resources. Through the 1880s, she also became of increasing interest to progressive elements in Australia, Australian newspapers publishing accounts of her involvement in women’s rights and education (particularly in relation to her book The High Caste Hindu Woman), referring to her success in the USA, and promoting her fund raising efforts in response to famine and ‘child wives’ reform efforts. Manoramabai and Abrams arrived in Adelaide, on the Ophir, on Monday 22 September, and used Ramabai’s high standing in WCTU and YWCA circles to arrange meetings around Australia. The cream of the Evangelical establishment opened doors for them, and directed funding towards the Mukti Mission. In Adelaide, they stayed with Lady Holder at “Wavertree”, wife of the recent Premier and new Federal MP, Sir Frederick Holder, and spoke at the inaugural meeting of the National Council of Women (Advertiser, 25 Sept 1902, p. 7). On 11 October, they arrived in Melbourne by train. Manoramabai spoke at the 15th anniversary of the WCTU in the Melbourne Town Hall (27 October), going on to speak in churches and YMCA events in Tasmania (where they spoke to the WCTU, YWCA and Baptist Union, 17-18 April, 1903) and New South Wales (where they addressed the YWCA on 7 May, 1903). Ramabai’s work maintained high profile in Australia thereafter, to the extent of a branch of the Mukti mission being established in Melbourne.

Both Chant, and by reflection Kay, make a direct connection between the 1902 Melbourne revival, and the prayer meetings were held in Mukti from 1905, resulting in the 1906 pentecostal revival in that place in which Abrams herself was baptised in the Spirit, then recognising that her 1896 experience had been an enduement of power, but not the biblical 'Baptism with Fire'. Remarkable pentecostal manifestations were evinced, with hundreds baptised in the spirit, fire seen to be falling on girls homes etc. Reinforcing its role as a location of sending for bands of bible women to surrounding areas, Mukti became also a centre for pilgrimage from other locations, from which an indigenized pentecostalism spread.

'The importance of the date [notes William Kay] is that it occurs at the same time as the outpouring of the Holy Spirit in Los Angeles. In other words, it cannot be argued [though Robeck does just this] that the Azusa Street revival was a cause of the revival in India. The two events occurred in parallel, both related to the Welsh revival as well as other revivals taking place earlier in the century. [Kay, 2009, p. 69]

In all of this Abrams, as bible teacher and promoter, and as international correspondent and traveller, was central. The Mukti story, in turn, was taken back to Australia, where it encouraged people at the Eltham conference ground prayer meetings in 1910 to seek for a deeper Christian life, resulting in a number of people (who would later join pentecostal congregations) being baptised in the Spirit, including a Miss Fraser, Ada Painter, Maudy Rabley, and Jessie Ferguson.

As a mobile, fervent early missionary convert to pentecostalism, Abrams was an important figure in spreading the expectation of revival, and in connecting the various centres of revivalistic activity. She corresponded with, and sent a copy of her book The Baptism of the Holy Ghost and Fire (1906) to Mary, the wife of Methodist Episcopal missionary, educator and evangelist in Chile Willis C. Hoover. The Hoovers would in turn play an important role in the development of an indigenous Chilean pentecostal church (Sepulveda, 41). She had known Mary Hilton Hoover while training together in Chicago, and by this contact McGee suggests that she "significantly influenced the beginnings of the Pentecostal movement in that country." (Dempster, p.210) Her book (which was serialised in the Bombay Guardian and the Indian Witness) was essentially the first theological defence of Spirit baptism as it was understood in a pentecostal sense. McGee calls her the 'second' missiologist of modern pentecostalism, after Parham, as her Baptism emphasised the Methodist roots of baptism as an outflow of missionary love, holiness and zeal, rather than as a source of languages for use in the mission field, or as marked by initial evidence. If this is so, we can only say that pentecostal missiology was on a marked arc upwards, as Abrams' embodiment of racial egalitarianism as an 'Associate to Pandita Ramabai', so inverting the normal power structures in missionary relationships, was as much a contribution as her writing. (Case, p. 239) As she wrote to Alexander Boddy in 1908,

All may and should receive this sign [of tongues speech], yet we dare not say that no one is Spirit-baptized who has not received this sign. Yet we see the same gifts and graces and power for service in those who hold these different beliefs, and, so far as I know, wc arc as yet working in love and unity for the spread of this mighty work of the Holy Spirit. (in Bergunder 2010, p. 63, emphasis mine)

Abrams was a trailblazer in terms of pentecostal concern for 'unreached peoples', and attained a 'prominence in wider mission circles unique among most Pentecostal missionaries.' (McGee in Dempster, p.217) In 1909 she travelled to visit Carrie Judd Montgomery in Oakland, California, and Elmer K. Fisher's Upper Room Mission in Los Angeles in 1910. In 1910, she led a party of seven single women missionaries, including Edith Baugh from Zion City, Illinois, to evangelize in the United Provinces, Fyzabad, and Bahraich. She died from malaria in 1912, as the Lord had told her she would, two years to the day after she had returned to India.

Mark Hutchinson


References

For a longer entry, see NIDPCM.

Anderson, Allan, 'The Significance of pentecostalism to Mission,' in Corrie, John Corrie and Cathie Ross (ed), Mission in Context, Farnham, Surrey, England; Burlington, VT: Ashgate, 2012, p. 233.

Bergunder, M., 'The Cultural Turn', in Anderson, Allan, et. al. (eds), Studying Global Pentecostalism: Theory and Methods, Berkeley: University of California Press, 2010.

Burgess, S. M. and G. McGee, 'Abrams, Minnie F.', Dictionary of Pentecostal and Charismatic Movements

Case, J. Riley, An Unpredictable Gospel: American Evangelicals and World Christianity, 181-1920, Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, 2012.

Chant, B., Heart of Fire, p.30.

Jones, E., Guide to the Study of the Pentecostal Movement, several references.

Dempster, M.A., et al. (eds), Called and Empowered: Global Mission in Pentecostal Perspective, Hendrickson, 1991, pp. 70, 205, 216, 220

McGee, Gary F., 'Minnie F. Abrams: Another Context, Another Founder', in Goff, James, and Grant Wacker (eds), Portraits of a Generation: early Pentecostal Leaders, Little Rock: University of Arkansas Press, 2002

'Minnie F. Abrams of India', Missionary Review of the World, Feb. 1913, 156.

Sepulveda, Juan, 'Another Way of Being Pentecostal', in Calvin Smith (ed), Pentecostal Power: Expressions, Impact and Faith of Latin American pentecostalism, Leiden: Brill, 2011.


This article is © to the Australian Dictionary of Pentecostal and Charismatic Movements, and the Author, 2002. All rights reserved.