Cleveland, TN–Dr. Peter A. Thomas was recently presented with the Spirit of Azusa Award, a recognition from the Dixon Pentecostal Research Center. The award presentation and a reception in Thomas’s honor was part of the Seventeenth Annual Azusa Lecture held in the Lee University Chapel on November 10.
According to Pentecostal Research Center Director Dr. David Roebuck, both the award presentation and the lecture highlighted the intercultural nature of the Church of God’s global ministry.
Before he had a life-changing encounter with Jesus in August 1972, Peter Thomas describes himself as living “a life of drugs and addiction during the time of the Hippie movement.” After his salvation, he enrolled in European Bible Seminary, where he experienced a call of God to missions. At EBS, he also met and married Debbie Breiler. She had grown up in a family won to the Lord by Church of God missionary Herman Lauster and had been called to be a missionary at age 10. She trained to be a midwife, a ministry greatly needed in Africa.
In presenting the award Roebuck stated that Peter and Debbie Thomas arrived in Ghana, West Africa, on a container ship in April 1979, and have remained committed to ministry in Africa for more than 43 years. His early ministry was teaching at Ghana Bible Institute and pastoring a church in Kumasi that met for a time in a wooden makeshift shed. Along with pastoring, he served as interim national overseer until enrolling in Pentecostal Theological Seminary in Cleveland, Tennessee. He went on to complete three degrees at PTS: Master of Arts, Master of Divinity, and Doctor of Ministry.
The Thomas family returned to Africa in 1986, this time to Zimbabwe where Peter served for 21 years first as a regional Christian education coordinator and then as Christian education director for the continent. The family later moved to Nairobi, Kenya. They are currently based in Lusaka, Zambia.
Having taught in Ghana and served as Christian Education coordinator in Africa, the Church of God Division of Education presented Thomas with their Distinguished Educator Award in 2004.
From 2006 to 2008, Thomas had the added responsibility of regional superintendent for Central Africa. In 2008, Church of God World Missions appointed him as field director, and he continues to serve in that responsibility. Also in 2008, Thomas became director of World Wide Help Africa.
Roebuck observed in the award presentation that Thomas’s leadership in Africa has focused on collaborative team building, the practical training of ministers, sustainability projects, and on reaching new fields with the gospel.
“He has worked to build unity and connectiveness across the continent of Africa with continent-wide meetings and unified policies,” Roebuck said. “Passionate about developing ministers to be more effective in Kingdom service, he partnered with European Bible Seminary to develop the Training of Teachers program that has been used throughout sub-Saharan Africa. He has encouraged ministerial credentialing and advancement including masters and doctoral educational partnerships.”
Thomas has promoted the development of field, national, and local sustainability projects with the goals of self-sufficiency for ministries and “ownership” of the vision and mission. One success is the Leopards Hill Conference Centre in Zambia built in partnership with the Church of God in Germany. The Conference Centre provides a location for large meetings and a revenue stream for ministry.
Thomas also has strived to develop new fields of ministry. He has especially emphasized the Sahel region which stretches across the northern part of Africa. This area became the focus of the Church of God Firewall Project and then Cities of Light. His emphasis in Southern Africa has led to rapid growth through widespread church planting.
Roebuck concluded, “Truly God has prospered the lifetime of ministry that Peter and Debbie Thomas have given to their adoptive home of Africa.”
In accepting the Spirit of Azusa Award, Thomas stated, “I stand here truly humbled, knowing that there are many others who should receive this very special award. At the same time, I also feel very honored to accept this award, which I share with my dear wife, who was called to Africa at an early age while I was still far from God. I also accept this award on behalf of all our dear African leaders who are standing at the front line of kingdom advancement, to the extent of risking their lives for their Lord and the Gospel.”
Reflecting on the Pentecostal heritage and commitment to the Great Commission exemplified during the Azusa Street Revival in Los Angeles, Thomas concluded, “May God help us to guard this special heritage and not lose it at a time when focus is shifting to titles, recognition, prominence, and wealth. It is only when we guard this heritage jealously that we will be able to finish the great commission and reach the last, the least, and the lost one day at a time.”
Prior to the Spirit of Azusa Award presentation, Dr. Julie Martinez presented a lecture entitled “From Jerusalem to Pyongyang: Local Experiences of the Global Pentecostal Movement. Martinez is Director of the Intercultural Studies Program and Assistant Professor of Intercultural Studies at Lee University. Other participants in the program included the Rev. Vera Voznyuk, who led worship accompanied by Dr. Randy Sheeks, Dr. M. Thomas Propes, who introduced the speaker, and Bishop Andrew Binda, who prayed the benediction. Roebuck also acknowledged the generosity of contributors who made the lecture and award presentation possible, particularly the lead sponsors, Church of God World Missions and Dr. John M. and Joan Gregory. Church of God General Overseer Timothy M. Hill offered video congratulations to the Thomases.
The Dixon Pentecostal Research Center launched the annual Azusa Lecture and Spirit of Azusa Award in 2006 on the centennial of the renowned Azusa Street Revival in Los Angeles. The revival began when African-American Pastor William J. Seymour preached a message of Spirit baptism following salvation and sanctification. What started as a home prayer meeting attracted throngs of seekers as hundreds traveled to the Azusa Street Mission, received a personal baptism of the Holy Spirit, and took that message to their homes, churches, and communities. The Pentecostal Movement quickly became a great missionary movement, and the twentieth century came to be called the “Century of the Holy Spirit.”
Founded by Charles W. Conn as a research library on the campus of Lee University, the Dixon Pentecostal Research Center is one of the world’s premiere collections of Pentecostal resources as well as the archives of the Church of God. Scholars, students, and church leaders utilize the center’s holdings related to the Pentecostal-Charismatic Movement. Dr. Roebuck serves as director, and the Reverend David “Gene” Mills, Jr. is archivist.