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An effectual door opens in Guatemala

As the ship sailed out of New Orleans that November day in 1937, newly appointed missionaries John and Ella Franklin were on their way to Guatemala. They had felt a strong call to the Central American country, but the Great Depression and a lack of others’ vision had hampered missionary pledges. They had but $50 pledged toward their monthly support. And the government had closed Guatemala’s borders to missionaries. The Franklins anxiously thought about these challenges as they sailed, but they had been motivated by the promise, “I have set before you an open door.”

During their attempt to raise their support, few church invitations were extended to the Franklins. It seemed foolish to start out as new missionaries in a country that didn’t want them representing U.S. churches that could not or would not support them. Foolish, except for their faith in God to open the door.

“We itinerated in the homeland, impressed strongly with the need for intercessors to hold us up and ask God to open the door,” they later said.

They had no church invitations in their date book when a pastor in Yoakum, Texas, came to their aid. “Why don’t you visit my church for a 2-week revival?” Little could the Franklins know the impact that invitation from Pastor Jack Fellers would have on their mission to Guatemala. There in Yoakum — seemingly a sidetrack to their call — the Franklins met an elderly man by the name of Louis Ritter who promised to pray until the door was open. The Franklins thanked him, believing in the importance of intercessory prayer.

But that prayer had not been answered when the Franklins arrived in Guatemala. Forbidden to enter the country, they were forced to take a train over a narrow-gauge railroad to neighboring El Salvador. Here missionaries Ralph Williams and Melvin Hodges met the new missionaries and made room for them. “How providentially the opportunity to travel with them,” Franklin wrote a few years ago, “and see how missionary work had really prospered under their leadership.”

Four months later, seemingly out of the blue, the Guatemalan government approved the Franklins’ application to enter the country. Not until six years later when they returned to Yoakum, Texas, did the Franklins learn of Louis Ritter’s prayer vigil and his love for the missionaries. Ritter had died during the Franklins’ first term, one of the members told Franklin. But in March 1938, at the time the Guatemalan government had opened the door, Ritter had gone to Pastor Fellers early one morning with an important message: “Last night I saw the Lord take a key and open an effectual door!”

And it was a very effectual door that opened. The Franklins remained under appointment for 42 years. They established the first Bible school in Guatemala City in 1942, and in 1957 they pioneered what is now the John Franklin Assemblies of God Bible School in Panajachel, Guatemala.

Material needs are important, Franklin said, but the most important part is when believers rely “upon the working of His Spirit through intercessory prayer.” The veteran missionary, now with the Lord, clinched his argument with one of his favorite verses: “Not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit saith the Lord.”

— Wayne Warner, director
Flower Pentecostal Heritage Center

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