02 May The Original PennDel Church Planter – Handy Christopher
Handy Christopher was born on May 15, 1901 of Scandinavian parents in the barracks of the Salvation Army, New Britain, CT. His parents were the officers in charge. Here he was raised, schooled and employed as a chemist and metallurgist with the Stanley Works. His employer developed a new line of tools that were named at his suggestion, “Handyman Tools.” As he was being groomed for leadership in the steel and tool industry, Handy felt God’s call to the great harvest field. He weighed the call and the sacrifice required. He yielded to the tug of the Master with no regrets.
He was introduced to the Pentecostal movement in a series of revival services held in Hartford, CT, September 1918, with Sister Amee McPherson. It was during this revival he was baptized in the Holy Spirit. He received some preliminary pastoral and theological training at the original Elim Bible School, Rochester, NY, before being received into the fellowship of the Assemblies of God in May 1924 at Lancaster, PA. Eastern District Superintendent, Joseph Tunmore, encouraged Handy to assist Gordon Bender in Corry, PA in church planting. He went and held his first revival service that lasted 3 ½ weeks.
Times were difficult for young Handy and his wife Alma. Handy returned to the Stanley Works for employment to replenish his finances. He held revival meetings, tent crusades, and pulpit supply in southern New England. He became a church planter while pastoring in Hollentown and Smoke Run, PA. He secured the “Eastern District Tent” and pitched it in Coalport, PA in an effort to pioneer a new church plant. Services were held beginning August 11, 1929 culminating with a baptismal service on October 13th. 30 or more candidates professed their faith in Christ in water baptism. The baptism was conducted in the icy waters in a creek behind the tent! A former saloon was rented, cleaned up and transformed into a church. Handy now had a circuit of 3 churches to pastor, preaching 7 times each week. Total offerings for these three churches in 1929 was $880.33!
Handy continued in ministry for the next 43 years as a pastor, revivalist, and evangelist. In 1932 Handy relocated his family to Lewistown, PA where he pitched a 40 X 80 tent and began a “tent revival” in July. The meetings started slowly with attendance averaging 35 to 75 the first week. A diving healing service was announced for the second Friday night and more than 100 people attended. Five came to be prayed for and all were healed! One of the 5, Anna Kiester, age 56, had been blind for several years. That Friday night God restored her sight. This hit the newspaper and the attendance immediately jumped to 400-500 people. Many were saved and 60 believers were baptized in the Juniata River. These were the years of depression and Handy remembered his personal income for 1933 amounted to $780. A church was born and Handy remained in Lewistown as pastor until 1937.
In 1936 the Eastern District Council was held at Handy’s church in Lewistown. Pastors and their wives were hosted in the homes of church members and other families in the community who graciously opened their homes. Handy recalled there were 485 people registered for the council with upwards of 800 packed into the church during the conference. When the brethren saw the accomplishments in Lewistown, Handy was asked to do some more pioneering. He went on to plant churches in Shamokin, PA, Rochester, NY, and Pottstown, PA.
Handy re-entered the “Evangelistic Field” in 1940 and held revival services in churches across Pennsylvania. In the fall of 1943 he journeyed to Phillipsburg, PA. He secured a former automobile garage and started meeting in the same on November 14th. By the following April the church was averaging 75-85 in attendance. A permanent building was purchased and remodeled with a 36 X 48 addition. The new building could seat about 300 people.
A lumber dealer informed Handy a radio station was opening in the State College area and he was buying a half hour time slot for religious programing on Sunday mornings. This airtime was offered to Handy. He accepted the airtime and began a radio outreach to Central PA. The church choir, soloists and Handy traveled to State College every Sunday morning to present a “Gospel Echoes” live radio program. The radio program expanded to Clearfield, Barnesboro, Lewistown, Pittsburgh and stations that covered 6 states in the Northeast. People drove 50-60 miles each Sunday to attend the church in Phillipsburg. 6 churches were planted in Central PA as a direct result of the radio outreach. When Handy left the church in Phillipsburg (1954) he turned the work over to David Wilkerson and you know the rest of the story of Teen Challenge.
For the next 18 years, Handy continued to pastor, hold revival services, tent meetings, and plant churches. He even had opportunity to minister in Canada and Europe. In retirement, he relocated to St Petersburg, FL where he assisted in ministry.
Handy Christopher is remembered as the original church planter in PennDel. He served the Eastern District as the Home Missions Director plus he was an influential member of the Living Waters Camp Committee in Cherry Tree, PA. It was a ministry of extreme sacrifice, a ministry of “putting everything I had into the gospel work over the years . . . I have no regrets,” said Handy Christopher.
Churches Handy Christopher Pioneered: (in chronological order)
Marlowe, WV; Coalport, PA; Mechanicsburg, PA; Duncannon, PA; Lewistown, PA; Shamokin, PA; Rochester, NY; Pottstown, PA; Philipsburg, PA; Port Matilda, PA; State College, PA; Clearfield, PA; Bellefonte, PA; Jersey Shore, PA; Palmyra, PA; New Britain, CT; Mifflintown, PA.
He also supervised the planting of these churches while serving as District Home Missions Director: Milton, PA; Munson, PA; Montoursville, PA; Deposit, NY
Churches Handy Christopher pastored: Martinsburg, WV; Trafford, PA; Oneonta, NY
By David Crosby, Sr