The memory of a car with a flat tire in a seemingly deserted Southern area and a black woman singing and playing a tambourine in front of it is a scene Amy Stevens, presiding bishop of the Mount Sinai Holy Church of America, will never forget. It was 1946, and the singing woman, Ida Robinson, soon had an audience of people.
As was her custom when she had an audience, Sister Robinson began to preach. She was convinced that the flat tire was allowed by God so these people could hear the gospel.
Few people today remember this fiery revivalist. But every time they go past a congregation affiliated with the Mount Sinai Holy Church of America, they see the legacy of Bishop Ida Bell Robinson, the founder of the Pentecostal organization.
Ida's life began in Hazelhurst, Georgia, on Aug. 3, 1891. She was the seventh child of Robert and Annie Bell. After Ida was born, her parents moved the family to Pensacola, Florida, where Ida spent her childhood.
At the age of 17 she heard the gospel at a street meeting. A holiness preacher was expounding on the urgency of committing one's life to Christ, and Ida responded immediately.
She began to reach out to others with the same holiness message that had impacted her. Soon she was conducting prayer meetings in her home as well as services on street corners, where passersby always heard the scriptural warning, "Prepare to meet thy God."
Following her marriage to Oliver Robinson, Ida and her husband moved to Philadelphia. Here she was ordained with the United Holy Church of America and became the pastor of Mount Olive, a small mission.
Later she founded a separate organization--the Mount Sinai Holy Church of America--in response to a vision she had in 1924. Church historian Harold Trulear writes in the Dictionary of Pentecostal and Charismatic Movements that God told her in the vision to "Come out on Mount Sinai and loose the women."
Today 117 churches are affiliated with the organization. The same gospel Ida heard on the streets of Pensacola in 1908 is still being proclaimed.
Bishop Robinson's desire was to see full rights given to women in ministry. According to Trulear, she believed, "If Mary could carry the Word of God in her womb, then I can carry the Word of God on my lips." Four presiding bishops (all women) have followed Bishop Robinson, who died in 1946.
Wayne Warner is a former director of the Flower Pentecostal Heritage Center. He is the author of books including Kathryn Kuhlman, The Woman Behind the Miracles and The Woman Evangelist and the compiler of books on Smith Wigglesworth.
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