Remembering our history

A.J. Thorwall: A Preacher Like No Other

"Some men become legends after they die. This man has become a legend while he lived!"

"When God made A. J. Thorwall, He threw the mold away."

So it was said of the Swedish blacksmith who became a preacher and evangelist in the EFCA. Born Axel Torvald Johannson in 1890, he immigrated to Rockford, Illinois in 1909 and changed his name to Axel Johnson Thorwall (or A.J. Thorwall), stating there were “too many Johnsons!” While working his trade, he was invited to First Free Church and soon was converted there under Rev. Gustaf Johnson. Thorwall grew in the faith and by 1912 moved to Minneapolis to begin training in the Free Church Bible Institute. Under J.G. Princell and other teachers, God molded Thorwall into a preacher like no other.

Though he held several pastorates over the years in East Chain and Wyanett, Minnesota, and in Turlock, California, his evangelistic skills led him to speak in many other places and see many come to the Lord.

Then, in 1936, he was called to Minneapolis to serve as the first Director of Evangelism and Home Missions. He led services in countless churches, witnessing hundreds give their lives to the Lord. He once said, “I’m the assistant pastor of every Evangelical Free Church in the United States of America. I come and go anytime that I please."

A truly dramatic preacher, his illustrations, his loud voice and his inimitable style brought people to churches who might never have come otherwise. The gregarious Swedish blacksmith preacher with the bushy head of hair had a passion for evangelism that was contagious. Dr. Arnold T. Olson would say of him at his 1960 memorial service, "Some men become legends after they die. This man has become a legend while he lived!"

In an Evangelical Beacon article, he wrote: "Evangelism is the only hope for our churches, for our land, and for the world. Intensive, sound, warm-hearted, biblical, Holy Ghost evangelism is the need everywhere and we ask our people to remember this great work in their daily family prayers, at their church services and in their giving. Pray daily for the Evangelical Free Church Department of Evangelism ... please!"

You can read or download his biography, written by his son LaReau, to learn much more of how God used this remarkable man.

Tom Cairns

Tom Cairns is the archivist for the EFCA. A physician who worked for 19 years in Congo, Tom later served as director of international ministries for the EFCA mission, now known as ReachGlobal. Since retirement, Tom enjoys sharing stories about the history of the EFCA, answering questions from our churches and helping the churches with their own stories. He also uploads our historical books, photos and documents to our archive website. Tom’s great desire is to bring glory to God as we celebrate the history we have in the EFCA.

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