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Baptism by Fire, by Hyman Appelman
Read about Appelman’s life, conversion and evangelistic ministry below.
Evangelist Hyman Jedidiah Appelman, 1902-1983.
Written by: Unknown (edited, SBCToday)
“During his life, Appelman’s schedule of meetings left one breathless. It was hard to find a day in 45 years when he was not preaching somewhere. An average Appelman year would see some 7,000 first-time professions of faith. By 1969 he had seen over 345,000 total decisions for Christ, with some 270,000 uniting with churches and over 125,000 rededications by Christians.”
Hyman Jedidiah Appelman, born into a Jewish family in Russia, had an effective, far reaching and productive evangelistic ministry. He actually helped spearhead the modern-day swing to mass evangelism, as his city-wide endeavors in the early forties whipped up enthusiasm for evangelism that was all but forgotten since the era of Billy Sunday, Mordecai Ham and others.
He was born on the banks of the Dnieper River in White Russia of Orthodox Jewish parents. He was reared and trained in the Jewish faith by a strict grandfather and grandmother. One time as a boy he was thrown from a horse with the horse stamping on him and almost killing him. For days he wore a kind of strait jacket. He always remembered the day it was taken off and what a relief that was. He later described his salvation experience as the same type of relief from the bondage of sin.
His father had come to America one a half years prior to the rest of the family. Arriving with his mother and three younger brothers in December, 1914, Hyman knew Hebrew, and had a fair command of German, Russian, Yiddish and Polish. Now, he had to learn English. He was enrolled in the Hans Christian Andersen Public School in Chicago. He was a thirteen-year-old boy weighing almost 150 pounds and had to sit in one of the small first-grade seats. Despite the handicap of learning a new language he went through the first eight grades in two years with high marks, then went on to preparatory school.
Eventually he enrolled at Northwestern University where he received his A.B. Degree, and also at DePaul University where he received his LL.B. Degree, attending both schools from 1918-1921. He graduated from DePaul University as one of the highest in the class and was awarded a scholarship. He received his license to practice law in 1921 and was a successful trial lawyer in Chicago from 1921 to 1925. The two-year scholarship that he received allowed him to attend evening classes, and in those three years (1921-1923) he received his LL.M. Degree.
In 1922 one of the professors at DePaul University died and Appelman was invited to teach his academy classes. Thus he was teaching school, attending school, and practicing law. His father was now in a building business and turned over his legal business to his son.
At this time Appelman was not very religious, although he was not what you would call irreligious or non-religious. He belonged to a synagogue, attending three times a year, was engaged to marry a young Jewish girl, did not drink or gamble, but had no contact with the New Testament. This type of life produced a discontented unhappiness in his heart for which he could find no satisfaction. He tried to drown it in work and more work. He became a workaholic.
In the fall of 1924 he almost had a breakdown. He was finally able to go back to the office on a limited basis. One night when he came home, he found a conference with father, mother, brother, law partner and family doctor in progress. They all said that he needed to take a vacation. He decided he would like to go west, so he left in December, 1924. His first destination was Kansas City. He checked into the YMCA intending to see Rabbi Silbert in a day or two. Being Saturday (Jewish sabbath), he was in the lobby of the YMCA, engaging in an argument that lasted from 4 to 10 p.m.
Later that night, an elderly man knocked on his door and introduced himself as Daly, a reporter for the Kansas City Star. Daly had been in the argument downstairs. For one hour, Daly witnessed to Appelman about the Lord Jesus Christ. He left after he got Appelman to promise to read the New Testament.
Hyman saw a Gideon Bible and opened it. Once before, while in Chicago, he remembered walking by a street meeting and hearing one phrase as he rapidly passed by, a phrase he never forgot: “If a man wanted religion in a hurry, he should read John.”
Appelman, assuming it must be somewhere in the New Testament, found it, and read about five lines. At 8 a.m. someone knocked at the door. The man identified himself as Mr. Garrett, then asked Hyman to go to Sunday School with him. Appelman didn’t have the heart to say no, so he attended the Institutional Methodist Church in Kansas City. After the Sunday School hour was over, Garrett said, “Would you mind staying for church?” Appelman agreed and attended his first Protestant Church service of any kind. He had been to a few Catholic services previously and was surprised to see no decorations, pictures, statues, crosses, holy water, robes, quiet organ music. His thought was, “Don’t these people have any religion at all?” He had never seen a choir loft, a big pulpit Bible, a preacher without a robe. He endured the service, although it made no sense to him.
Hyman traveled with several members of his family to visit other kinfolk in St. Louis, back to Kansas City, and then on to Omaha and Denver in March, 1925. He dropped from 213 to 151 pounds in less than four months. He saw one of the secretaries at the local YMCA where he was staying, Mr. Durrett, and asked where he could find a good doctor. The secretary said he couldn’t help him, but told him about his church across the street, Central Christian Church of Denver, and advised him to counsel with the pastor, Dr. James E. Davis. This was the largest Christian church in the Disciples of Christ denomination of that time.
Appelman crossed the street and met Dr. Davis. The conversation started at about 3 p.m. and lasted past midnight. Finally Dr. Davis told him, “You don’t need a doctor, my boy, you need the Lord Jesus Christ!” Dr. Davis thoroughly explained the whole truth of the Saviour, and Appelman drank it in. The preacher dropped to his knees, put his arm around Appelman and began to pray with a tender, broken voice, great tears coursing down his cheeks. The devil was losing the fight. The battle was mostly centered around the fact that his parents, four brothers and sister–being Jews–would have their hearts broken if Hyman became a Christian, but the preacher refused to surrender his soul to the enemy.
Appelman, upon hearing Romans 10:9, asked for it to be explained. Finally, through clenched teeth, he said, “Lord, I do not know, and I do not understand, but this man says and this Book says that Your Son died for my sins, and that if I ask You to, for His sake, You will forgive my sins. Lord, for Jesus’ sake, do forgive my sins.”
The two stood to their feet, and Appelman said, “What must I do next?” Baptism was discussed and was agreed upon for the next Sunday morning. He and another young man came forward to publicly confess Christ, and he was baptized. He walked to the nearest Western Union office and sent a telegram home, “I’m a Christian, I’ve been baptized, I’ve joined the church. I’m praying for you.” He was twenty-three years old.
A reply came back the same day: “Come on home.” During that week he received at least a dozen telegrams and letters. The next week his sweetheart came, but she refused to stay in Denver, so she went back to Chicago. Their engagement was ended.
His conversion naturally had created a stir in Jewish circles, and he became an outcast from his family. Because his family shunned him, he wanted to stay in Denver to learn more about the Bible before going back to his kinfolk for a confrontation. He remained in Denver until August, finding odd jobs to support himself. In addition, he began to give his testimony and preach. The first Sunday in August, he preached the morning and evening messages in the church where he was converted while the pastor was on vacation. That night he received a telegram from home saying his mother was dying. He took the first train home. But when he arrived, he learned that his father had faked the message to get Hyman home and to plead with him to reconsider his ways. When Appelman refused, the father with indignation and wrath said, “When your sides come together from hunger and you come crawling to my door, I will throw you a crust of bread as I would any other dog.”
Appelman took the first train east. He got a job with the Reading Railroad in Camden, New Jersey, but things did not go well, and he began to backslide. He worked there until November 1925, then decided to return to Chicago. He was so depressed about his life and his alienation from his family that he decided to commit suicide by swimming out into Lake Michigan as far as he could, then just drown.
At Pittsburgh, on his way back to Chicago, there was a layover between trains. Walking the streets during the layover, he saw a recruiting sign of the United States Army on the front of the Post Office building. Hyman decided to enlist on the spot, thinking this might give him an alternative to ending it all. He was sent to Walter Reed Hospital in Washington, D.C., where he was to serve in the medical department for three years, and arrived on Sunday. He went to a building marked “YMCA Hut” and, walking in the wrong door, found himself in the parlor where a Mr. Howard, the “Y” secretary, was teaching a Sunday School class. He told Mr. Howard his story, and was soon introduced to the chaplain, a Lutheran preacher. The chaplain got him interested in teaching a class at the large Gospel Mission in Washington. It was at this mission he met Verna Cook, the girl who later became his wife. She was teaching a class of girls. He was promoted and made a staff sergeant, worked for a while with the sick and wounded officers, then was made mess sergeant. Discharged, he had no place to go, so he reenlisted for a second term in the service. He was sent to a station hospital in Fort Sill, Oklahoma, near Lawton. He transferred his membership from the Temple Baptist Church in Washington to the Central Baptist Church of Lawton, in December, 1927, and began to teach in Sunday School. By November, 1928, Appelman was preaching, sometimes in uniform and sometimes in civilian clothes. He held a revival meeting near Lawton, in a little schoolhouse called Woodlawn. Every unsaved person in that entire district was converted, the church was reorganized, and Appelman was called to be the pastor. This was in March 1930.
Because the Southern Baptists do not accept alien immersion, he was baptized again and ordained May 30 at the Central Baptist Church of Lawton, Oklahoma, pastored by S.R. McClung. When hands were laid on him, he surrendered everything he had to the Lord and purchased his discharge from the Army in August 1930.
On September 4, 1930, he married Verna Cook, of Livermore Falls, Maine. Feeling a definite call to the ministry he went to Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas from 1930 to 1933, where he received his theological training. His wife attended the same seminary and received an M.D. degree in Religious Education. Appelman later received an honorary D.D. degree from the Western Baptist Theological Seminary of Portland, Oregon. In addition to his small church at Woodlawn, he was called to be a pastor of another church nearby and pastored both from September 1930 until April, 1931. This meant he drove 190 miles each weekend, except when he was in revival meetings elsewhere. In April 1931, he held a revival in the Baptist church of Vickery, Texas. A short time after that the pastor resigned, and Appelman was called to head up the work. He pastored there until May of 1934.
It was in December, 1933, that Dr. J. Howard Williams, the state secretary for the Texas Baptist Convention, told Appelman that he was elected to be one of the state evangelists for Texas. He held that position until January of 1942, faithfully ministering for eight years in end-on-end crusades for the Southern Baptist Convention. However, as he was becoming nationally known, he felt the call of God for a larger ministry. Resigning, he launched into single church meetings, cooperative campaigns, city- and county-wide crusades across the country, and soon was spending some time each year in a foreign country.
In January 1942, he held his first large crusade in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, where at the invitation of more than 200 churches, he preached for three weeks in Town Hall, and later in Convention Hall. Under the organizing guidance of Horace Dean, the meetings brought salvation to some 2,700 in the three-week crusade, with total decisions of all kinds over the 5,000 figure. In 1944, he was in a great tent revival in Los Angeles, California, sponsored by the various churches and Christian Business Men’s Committees of that area. Crowds numbered 7,000 to 8,000 with 2,500 conversions in the three-week crusade. In 1948 (January 11-February 1) in Detroit, Michigan, he had 2,700 professions of faith in a city-wide endeavor. Other memorable crusades included Danville, Illinois in March of 1950 with 1,061 first-time decisions in two weeks, followed by a good San Francisco, California meeting. in Decatur, Illinois, in 1951 there were 3,300 decisions in three weeks. After preaching a devastating sermon against Communism one night in Decatur, his tent burned down. This event seemed to help bring out a crowd of 6,000 for the next service. In Portsmouth, Virginia, in 1964, he had 1,700 professions of faith in a three-week city-wide endeavor. He conducted over 25 crusades in the city of Dallas alone. Many were conducted in Fort Worth, and at least a dozen in Houston, Texas. At least fifteen revivals were held in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. Over 50 crusades were held in California, including Stockton and Oakland crusades. City-wide crusades were conducted in such places as Mobile and Montgomery, Alabama; Phoenix, Arizona; Denver, Colorado; Tampa and St. Petersburg, Florida; Rockford, Illinois; Evansville, Gary and Hammond, Indiana; Louisville, Kentucky; Grand Rapids, Kalamazoo, Lansing and Holland, Michigan; St. Louis, Missouri; Cleveland, Ohio; Portland, Oregon; Altoona, Pennsylvania; Bristol, Tennessee; El Paso, Texas; Lynchburg, Virginia; and Seattle, Washington, to name just a few.
His overseas ministries took him to such places as Australia in 1948 where for six months with song evangelist Homer Britton a mighty revival took place. Some 9,600 professions of faith were witnessed in some of the largest auditoriums in the land. He spent three months of 1951 in Great Britain, and some time in Mexico City, Mexico in 1952 with 200 being saved the first night of the crusade there. In 1955 he saw some 3,000 decisions made in a Guatemala campaign with crowds of 3,000 to 7,000 attending nightly. In 1957 he returned to the land of his birth to preach, which took him to a number of places in the Soviet Union. In 1959, he conducted campaigns in Northern Ireland, Greece, Portugal, Spain, Germany, France, Holland and Russia. In 1960 he saw 1,350 first-time decisions in a one-month ministry in Mexico City and Pachuca, Mexico. In 1962 there 2,700 decisions in 23 days in Dominica and Trinidad. In 1969-70 (December to February) he saw 5,879 first-time decisions in the states of Madras and Kerala in India. In the fifties, he also ministered in Germany, Poland, Costa Rica, Finland, Nicaragua, Switzerland, Sweden and Canada. In the sixties, such places as Korea, Japan, Israel, Syria, Taiwan, Egypt, Jordan, Indonesia, Singapore, and Hong Kong were visited.
He was eight times around the world and made three trips to Russia as an evangelist–in 1957, 1959 and 1963.
His 40th year of evangelistic meetings in 1974 had 48 campaigns in nineteen states. He spent 51 weeks of the year on the road. The test of a competent evangelist is being invited back to be with those whom he had been with previously, and Appelman always had a good share of repeat meetings like this. Decisions in 1975 were 9,809, with 4,158 uniting for church membership.
During his life, Appelman’s schedule of meetings left one breathless. It was hard to find a day in 45 years when he was not preaching somewhere. An average Appelman year would see some 7,000 first-time professions of faith. By 1969 he had seen over 345,000 total decisions for Christ, with some 270,000 uniting with churches and over 125,000 rededications by Christians. With the day of city-wide crusades waning, Appelman, in his last years on the earth, became a local church evangelist, but his results in single-church meetings were just as large.
He had numerous song leaders traveling with him: Homer Britton, Chelsea Stockwell, Stratton Shufelt, John Troy, Garland Cofield, and Ellis Zehr.
Ellis Zehr recalls some of the blessings of his association from 1959 to 1964. He states that wherever Appelman went, men have turned to Christ through his ministry. He was able to communicate well even through interpreters. In street meetings in Trinidad people repeated after him in one grand chorus, “Lord, I know I am a sinner and Christ died for me. Save me for Jesus’ sake.” A pastor in Indianapolis tells that prayer meetings doubled the year following Appelman’s meetings. A New York pastor recalls baptizing 100 Appelman converts who continued on in their service for Christ. Besides Zehr’s recollections, church after church testify of the increase. Beth Haven Baptist Church of Louisville, Kentucky, reported a week with Appelman produced 198 first-time professions, and in the two months following, Sunday School increased by nearly 300. Pastor James Stuart of the First Baptist Church of Concord, New Hampshire, sums up what most pastors say after Appelman has been to a city:
“This has been the greatest single week in the 140 years’ history of this church. The Appelman meetings have drawn larger crowds, more visitors, have seen more decisions for Christ than any campaign of any kind ever held here. This morning we have more people present than in any one service at any time before.”
The fact of the matter was that Appelman created this kind of a response. His prayer life, hard work and Biblical preaching reminded one of the Apostle Paul.
Appelman spent his last days on earth as a member of the Red Bridge Baptist Church of Kansas City, the city where he lived. His children are Edgar, born in 1937, and Rebecca, born in 1938.
Death came to Hyman Appelman at home on May 29, 1983, of heart disease.
His forty-two books were published by Zondervan, Revell and Baker. Titled included, Formula for Revival, Ye Must Be Born Again, God’s Answer to Man’s Sin, The Savior’s Invitation, Come Unto Me, Appelman’s Sermon Outlines and Illustrations, Will the Circle Be Broken? Effective Outlines and Illustrations, The Gospel of Salvation, Here Is Your Revival, Crossing the Deadline, and others.
In every campaign there was radio, and in more recent days TV coverage, at least of the interview type, ranging from 10 minutes to 4 hours.
Appelman was a guiding force in the ministry of the American Association for Jewish Evangelism, serving as president for a number of years. He also was president of the Russian-Ukraine Bible Institute of Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Canada, and president of the Hebrew Christian Alliance as well as being a board member of numerous other missionary organizations.
Tributes to his greatness come from such as,
“In loyalty to the Bible, in spiritual fervor in seeking the lost for Christ, in effectual preaching of the Gospel with spiritual passion, in the success with the things that most matter in evangelistic effort, Dr. Appelman comes close to weighing sixteen ounces to the pound on God’s scale.”
“The first time that I listened to him preach my heart was stirred by his fervor, zeal, and passion for souls. Through these years I have watched the records of his revival campaigns–for thirty-five years there has been no abatement of his zeal and his concern for the souls of men. He is a true friend, a gracious brother, and a mighty preacher.”
“Dr. Appelman is one of the greatest and most powerful preachers of the Gospel I have ever listened to. Twenty years ago I used to listen to him preach night after night and made notes on his sermons. Some of my own knowledge and inspiration concerning mass evangelism came from his ministry. Thousands of names are written in the Lamb’s Book of Life because Dr. Appelman passed their way.”