AY H. HUGHES SR. lived a legacy. His ministry, education, and leadership introduced and fueled renewal of Pentecostal fervor in the 20th century.
Early Life, Education, and Ministry
In 1928, when Ray was 4 years old, his family moved from Calhoun, Georgia, to Akron, Ohio, where they connected with the Market Street Church of God. One night at a revival, Ray’s mother, Emma, received salvation, but his father, Joe, held fast to his bootlegging. Days later, Joe followed Emma’s example and committed himself to Christ while a five-gallon crock brewed at home and 300 bottles of beer sat on the shelf. After arriving back home, Joe poured all his alcohol down the sewer while Emma clacked her heels and shouted glory.
At age 6, Ray was healed from “some type of paralysis” after Joe laid his large hand on his son’s forehead and prayed, “Lord, we give You Ray today and we want You to heal him.”
Three years later, Ray received salvation and the baptism with the Holy Spirit under the preaching of Earl P. Paulk Sr. Later that year, Evangelist Troy C. Messer prophesied over Hughes while anointing him with oil, saying, “You shall be a preacher.”
At 15 years old, Hughes traveled to Bible school in Sevierville, Tennessee, where he received confirmation of his calling. He cried convulsively and prayed for further confirmation from the Lord by requesting someone would contact him to preach. Within two weeks, Hughes received a letter and preached his first revival upon graduating at 16 years old.
At age 18, he married Marian Euverla Tidwell, whom he met in Bible school, and continued to preach. Most of his revivals during the early 1940s lasted several weeks and saw many people saved, filled with the Spirit, and miraculously healed.
Hughes’ longest revival lasted 18 weeks while he planted a church in Fairfield, Illinois, in 1944. He preached every night except for Saturdays, and mixed mortar during the day to help build the church. He also sold his car to buy cement blocks. During the same year, he preached a six-week revival in Benton, Illinois, and preached 49 consecutive nights under a tent in Greenville, South Carolina, after a church burned to the ground.
In 1947, Hughes preached four nights at Ward Theater in Kingston, Jamaica, to a packed house of 2,500 every night. Police informed him later that thousands tried breaking into the theater during the nightly services. Nine hundred people received salvation and scores received baptism in the Holy Spirit.
On September 27, 1948, at age 24, Hughes preached “Christ Is the Answer” to an overflow crowd of over 21,000 at a youth rally at the Hollywood Bowl in Los Angeles, and over 1,500 people accepted Christ.
Hughes served as a pastor on two occasions (Fairfield, IL, and North Chattanooga, TN) but remained an evangelist at heart. As a young evangelist and pastor, Hughes carried the message of Christ across the United States and to several foreign countries.
Church of God Official, Leadership, and Education
From 1952 to 1956, Ray Hughes served as general director of Church of God youth and Christian education; from 1956 to 1960, as state overseer of Maryland-Delaware, D.C. He was the national radio speaker for Forward in Faith (1960- 63) while also serving as president of Lee College (1960-1966).
During his tenure, Lee’s enrollment grew from 312 to 1,084. Always the educator, Hughes led by example, earning his bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral degrees while serving as president. Dr. Hughes later served as Lee’s president a second time (1982-84), and then was president of the Church of God Theological Seminary (1984-86).
Ray Hughes is the only person to serve as general overseer of the Church of God three times (1972-74; 1978-82; 1996), and served various tenures in assistant overseer roles. As administrator and educator, Hughes always focused on evangelism. His leadership positions in the Church of God allowed him more freedom to travel abroad and spread the message of Christ globally and ecumenically.
Ecumenical Ties and Global Travels
Hughes traveled over 6 million miles in the air and 1.5 million by car preaching the gospel. Much of Hughes’ travels related to organizing the Pentecostal World Conference, chairing events in Singapore, Norway, Jerusalem, and Korea.
Three of Hughes’ most memorable overseas revival campaigns took place in Russia, Mexico, and Puerto Rico. In 1991, over 10,000 people accepted Christ in a five-night meeting in Moscow.
State officials gave Hughes two nights on state television before they recognized him as a Pentecostal preacher and cut off his air time.
At the 50th anniversary of the Church of God in Mexico, Hughes preached “The Coming of the Lord” in an old outdoor theater. After 10 minutes of preaching (20 minutes with an interpreter), Hughes heard and saw the Holy Spirit’s presence falling like rain, starting in the back of the upper balcony.
Hughes gave the altar call, and hundreds nearly ran over themselves making it to the stage.
Later in Puerto Rico, at Roberto Clemente Coliseum, Hughes heard and saw the rain again. When the sound reached the first level, a man jumped out of his wheelchair and ran around the building. Sinners streamed to the altar and over 200 received the baptism in the Spirit.
Among other international and interdenominational positions, Hughes chaired the Pentecostal Fellowship of North America (1976-78) and was appointed president of the National Association of Evangelicals (1986-88).
Ministry of Writing
A prolific writer, Hughes penned some 15 books, with Pentecostal Distinctives possibly being his most effective work. It has been printed in several languages and used as a textbook in many institutions. When asked what makes Pentecostal preaching distinctive, Hughes responded, “When it’s prompted by the Holy Spirit, when it becomes prophetic, when a [person] under the anointing preaches things [unknown], when it recognizes the operation of gifts in the message.”
Hughes preached in the heat of Communism and the cold of criticism. He helped pave the way for the contemporary renewal movement as he advanced the operation of spiritual gifts and the leading and administration of the Holy Spirit. His heart yearned for the outpouring of the Spirit as depicted in Joel 2 and Acts 2, and he sought to awaken the world to its need for God.
Hughes practiced and lived what he preached. He said:
I never thought I’d ever see the day that Pentecostals would be looked upon with approval. I don’t know if that’s good or not . . . but by and large, I think it’s a good thing. We have touched the world, and, O God, help us not to look at what we have done and rest on the laurels of the past!…O God, return us to the experiences of Pentecost and help us so we might touch our world in this closing time!
A Personal Note
When I was younger, I used to pray, If I could only preach half as well as Pop preaches, I’d be a great preacher. I grew out of that desire when I accepted my personal calling and gifts. Then, I used to dream, If I could only pray half as well as Pop prays, I’d be a prayer warrior. I grew out of that desire when I learned imitating modes of prayer is not the same as having a relationship with God. But over the past few years, the most haunting of desires plagues me—a desire that makes me squirm and rattles my existence: If I could only learn to suffer half as well as Pop suffers, I’d be a great man of God.
On March 29, 2011, I stood with family and friends around Pop’s hospital bed and listened to him utter his life’s benediction: “Bye-bye!” He knew the end of this life rapidly approached, yet he still writhed in pain and cried to God for deliverance—the same reaction I’ve seen and heard over the past 15 years. Pop accomplished great feats in his life; however, it’s his death that lures me. Once the strongest of any man—a man’s man as they say—and then a hurting man, open and vulnerable to the pain for so long he seemed to ignore. I’ve watched him live, and now I’ve watched him die. And his death teaches me more than his life. Through his death, Pop exemplified prayers unanswered, pain beyond understanding, and suffering without cause.
Then the thought came to me: Pentecostals speak much of power, experience, healing, and financial prosperity; but do the Pentecostals know how to suffer in God’s name, and are they preparing future generations for the grueling reality of submitting to Jesus’ way? The Pentecostals certainly know how to break bread, but do they know how to lament, how to carry another’s burden?
Perhaps Pop’s legacy lies in what he lost rather than what he gained. Maybe the greatest lessons in life come from what is never intentionally taught nor desired to learn. Pop demonstrated that pain teaches hope, suffering induces humility, giving breeds love, sacrifice exposes faith, and weakness produces strength. Pop lost sight of personal fulfillment, gaining vision by completely relying upon the power of the Spirit.
Doc Hughes, grandson of Ray Hughes Sr., is currently working on his dissertation for the doctor of philosophy in theology program at Regent University in Virginia Beach, Virginia. This article is adapted from his booklet The Life, Ministry and Death of Dr. Ray H. Hughes Sr.