From Pentecostal Preacher to Planet Protector

Dear Planet Partners:

“The highest heavens are God’s, but the earth has been given to humanity.” Psalm 115.16

The son and grandson of Pentecostal ministers, John McConnell Jr. was born in Davis City, IA, on March 22, 1915. Not long after his birth, his father, John Sr., became a traveling evangelist, preaching in tent meetings, churches, chapels and street corners from New York to San Francisco. His brand of fervent preaching was much in demand. One news clipping advertising a revival at the Portland Rose Tabernacle in New York City proclaimed his sermons as “scorching, scathing, liquid lumps of burning truth to meet present need.” (Assemblies of God Heritage magazine, 2010, volume 30) McConnell Sr. had received his call to ministry while attending the Stone Church in Chicago in 1911.

Growing up as the son of an iterate preacher and the eldest of six children, John Jr. sang with three of his siblings in a gospel quartet accompanied by their mother. John was also responsible for counting the offering. From time to time he was asked to pray or preach during one of his father’s fiery evangelistic meetings. John Jr. proved to be a great communicator.

While on the road with his family, John Jr. taught himself to read in various public libraries. Developing a love for chemistry, he partnered in the 1930’s with Albert Nobell to develop a process that converted discarded walnut shells into biodegradable plastic. Defending their product, McConnell wrote that non-degradable plastics were going to someday choke the planet.   

Drafted during World War II, John Jr. petitioned the draft board for status as a conscious objector, writing that he believed God wanted peace, not war. The board’s rejection of his application resulted in John Jr. finding himself on the rifle range during basic training. Looking at the target while lying on his belly, he saw the face of his target turn into the face of Jesus. He left his rifle on the ground and walked away from the range, an act that landed him in the brig for several months. One evening he wandered off the base AWOL, where he met with his young wife Mary Lou. They purchased a 38’ sailboat and fled to an island off the coast of British Honduras. There he picked up his father’s profession as an evangelist.

In 1946, Mary Lou was pregnant with their first child and she wanted the baby to be born in the United States. Their return resulted in John undergoing psychiatric evaluation where he was deemed unfit for military service. They settled in North Carolina where John’s preaching was tirelessly devoted to the cause of peace.

At this point it would seem reasonable to assume John faded into obscurity, but his persuasive communication skills resulted in the formation of several peace initiatives, including the Star of Hope (1957), the Minute for Peace (1963) and Meals for Millions (1961-1963), a drive for Hong Kong refugees that was recognized by former president, General Eisenhower. McConnell convinced five dairies to donate 10,000 milk cartons with small coin-slots in the top. Children were invited to take them home and put in three cents every time they wished to invite an unseen hungry guest for dinner.

In November of 1963, John McConnell Jr. made a presentation to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, proposing that a day be set aside as a world-wide observance for peace and care of the earth. He originally proposed that the celebration be observed on March 21, the first day of spring. But Senator Gaylord Nelson recommended moving the date to April 22, already recognized as a teach-in for the environment. Against McConnell’s protest (April 22 is also the birthdate of Vladimir Lenin), the April date was fixed and is internationally recognized as Earth Day.

McConnell never lost his passion for evangelism. He believed the Gospel message required an understanding of stewardship of the earth as a gift from God, teaching that faithfulness to God’s creation required continual vigilant action for global peace and environmental renewability.

Until his death in 2012, McConnell insisted that environmental protection of the planet could not be understood apart from a desire for global peace. In 1977, McConnell wrote, “Flatland vision is caused by closing one eye - the eye of the heart. If we will open it and look at the whole world - with full vision - we will see new depths of love and new promises of peace.”

Wishing you a Happy Earth Day, I remain,

With Love,
Jonathan Krogh
Your Pastor