“Never mind, it will soon blow over.” These skeptical words greeted the enthusiasm of Christ’s Ambassadors (CA) Director Ralph Harris when he recounted that Assemblies of God young people had given over $100,000 in 1945 to the new missions fund, “Speed the Light.” Not many adults believed that the youth of their churches could sustain their excitement for providing missionary transportation vehicles in far-off countries.
The idea for the fund had come to Harris only a month after taking his new post as national youth director. It was 1944 and young people were beginning to come to grips with the changes in their world following World War II. Vehicles had been hard to come by as many automobile manufacturers stopped producing civilian vehicles in favor of military vehicles.
Harris knew the youth of America could identify with those who were without transportation. Harris also knew that the war had exhibited to young people the power of vehicles being used for destructive purposes. They had watched news reels of airplanes, jeeps, and boats destroy and be destroyed. Was there a way to show the world that the same vehicles that had been used to bring desolation to a nation could also be used to bring the good news of the hope of the gospel? Could the young people of the Assemblies of God lead the way in this effort?
General Superintendent E.S. Williams offered a less-than-positive response to Harris’s idea of using offerings from CA groups to purchase airplanes and motorcycles for missions. Williams later reported that his first thoughts were, “Jesus didn’t use a motorcycle. And Paul didn’t fly a plane.”
However, while Williams was very conservative in his approach to money, he was also a man in touch with God. While Harris was still trying to sell his idea, Williams felt the Holy Spirit reminding him that Jesus and Paul might not have used those vehicles, but they likely would have if they had been available. Within an hour of approaching his boss, Harris had the approval to begin promoting his new idea.
The program needed a name so Harris offered a prize to the young person that submitted the best name. Ernestine Houston of Arizona sent in the moniker “Speed-the-Light” (STL) and was awarded $15 in Gospel Publishing House materials for coining the new name, which is still used 73 years later.
Harris set the astronomical goal of $100,000 for their first year, 1945. CA members were told that if they each gave $1 their goal could be met. It was greeted with skepticism on the part of some leadership, but the Assemblies of God youth came through with $113,375.39. Their first major purchase was a small amphibian plane for the work in Liberia. It was the first non-military plane to ever fly into that country and caused quite a stir. The Liberians were so excited to see the plane that for many years they charged no duty fees on any STL equipment brought into the country.
Appeals soon began to pour in from all over the world. Boats were needed in the Bahamas, a jeep in Costa Rica, mules were requested in Nigeria, and bicycles in Upper Volta. The Assemblies of God discovered that one missionary, properly equipped, could do the work of 10 who lacked resources. Missionaries were going farther, faster, and easier than they ever had before.
Harris knew he had to keep the challenge fresh so he proclaimed the third Sunday of October “Dollar Day” when a special offering would be sent in from each CA group totaling $1 for each young person who attended the church. The Pentecostal Evangel lent its support to the project, running articles highlighting STL on that Sunday.
One young man, Loren, was 17 when STL was born. He later testified that STL built a bridge for him to different parts of the world as he read the updates in the Evangel articles and had the opportunity to contribute to something that was larger than himself. He was learning that he could impact an entire world for the good. He later became a pastor in Nebraska who supported STL in his local church until God called him to spend 12 years in Nicaragua, using his own STL vehicle. He later served as the field director for Latin America and, in 1997, Loren Triplett retired as executive director of Assemblies of God World Missions. It started with giving $1 to Speed the Light’s Dollar Day.
Since that first year in 1945, the youth of the Assemblies of God have given $312,870,885.76 to STL, including $9,421,143.41 in 2017. The third Sunday of October is still STL Day in the Assemblies of God. J. Philip Hogan, referring to the skeptic who told Harris that this excitement in the youth would “soon blow over,” wrote on STL’s 40th anniversary in 1984, “He was right! It has blown all over the world!”