Renowned evangelist, revivalist, and author Virginia Brandt Berg (1886-1968) is best known as one of the early radio evangelists through her radio program Meditation Moments, which ran for 15 years starting in the early 1930s, and resumed in the late 1950s. Born on May 27, 1886 in Ronceverte, West Virginia, she was the daughter of clergyman, author, and lecturer Dr. John Lincoln Brandt and Nina Lee Marquis.
Her father, John Lincoln Brandt (1860–1946), experienced a dramatic conversion in his mid-twenties, and subsequently devoted his life to Christian service. He served for many years as a Methodist circuit rider. Subsequently, he became a prominent figure within the Alexander Campbell movement, a restoration movement that developed into the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ). He was the author of numerous books and pastored some 50 churches in his lifetime, as well as lecturing throughout the United States, and in Canada, Mexico, Europe, Asia, Africa, and the Pacific islands.1
J. L. Brandt preached that Christians have an urgent duty to win souls for Christ: “Haste is essential, because men are under the sentence of death. Haste is essential, because our children are forming habits that are determining their character and destiny. Haste is essential because the devil is never idle. Haste is essential because our day is fast passing away, and we must sound the trumpet so that the blood of no man be upon our heads. Haste is essential because the day of judgment draweth nigh, when we shall be called upon to answer before the judgment seat of Christ for the deeds done in the body. Haste is essential, because Jesus declares His Father’s business comes first” (Brandt 1926:18-19).
Although Virginia had a staunch Christian heritage, as a young adult, unable to cope with the early death of her mother, she became skeptical of religion. She enrolled in college and further grappled with issues of faith, ultimately emerging as an agnostic.
As she continued to search for meaning in life, she decided to commit to social work and philanthropy. She served as national field secretary for the National Florence Crittenton Mission, the first charitable organization chartered by the U.S. government. She became passionate about this work, helping wayward women to rehabilitate and learn skills to achieve self-sufficiency. Her work across the nation received high commendation from Charles Crittenton, the founder of the charity, who applauded her work fundraising to establish homes and speaking to raise awareness of the plight of marginalized women. She also had extensive interaction with the young women sheltered by the Crittenton homes and on the streets. In 1910, he stated: “She did most effective personal work in the homes and on the streets … She is thought to be one of the best woman speakers in the States and is a conscientious and able missionary.”2
Her position with the Crittenton society led her to travel throughout the country, organizing boards and speaking at meetings. While stationed in Reno, Nevada, she met her husband Hjalmer Berg, and they were married shortly thereafter. Hjalmer Berg, with mentoring from John Lincoln Brandt, decided to enter the ministry. He attended theological seminary in Des Moines, Iowa, and was eventually ordained as a pastor in the Disciples of Christ.
In 1911, tragedy struck. As Hjalmer and Virginia returned from the hospital after the birth of their first child, she suffered an accident. Her back was broken in two places, leaving her partially paralyzed and often bedridden for five years. In 1918, after a conversion experience, thanks in great part to the faith and support of her husband, she was miraculously raised from her deathbed and spent the rest of her life in active Christian service as a pastor and an evangelist.
The following morning, she reports walking to her husband’s church and testifying to the congregation of her miraculous faith healing:
From Death Bed to Pulpit Overnight
When I walked into the little church that morning there was a whisper of excitement, a slight sob here and there, for one of two were crying, then a hush of anticipation that was intense. After a few words about what had taken place Mr. Berg asked me to speak. My heart was full to overflowing, for I was to have the opportunity of talking about Jesus and His power; of telling of His wonderful compassion, His love and willingness to answer prayer. An intense love was in my heart for these whom He had died for; a great longing that they might know Him in all His fullness, as I had found Him. I, who had stood so many years ago before the public without thought of Him and His glory, now had but one desire, and that was that they “might know Him and the power of His resurrection”—and that all things might be done only for His glory (Phil.3:10). …
My heart was too full to say much that first time I was given the opportunity of testifying for Him and of telling of the wonderful thing that He had done for me, so I opened my Bible and read of that woman of days of old who also had suffered many things, and then touching Him, had been made whole. “And, behold, a woman, which was diseased with an issue of blood twelve years, came behind Him, and touched the hem of His garment; For she said within herself, If I may but touch His garment, I shall be whole. But Jesus turned Him about, and when He saw her, He said, daughter, be of good comfort; thy faith hath made thee whole. And the woman was made whole from that hour” (Mat.9:20-22). As I stood there I seemed to see her, closely related to my own life, suffering, sorrowing, pressing through the crowd, and then wearily falling to her knees, reaching towards Him as He passed. I knew exactly how she felt—unworthy that He should turn and touch her. I know why she could not ask Him for healing or cry aloud to Him as others did; she would just wait there until He came a little closer, then she would reach out and gently touch “the hem of His garment.” And I said aloud: “Oh, woman of days gone by, I know; I understand; for I, too, have touched THE HEM OF HIS GARMENT.”
The Hem of His Garment, 1934
News of Virginia’s faith healing spread, and she received many invitations to speak and to share her testimony at churches and meetings throughout the United States.
Despite their fervor and commitment to their church, Virginia and Hjalmer were expelled from the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) after publicly testifying of her divine healing, which was contrary to church doctrine. They subsequently joined a new denomination in 1919, the Christian and Missionary Alliance. In later years, their missionary zeal and disdain for denominational politicking often set them at variance with the conservative faction of that church’s hierarchy, causing them to work largely as independent pastors and evangelists.
In 1924, Hjalmer and Virginia settled in Miami, Florida, after Virginia successfully led a series of large revivals there. In 1925, she and her husband established the Miami Gospel Tabernacle. The local paper reported: “She came for a revival on March 22, 1925. After the series of meetings, she was asked to remain permanently. Now one year has passed. Alliance tabernacle has been dedicated.” Six years later, the tabernacle was reported to be the largest congregation in Miami, with up to 7,000 participants.
They remained in Miami until 1928, pastoring a number of churches in the area (including the Miami Gospel Tabernacle and the Central Alliance Church of the Open Door). After that time, Virginia became an itinerant evangelist, lecturing, preaching, and holding revivals throughout the United States. She traveled extensively with members of her family, holding revivals and rallies as the “Berg Evangelistic Dramatic Company.” Her youngest son, David Berg, who was also ordained as a pastor with the Christian and Missionary Alliance, accompanied her on most of her evangelistic journeys. He eventually became the founder of a controversial counterculture Christian movement in 1968, known as The Children of God.
In 1934, she published two books, The Hem of His Garment and The Promises of God Are Streams that Never Run Dry. A later article reported her work as follows:
She is the author of the widely published books, “The Hem of His Garment” and “Streams that Never Run Dry,” and is considered one of the nation’s leading exponents of the life of faith.
She was a blatant atheist and helpless invalid when remarkably restored to faith and health in answer to prayer.
Her testimony of faith has filled some of the largest auditoriums in the United States and Canada, including Cadle Tabernacle (7,000), Indianapolis, Ind.; Philadelphia Arena (10,000); People’s Tabernacle (3,000), Toronto; and her own Miami Gospel Tabernacle (3,000), Miami, Fla.
Her voice is also well-known to radio listeners of the Tri-State area through her frequent broadcasts on the “Bit of Heaven Hour,” WWYA, Dr. Jack Munyon’s “Lest We Forget” Broadcast, WWSW, and her own “Meditation Moments”, ’WQAM. She has many friends in the Indiana area.
(Indiana Evening Gazette, 1954)
During the 1930s, she pioneered the Meditation Moments radio ministry, which continued for 15 years. She later resumed radio broadcasts in California in the 1950s and 1960s.
A theme oft-repeated in her writings and broadcasts was that “God is still on the throne and prayer changes things.” Challenging Christians to have a dynamic relationship with the Creator, and to put the promises of God to the test, she sought to lead her audiences to a deeper faith life.
Can we not as Christians venture out on the promises of God into new realms of faith and blessings? Can we not venture out and scale the heights to higher ground? Are we so fearful, so lacking in real courage, that we cannot step out upon God’s promises and risk our all on His faithfulness? No matter if Peter did sink for a moment beneath the waves, he had at least the courage to venture out. Are we always going to stay in the same little circumscribed limits? If we will not venture out and put His Word to the test we will never know what He means by “The great and mighty things” He speaks of in Jeremiah 33:3, “Call unto Me, and I will answer thee, and show thee great and mighty things, that you know not.” His Word says He will lead you out into a larger place. He will “show you a new thing.” How can I know whether I have little or great faith or any faith at all, if I do not put His promises to the test; if I do not make ventures in faith? Someday an emergency will come into your life, when only God can help you, and you will need a strong faith—you will need to know how to appropriate these promises for your desperate need. Then there is the wonderful possibility of blessing and service for others, as you see God’s Word fulfilled in their lives. The possibilities of the faith life are unlimited. No man dare limit our faith. We have only touched the dim outer edge of what God has for us. Jesus said, “I am come that ye might have life and have it more abundantly.” The faith life is indeed an abundant life. The promises of God are so numerous, so all-inclusive, that there is a promise for every need; hundreds of promises in God’s Word; promises abundant, unfailing, inexhaustible, exceeding great and precious promises … “Streams that Never Run Dry.”
The Promises of God Are Streams that Never Run Dry, 1934
Virginia remained fervent in Christian ministry until her death on March 15, 1968, in Huntington Beach, California. As an elderly woman in the late 1960s, she could be seen on the beaches of California in her golf cart, carrying sandwiches to the counterculture youth who congregated in Huntington Beach, and offering a word of faith and hope to the youth of that generation.
Through her ministry, beginning in 1918 until her death in 1968, she was able to lead many people to faith in Christ. Her compassion for her fellow man and missionary zeal continue to inspire many through her writings and broadcasts.
John Lincoln Brandt was described in the 1933 volume of Who’s Who in America as follows:
BRANDT, JOHN LINCOLN:
Clergyman, lecturer, Ordained minister of Christian (Disciples) Church; Pastorates: Denver, Terre Haute, Toledo, Valparaiso, St. Louis, Muskogee, Oklahoma, Cathedral Church of Christ, Melbourne, Australia. Now pastor N. Vermont Christian Church, Los Angeles, Lyceum lecturer; extensive traveler. Mason. Author: Lord’s Supper 1888, Turning Points in Life 1890, Marriage and the Home 1892, The False and the True 1893, Soul Saving Sermons 1893, Anglo-Saxon Supremacy 1915, Great Bible Questions 1926, Finding Christ 1939, Captain Jack. Writer for magazines and religious journals.
- Deborah Davis, 1984