DEMOS SHAKARIAN (1913 – 1993): BUSINESSMAN
Demos Shakarian was the founder and president of the Full Gospel Business Men’s Fellowship International, a Christian fellowship with active chapters in most countries of the world, and most cities in North America. Demos was a wealthy dairyman, a big man with a powerful handshake, slow talker, gentle and sincere. Demos dearly loved his wife Rose. Together this simple unassuming couple have many times traversed the globe, spoke to thousands of gatherings, and conversed with rulers and kings and princes. They both dearly love the Lord Jesus Christ, and have brought his gospel to millions of people all over the world through the Full Gospel Business Men’s Fellowship.
Demos was named after his grandfather. Grandfather Demos was a Christian who lived in Kara Kala, Armenia, situated at the base of Mount Ararat (on which Noah’s ark settled thousands of years ago). The farm Grandfather owned had been passed down through the family since ancestral times. Life was simple and unchanging in Kara Kala – until the Russians came to visit.
They were ‘pentecostal’ Christians. Strange people these Russians as far as Grandfather was concerned. They spoke in tongues. And prophesied. And prayed for sick people who recovered and, well, it just wasn’t Armenian!
Anyway, Grandfather and Grandmother had a problem. They had five children, all girls. No sons. Five girls and zero sons. A real embarrassment to an Armenian. Grandmother Goolisar cried a lot.
Magardich Mushegan was one who received the Baptism of the Holy Spirit at the influence of the Russians. One day he prophesied to Grandmother, “Goolisar, exactly one year from today you will give birth to a son.” Grandfather was still not convinced when one year to the day he had his long awaited son. Perhaps Magardich just got lucky!
When the Russians came there was always a feast prepared for the occasion, and the day was set aside as a day of the Lord. Grandfather chose his best steer. But his best steer had a flaw, a blind eye. So what? – no one will know – just hide the head in a bag. No one could possibly know.
But he knew – the bearded leader of the Russian caravan knew. God told him. It was when he was asking a blessing over the great feast. Suddenly he lifted his arms to silence the people and walked to the barn with an expression of consternation on his face. He pulled the sack out of a pile of wheat and placed it before Grandfather Demos and said: “You still do not believe He speaks to His people today as in the past. The Spirit gave me this word of knowledge for a special reason: that you and your family might believe. You have been resisting the power of the Spirit. Today is the day you will resist no longer.”
Grandfather and Grandmother received the Baptism of the Holy Spirit that day, both speaking in tongues, a language strange to them but understood by God. They would become known as Pentecostals because they experienced the Holy Spirit in the same manner as the apostles shortly after Christ’s death. (This occurred on a holy day called Pentecost, thus those who receive the same baptism of the Holy Spirit are often referred to as Pentecostals.)
Now we must back this story up fifty years.
Efim Gerasemovitch Klubniken was eleven years old at that time. Efim was a very unusual boy, fasting for days at a time and sometimes praying around the clock. On one occasion God called him to pray and fast for seven days, after which he saw a vision. The vision warned of a terrible calamity that was to come upon all the inhabitants of Kara Kala in some future time. God instructed the people that at a given time they were to leave Kara Kala, travel across the Atlantic Ocean to the United States, and journey across America until they came to the west coast. There they would settle. God would richly bless those who obeyed and He promised their offspring would be a blessing to the entire world. To add weight to this illiterate boy’s vision, the eleven-year old Efim drew maps showing exactly how to get to this new land. It was indeed a traumatic message for this conservative Armenian community. Some believed Efim, and some did not.
Grandfather was one who believed the prophecy, and when his promised son Isaac was thirteen years old they sold their farm and headed for America. Those staying behind jeered and scoffed. It was a very long, arduous journey and when they finally arrived in Los Angeles, California, they were broke.
They heard the devastating news after they arrived. In 1914 the Muslim Turks mercilessly slaughtered a half million Armenians and drove millions more into the Mesopotamian desert. Every inhabitant of Kara Kala, every man woman and child, died in the death march into the desert. Efim proved himself to be a true prophet.
Life was hard for the immigrant Shakarian family. No one spoke english, they shared a house with two other Armenian families, and grandfather was forced to take a job working on a new highway through desert country. Many, including grandfather, fell over dead in the 120 degree heat and now Isaac, fourteen, was the head of a large family in a strange country. Isaac delivered papers earning ten dollars per month, and then a job at a harness factory which paid not much more. Understandably, the immigrants began questioning the boy prophet’s prophecy saying that God would richly bless them in America.
But God’s word proved true. Isaac saved enough to buy a horse and wagon, and began to sell fresh fruit and vegetables to awaiting housewives. Soon he could afford to sell his business and purchase a small farm where he began to raise dairy cows. He and his son Demos eventually turned that small farm into the world’s largest dairy. Many others from Kara Kala became equally wealthy.
Demos loved God from an early age, and he loved the Armenian culture in which he was raised. Hard work, Godly parents, lots of sisters, and Armenian mentality filled his youth. Sunday was a three hour trip to church, five hours for the service and the meal following, and a three hour return trip. Demos was molded by this Christian community that centered their lives around the Word of God and the leading of the Holy Spirit.
Demos received the Baptism of the Holy Spirit in his thirteenth year. He was in church when the Spirit of God alighted on him. He had an urge to tell Jesus he loved Him, but what came out of his mouth was a language he could not recognize. All that day, whenever someone spoke to him, he could only reply in this strange language. When alone in his bedroom that night he slumped to the floor under a renewed anointing of the Holy Spirit and was helpless to move. It was glorious.
Healing, prophecy, deliverance, words of knowledge and encouragement – these were all commonplace to the Shakarians. One day in church Demos was urged by the Holy Spirit to pray for his sister who had seriously injured her elbow. She was healed. Demos himself was almost deaf when God instantly restored 90 percent of his hearing. Demos had no way of knowing he was a chosen vessel of God to bring these gifts of the Holy Spirit to people all over the world.
He got his first hint of this calling when he and his wife Rose were sitting in their parlor with Milton. Milton was a painter, a joyful painter, pentecostal through and through. Suddenly the painter closed his eyes, raised his hands and spoke in a loud voice: “You are chosen vessels…you are being guided step by step…keep your mind on the things of God…you will enter through the city gate and no one will shut it against you. You will speak of holy matters with heads of state around the world.”
Nothing could have been more difficult to believe. Demos and Rose were the stay-at-home type, never having left California, their life was their family. And they wouldn’t have believed it except for a second prophecy a short time later, this time by a pastor in a church service: “My son, you are a chosen vessel for a specific work. I am guiding you. You will visit high government officials in many parts of the world in the name of the Lord. When you arrive at a city the gates will open and no man will be able to close them.”
When Demos occasionally peeked outside his enclosed Armenian pentecostal world, he noticed to his surprise and horror that there were actually people in California that did not know God, did not have a relationship with Christ. After praying about what he could do he heard from the Lord. In obedience he rented a lot across the street from Lincoln Park where people crowded on Sundays. Demos was to do the preaching. Unfortunately for Demos, Rose got the same message so he knew it was God. Now Demos was a pretty good dairyman, but not much of a public speaker. What if some businessman recognized him? How would this affect their reputation, their business?
To his surprise some of the crowd moved closer when the choir began to sing. Now the dreaded moment, the moment that caused him sleepless nights. With sweaty hands Demos stepped to the microphone, picked out some poor victim in a yellow shirt and let him have it, speaking to him directly. He was distracted by a voice in the crowd, “Isn’t that Demos Shakarian?” Gulp! A business associate had recognized him. And then he heard this weeping noise that made him wonder if he was crying, but it was the man in the yellow shirt! What’s the matter with this fellow? It never occurred to Demos that someone would actually respond to his message. The man testified to the crowd about his success as a businessman and his failure with God.
The crowd thickened. Another man gave his testimony and then another. People listened attentively and six people were saved that day. This went on every Sunday, all summer, and when it was over Demos had lost his fear of man. The next year with the cooperation of different denominations they set up a tent so people could come every evening. It was at these tent meetings he noticed something that astounded him – the women outnumbered the men about ten to one.
This grieved Demos enormously; it was never so in his Armenian church. He prayed about it often and God answered his prayers. One day at a fund raising dinner he noticed a peculiar light dancing around the face of a certain gentleman, a businessman, and Demos asked him to share what God was doing in his life. The man had an outstanding testimony. Then he saw that same light on another man, and another and another, and Demos called each to share. For an hour and a half businessmen shared their love of God and the audience was captivated.
Usually it is a practiced speaker or preacher who does the talking. But Demos had discovered a new means of communicating the love and faithfulness of God – businessmen relating to businessmen. The farmer, the plumber, the merchant, the dentist, the car dealer – they each had something to share about how the Lord was working in his life.
Demos, for example, had amazing accounts of his own to share. Like the time his younger sister Florence was in a bad car accident. She was thrown from her car onto burning asphalt, her back severely burned, and she had several bones broken. Demos tracked down an evangelist in town, a Dr. Charles Price.
“Dr. Price, my name is Demos Shakarian, and my sister’s been in an automobile accident, and the doctors in Downey Hospital say she can’t live, and we wondered if you would come.”
It was the end of a long night for Dr. Price and he was weary. Nonetheless he agreed to come, and on the way he said, “Don’t be anxious, son. Your sister will be healed tonight.”
In the hospital room the power of God fell on the three of them in a profound way. Florence shook violently for twenty minutes, and Demos and Dr. Price had to duck the traction weights that were swinging everywhere. And then…. Florence was still. She whispered to her brother, “Demos, Jesus healed me.”
And then there was the time when he and Dad were about to lose a thousand head of cattle to tuberculosis. Inspectors came every thirty days during the epidemic to test each herd. If a certain percentage reacted poorly to a test injection the entire herd must be destroyed. Many herds in nearby counties had already been exterminated, and it was inevitable that the herd of the Shakarians was infected. The inspectors would return in thirty days for the final test.
It so happened Demos and his father were listening to the radio to a Dr. Kelso Glover declaring that God had the power to heal every disease. Demos phoned him the next morning. “When you said ‘any disease,’ sir, did that include sickness in cows too?” It took a while for Glover to answer but finally replied, “Any disease. In animals or men.” The same day Dr. Glover was praying over the herd, “Lord Jesus! The cattle on a thousand hills are Yours! In Your Name, Lord, we take authority over every tuberculosis germ attacking Your creatures.”
Three days later the inspectors were shaking their heads. There was, they said, no medical explanation. Not one cow was infected, not even those that had a bad reaction to the test thirty days previous.
Yes, Demos had many accounts of the involvement of God in his life to share with others. And so did every Christian businessman. How powerful it would be if businessmen could get together to encourage each other, to lift up the name of Jesus, to tell of Christ in their lives, to pray for one another.
That was Demos’ dream and vision and hope. He had the name picked out already – the Full Gospel Business Men’s Fellowship International. The ‘International’ on the end embarrassed him, but he felt confident God wanted this fellowship to reach the world. But first Los Angeles.
The first, first of many thousands, Full Gospel Business Men’s Fellowship International (FGBMFI) breakfast took place in Clifton’s Cafeteria on Broadway and Seventh, Los Angeles, California on an October Saturday morning, 1951. Demos had thought of everything – he made all arrangements with the restaurant, procurred a renown speaker, and phoned every Spirit-filled businessman he knew in Los Angeles. Demos expected, oh, maybe three or four hundred.
Twenty-one! And that included Demos and Rose. But surely, Demos thought, the next year would see a vast growth. But it didn’t. He bribed many by buying their breakfast, but still no growth. A year later attendance dropped to sixteen. One of the directors of the FGBMFI told Demos, “I think the whole idea of the Fellowship is a dud. Frankly, I wouldn’t give you five cents for the whole outfit…Unless a miracle happens between now and next Saturday, you’d better count me out.”
Even Rose agreed, “If God is in something, He blesses it, doesn’t He? And you just can’t say the Fellowship’s been blessed.” Demos was convinced. Best to let the whole thing die. And yet…
He couldn’t let it go. Just couldn’t. In frustration and desperation he fell to his knees. And there in his living room he had an experience with God that was the turning point of the Fellowship.
Demos lay helpless on the floor, such was the awesome power of God resting on him like a heavy blanket. Rose walked around him and played softly on the organ. Demos praised the living God who had made Himself so real, both in English and in his unknown language. Rose prophesied, “I am the One, Demos, who can open doors. I am the One who removes the beam from the unseeing eye. And now I will let you see indeed.”
The ceiling seemed to disappear and up he went, not in body but in spirit, until the earth could be seen below. In this vision he saw millions of men, side by side. With the clarity of a zoom camera he could see clearly the faces of many thousands of these men. To his horror he realized they were all dead! Men from every nation, of every color, lifeless and cold.
Rose spoke again, “My Son, what you see next is going to happen very soon.” The world spun before him again so he could see the same multitude of men – but now they were different, alive, joyous, praising God! On every continent it was the same. Men who were dead had come to life. Vision over, Demos was back in the living room.
Things were quite different after that awesome experience. Demos learned to stop trying and to start trusting God. A few hours later he was back at Clifton’s Cafeteria and the first one to approach him was Miner.
To Demos’ amazement, Miner gave him a check for a thousand dollars and said, “I waked up this morning and I heard a voice. It was God – I know it was God. He said, ‘This work is to go around the world and you are going to donate the first money!’ ” Another man drove all night some four hundred miles, at the instruction of the Lord, to offer his printing press services “to put out a magazine…this fellowship must go around the world.” Thus the beginning of the Voice magazine soon to be printed in many languages and placed throughout the world.
Soon there was a second and a third chapter of the FGBMFI. And then a dozen. And then a hundred. And then a thousand. Whereas the first convention attracted six hundred businessmen, today a convention can draw twenty thousand. Since the FGBMFI is non-denominational it attracts people of many faiths. Through this organization pentecost has swept through the Lutheran and Catholic churches, and many other denominations.
Demos and Rose have been busy. Very busy. Demos would often be speaking at a Fellowship banquet and have no idea what city he was in, such was his hectic schedule. Their lives are a definite fulfillment of Efim’s prophecy – that the offspring of those who in obedience left their land and traveled to America would be a blessing to the nations.