In 2002 there were more than fifty Geftakys Assemblies world-wide. Most of them disbanded in 2003 following the revelation of Mr. Geftakys's sexual involvement with women in the group and the cover-up of his son's long history of domestic violence. What is left of the Geftakys Assemblies currently consists of about a dozen small Christian gatherings that do not identify themselves as Geftakys Assemblies.
George Dmitri Geftakys and Betty Olive Jessup met in the mid-1940's as students at the Bible Institute of Los Angeles and were soon married. After George graduated in 1952, he became pastor of Sunkist Baptist Church in San Fernando, CA. Differences soon arose with the elder board, and George resigned the pastorate. He and Betty joined with the Plymouth Brethren assembly in Pomona. Betty supported the family as a teacher while George took graduate courses at Talbot Seminary and USC.
The Plymouth Brethren are a non-denominational Bible-based group that began in England in the 1830's. In the beginning, they did not have paid clergy. They believed all denominational churches had fallen away from the New Testament ideal and become compromised and worldly.
Originally, the Brethren did not own church buildings, but met on Sundays in rented facilities, with chairs set in a semi-circle around a table. All the men were encouraged to preach, and there were usually two or three messages on Sunday morning. The Lord's Supper was celebrated weekly.
Women were not allowed to speak, and were required to wear head coverings (generally a scarf or lace mantilla), but this custom is changing among them. Their local churches are called assemblies.
The original Plymouth Brethren have since split into many factions. Many of them have become more like evangelical churches, but some still adhere to original Brethren distinctives. The Geftakys Assemblies most resembled the branch known as the Exclusive Brethren, but had no ties with them.
By the time George and Betty had been with the Brethren for about fifteen years, problems had developed. George was unhappy with the Brethren leadership because they would not allow him become an elder.
They were unhappy with him because he was too domineering. There was also an allegation of adultery against him by a neighbor, which she brought to the elders at the chapel. Her complaint could not be proven, but the leaders insisted that George get a job and support his family.
George was highly offended, and George and Betty stopped attending church completely for about two years. By the late 1960's George had a job selling insurance, and he and Betty had returned to the Brethren.
The Brethren allowed George to be a visiting preacher to the various Brethren assemblies in Southern California, but would not give him a place of leadership. He was critical of the Brethren, asserting they had "lost the vision" and become worldly.
In 1969, as the Jesus Movement was gaining momentum, the Geftakys' met several young couples who were looking for something more authentic than the denominational churches, something more spiritual and more serious. They invited George to visit their weekly home Bible study in the San Fernando Valley, CA, and soon he became the teacher. At the same time, the Geftakys' younger son, Timothy, was a high school student whose friends also wanted a Bible study. In response George began a Saturday morning Bible study in his home in Fullerton.
During this period, the Geftakys' met the widow of C. J. B. Harrison, pastor and missionary from the T. Austin-Sparks movement in England which had connections with Watchman Nee and the "Higher Life" teaching of the early Keswick conferences. Mrs. Harrison introduced George and Betty to many Sparks-affiliated groups across the United States and Europe.
The role of George's introduction to Sparks’ ministry in the development
of the Assemblies was crucial. Without it, his sphere of ministry would
have remained limited to the Plymouth Brethren and young people in
Southern California. His acceptance in Sparks' circles introduced
him to a new vocabulary and gave him the appearance of legitimacy among
a wider audience.
His acceptance in Sparks' circles introduced him to a new vocabulary and gave him the appearance of legitimacy among a wider audience.
George was invited back to speak in many of these groups, both in the USA and Europe. He was able to take over the leadership of several Sparks-related groups in the USA for awhile. These groups, along with the Bible studies he was leading, formed the nucleus for his ministry. By 1972, George had quit his insurance job and had begun several small Assemblies--Fullerton, CA; Norfolk, NE; Tuscola, IL--all separate from the Plymouth Brethren and Sparks, but along the same lines.
George was also regularly visiting Sparks' groups in France, Austria, Germany, Spain, the Netherlands and Kenya. He conducted four weekend seminars a year in Fullerton that were attended by 300-400 people from across the USA and Europe. His aim was not high numbers, but devoted loyalty from a solid core of elite Christians. The movement eventually included Assemblies scattered across the USA and of the world, including Canada, Nigeria, Mexico, England, France, the Netherlands, China and other countries as well.
For further information on the Keswick, Plymouth Brethren and Watchman Nee connection, refer to the T. Austin-Sparks website, and Identification History by Miles Stanford. Other articles on Assembly background and development are The Geftakys Assemblies - an Overview, and the in-depth History of the Geftakys Assembly Ministry and Midwest and Tuscola History.