“LET THIS BOY BE YOUR MESSENGER!”
By Elvio Canavesio as told to Frank Tunstall
Adapted from the Simultaneous Principle, a History of World Missions Ministries
My grandparents went from the Swiss Alps in northern Italy to Argentina in the late 1800s, expecting to find gold in the streets. All they found was dust. They settled in the western pampas [plains] of Cordoba. Being Italian, they were all Catholics, but mostly just in name.
When I was born in 1931, there was only one Bible in our town and it was in Latin. The priests alone could read it, and they did it at mass and sang it in Latin. Our people never knew the good news of the Gospel.
My mother confessed her sins to the priest, prayed to the saints, and repeated the rosary. She told me it was to no avail. She carried the burden of her sins, longing to receive forgiveness, but freedom never came. One day she reached a desperate decision: she would pray to the walls of her bedroom. She thought maybe God was in the walls.
From then on, every day she would pray to the walls: “God, if you are in the walls of this bedroom, please; hear my prayer; bring me your salvation!”
One hot summer night my family was sitting on the sidewalk of our home, drinking tea, when from half a block away we heard the beautiful sounds of organ music. My mother shouted: “The walls, the walls have answered my prayers!” The Spirit of the Lord came over her and she asked my father if she could go there and stand in the corner under a eucalyptus tree.
When she arrived, she saw two young men. They were missionaries. The blond-haired, blue-eyed preacher was standing with a Bible in his hand. He said: “The Lord has sent us here to proclaim to you the good news of the Gospel. Jesus loves you and died for you. If you open your heart, He will come in and give you the gift of eternal life!”
That was the answer! She felt the witness of the Spirit. She was saved, electrified, glorified, the 220-volt job! What a supernatural experience! Soon we opened our home for these preachers to hold services. I remember I was only 5 years old, barely as tall as the dining room table. I watched the preacher open the Bible and heard him preach the Gospel.
The wonderful God of Isaiah 41:17 had moved across the world and reached to the city of Chicago, Illinois: “The poor and needy search for water, but there is none… I the Lord will answer them; I, the God of Israel, will not forsake them.” The Holy Spirit called a young man, originally from Norway, to come and bring the Good News of the Gospel to my mother who was crying out to the walls of her bedroom.
Erling Andresen was his name. He was a disciple of the famous Pastor Thomas Barratt, minister of the Philadelphia Church in Oslo, Norway, who had gone to Azusa Street in 1906. He received the Pentecostal baptism with and in the Holy Ghost there (John 14:17), and took the message of Pentecost to Norway and Sweden, and then across Europe.
My mother was overwhelmed with her new salvation, and in good Catholic tradition, she wanted to give God something to show her love for Him. But she was so poor. One day during her devotional time in her bedroom she felt the desire intensify. Mother felt compelled to give something to God.
I was playing outside the house. Suddenly she came out of the house and straight to where I was. She grabbed me by the hand, brought me in, stood me on top of the bed, and laid her hand on me. She said, “Lord, I have nothing to give you. We are so poor, but I’m going to give you someone who is alive. I give you my son. Use him, Lord, for the many thousands out there lost and crying for you. Let this boy be your messenger of the Good News!”
Some years later, a young man invited me to go to the Pentecostal church in my town of Leones. There was a small group of young people from Rio Tercero, a city some 200 miles west of town. That night I went. After the service, the young preacher of that group, Lindolfo Calvino, came and asked me if I would give my heart to the Lord. That was February 21, 1946. I said, “Yes!”
We fell on our knees, and that night I met the Savior.
When I got up, I felt as if I were a feather. The burden had been rolled away, and I was possessed with a joy unspeakable and full of glory!
I began to have a burning desire to preach. I bought as many books as my money would let me and devoured them.
During that year, a group of young people came to visit our little church. It was a cold winter night in August. [The seasons are reversed in the southern hemisphere.] We had the regular service. At the end, the young preacher asked a few of us if we could tarry a little longer and pray. I decided to stay. He said: “We’ll ask the Lord for the promise of the Holy Spirit.”
We prayed from 10 p.m. to almost midnight. All of a sudden, one of the young men burst into a new tongue. I raised my hand and said, “I want the same Lord!”
The power fell on me with such force that I exploded into another language. It came from inside me. I could not stop speaking in tongues. Finally, because it was so late they encouraged me to leave the church and go home. I went through the city speaking in tongues and glorifying God. After that, every time I prayed, a burst of divine electricity went through my body.
My first sermon was a few months later, on the thirteenth day of December in 1946.
In 1950 the Lord spoke to me and told me to leave everything and go to a Bible school in the City of La Plata, some three hundred miles east. I went. While studying there, I met a beautiful young lady by the name of Emma Karen. We became more and more attracted to each other. There was one hitch—she was the daughter of Erling Andresen, and the social code at the time did not allow a missionary’s child to marry a national.
Seven years later a wonderful miracle happened. Erling Andresen, who had brought the gospel to my family all the way from Norway, via Chicago, gave me his daughter Emma Karen in marriage—in 1957!
The sovereign ways of the Lord are truly past finding out.
Elvio and Emma Canavesio enjoyed a thirty year marriage. Emma was promoted to heaven on August 4, 1987, after developing a brain tumor. Their two children, Esther and David, continue to serve faithfully in the church in Oklahoma City.
Elvio married June Carter on May 14, 1988, in a beautiful ceremony at her home church in Roanoke, Virginia.
Elvio gave forty nine years as an IPHC missionary. He became in 1972 the first IPHC Continental Director of South and Central America and the Caribbean, and continued in that role until his retirement. June too has given forty five years as a missionary, serving in both Mexico and in Argentina. To June goes much of the credit for developing and popularizing the CURSUM teaching program that continues to train future national leaders for ministry all across the Hispanic world.
Elvio and June retired on June 30, 1999, and are living in their golden years in Oklahoma City. Their phone number is 405-495-1340.