The Interceders Encourager No. 47
The Asbury College Revival 1970
Every great revival in history has been preceded by earnest prayer. It was so with the 1970 revival which is now referred to as the Asbury Revival, which started in the small community of Asbury, Kentucky, on the campus of Asbury College. The college is situated in the small town of Wilmore in the State of Kentucky, U.S.A., a town of 4,300 people about 16 miles south of Lexington. The college is an interdenominational Christian college whose roots are in the Wesleyan tradition of the Methodist Church.
In October 1969, J. Edwin Orr went to the campus of Asbury College to speak on the subject of revival. In one of the lectures he recounted the story of an earlier revival on the campus of the college. In the question and answer session which followed his address, a student enquired if the earlier revival had produced lasting results. The noted missionary and author E. Stanley Jones was sharing the podium with Orr during those days, and since Jones had been involved in a previous revival at the college, possibly brought about by his own prayers, Orr asked him to respond to the question.
Inspired by what the missionary reported, one female student, whose name has not been preserved, who was deeply concerned about the state of things at the college, asked five other students to join her in seeking the Lord for another move of the Spirit among them. They covenanted to get up half an hour earlier every day, pray and read the Bible, write down what the Holy Spirit told them to do, then do what they had been instructed to do, and share their experience. They agreed to do this for the thirty days of November, meeting together once a week, to check that they were all keeping the covenant, and obeying the Holy Spirit. Other groups had also been meeting for prayer, asking God to bring about spiritual awakening.
In December, all the students went back to their home churches. Then in January, after they had returned, it seems that the President of the college, Dennis Kinlaw, in what was termed the Great Experiment, suggested that the students should covenant together to discipline themselves in prayer and study of the Bible in a more serious way. The prayer group six decided that each one should ask another five students to join them in the same commitment for a further 30 days. They each did this, so there were 36 students praying, studying the word and obeying the Holy Spirit.
During this second period, some of them gathered for half nights or whole nights of prayer, asking the Lord to come and visit them in power. Each time the meeting ended, they looked at each other and asked, "Do you think He will come today?" Their faith was obviously increasing all the time..
The second part of the experiment ended on January 31st. On that day, the 36 stood on the platform at the front of the college chapel, called Hughes Auditorium, and shared what the experiment had done for them. They asked all the other students to join them in the experiment, and form further groups of six. They put slips of paper on each seat, so the students could respond.
They met as usual for their night of prayer on the following Monday, February 2nd, and before they finished, at about 2.30 in the morning of the 3rd, God told them He was coming that day, so they finished and went to bed. And on that day, He came, when the college came together for its assembly.
Students were required to attend chapel services three times a week. On that day, February 3, 1970, students and faculty members attended the college chapel for what they assumed would be one more routine meeting.
On that Tuesday morning in 1970, Custer Reynolds, Asbury's academic dean and a Methodist layman, was in charge. President Dennis Kinlaw was travelling to an appointment in Canada. Reynolds did not preach. Instead, he briefly gave his testimony, then issued an invitation for students to talk about their own Christian experiences. There was nothing particularly unusual about that. One student responded to his offer. Then another. Then another. Shortly before the assembly was due to end, another college lecturer spoke and said,"God is here." Then, looking at the dean, who was sitting in the front row, he said, "If you give an invitation, there will be a response." The dean gave the invitation, and there was a response One after another, they started pouring to the altar."
Throughout the auditorium, students began kneeling in their seats or in the aisles. Some turned the first row of seats into an altar, crying out to God to meet them as he had met so many others. It quickly became apparent to those present that chapel would not end on time that morning. Recognizing what was happening, the school authorities cancelled the lessons for the morning. The Holy Spirit had begun to work in the hearts and lives of the students.
Gradually, inexplicably, students and faculty members alike found themselves quietly praying, weeping, singing. They sought out others to whom they had done wrong deeds and asked for forgiveness. The chapel service went on and on. The original service, a routine meeting, was scheduled for 50 minutes. Instead, it lasted 185 hours non-stop, 24 hours a day. Intermittently, it continued for weeks.
On the Tuesday, the session continued on into the afternoon with the students remaining in the chapel kneeling around the altar. Gradually more and more people found themselves joining in the prayers, and the number of those praying in the Hughes auditorium grew to 1,200. On this first day of the revival, several hundred people committed their lives to Christ.
For many, the thought of eating had left their minds completely, and the huge prayer meeting continued on into the evening. By midnight, although the number of those who were praying had fallen by half, many remained praying through the night. On Wednesday morning at 6 o'clock, 75 students were still praying in the hall. and through the day it filled again as all lectures were again cancelled for the day. The time was filled with praying, singing, confessions and testimonies.
Dr. David Hunt, a Louisville physician, who was then a student, said, "When you walked into the back of Hughes Auditorium, there was a kind of aura, a glow about the chapel." "It reminded me of the verse 'Take off your shoes, for you are standing on holy ground.' You walked in and sensed that God had indeed sent His Spirit."
"There was just a different feeling about that day," said Marilyn Blackburn, who was a junior at the college. "People didn't want to leave," she said, "They were afraid they would miss something wonderful."
The news of what God was doing at the college spread across the street to Asbury Theological Seminary. Many of the students had been feeling a burden of revival for some months, so they held an all night prayer meeting there. The very next morning, the
seminary chapel service took on a similar form to the college nearby. Students and lecturers came forward to make humble confessions for all kinds of sins. The next day and for the rest of the week all classes were cancelled. By the weekend, the seminary and college meetings were merged, so that the whole campus communities seemed absorbed in only one thing; getting right with God, and doing His will.
J.T. Seamand, whose daughter was a student at the college, went to Hughes Auditorium to investigate. The 1,500 seat chapel was packed. When he entered, Seamands felt as if he had been baptized into a spirit of love. His scepticism vanished. "This is not of man," he said to himself. "This is of God. The Lord had truly walked in"
On the first two days, no sermon was preached, but instead the time was filled with praying, singing, confessions of sin, and testimonies of personal blessing. "A beautiful spirit of unity prevailed over the whole auditorium."
News of the event spread quickly through the neighbourhood. Friends of the school, together with many spiritually hungry people, soon arrived, hoping to share in the blessing. On Wednesday, the number of visitors rose to 1,300. Yet, there was still no evangelistic message given. The only people who spoke were those students who had been converted in the first two days and who now wanted to tell how God had dealt with them.
Yet, even at such times there were usually over a hundred students on their knees in silent prayer. One particular student, who had been present when the revival had begun, did not leave the hall for a total of 48 hours. The power of the Holy Spirit had overwhelmed him, and sustained him.
Within a few days, visitors had arrived at the college from all over Kentucky. Indeed, they came from many places in North America, including California, Florida and Canada. And every one of them was able to share in the stream of blessing. A wave of cleansing and a spirit of prayer gripped all those who joined in the large prayer meetings which ensued.
Even people who were unable to be present began to share in the blessing. Requests for prayer and intercession arrived by letter and over the phone. As a result, a network of intensive prayer soon spread. Other colleges and theological seminaries started to send messages of greetings and requests for prayer, as they sought to share in the work of the Spirit, which the students at Asbury had experienced.
On the evening of the first day, Reynolds, the dean, called Kinlaw, the president, who was at a conference in western Canada. The following day Kinlaw phoned the college from a public phone box. His testimony is amazing. The awareness of the Lord's presence at Asbury College was so strong that it travelled along the telephone wire for over a thousand miles to where Dennis Kinlaw was in a public telephone box in Canada. He felt encompassed by God, and had a sense of apprehension lest he should grieve the Holy Spirit, and an incredible sense of unworthiness at being connected with holy things.
Two days later, he returned to the campus in the early hours of the morning. As he approached Wilmington, the sense of the Lord's presence increased. It increased more when he went on the campus, and even more so as he came near the auditorium He walked up the steps very slowly, feeling very unworthy. "You don't enter the Lord's presence casually," he said.
The meeting, he found, was still going on.It was after 2 a.m., and he sat on the back pew, away from everybody else, not being sure what to do. He was approached by a student who asked for his counsel. Though no one knew it, she said quietly, she had been a habitual liar. She needed to make reparations to people on campus she had wronged.
When a reporter asked him to explain what had happened, he said, 'Well, you may not understand this, but the only way I know how to account for this is that last Tuesday morning, the Lord Jesus walked into Hughes Auditorium, and He's been there ever since, and you've got the whole community paying tribute to His presence.'
"One remarkable thing, given the youthfulness of the worshippers, he said, was that the marathon service was uncannily orderly. Worshippers did not become loud, did not speak out of turn, did not fall down on the floor, but just prayed and confessed, praised God and gave testimonies of what He had done for them.
The Revival Spreads
News of the revival spread in newspapers and on television. Strangers flocked to Wilmore to worship with the students. Leaders of other institutions read of the revival in publications as far-flung as The Indianapolis Star, the Chicago Tribune, The Seattle Times and the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, or heard of it by word of mouth.
(For the substance of the following report, I am indebted to Dr Kurt Koch.)
After three days and three nights of prayer, two of the students rose to their feet and declared that they felt a responsibility towards other colleges in the land. While Mark Davis went to Greenville College, Wayne Anthony felt called to visit Azusa College.
And so the missionary work of Asbury College began. The college's own report described quite clearly how the students decided after 72 hours of prayer that they should spread the blessing further for the sake of the kingdom of heaven.
These messengers were supported by the unceasing prayers of those who remained. In the meantime, requests for prayer were coming in, not only from all over North America, but also from other places throughout the world.
Soon after the departure of the first two messengers of the gospel, other teams followed. On their return, like Paul and Barnabas in Acts 15: 4, "They declared all that God had done through them."
Colleges visited by the teams reported revivals among their own students similar to that experienced at Asbury College itself.
By the evening of the fourth day, some 1,600 people were gathered together in the great auditorium at Asbury. There were students there from many other universities and colleges. But, it was not curiosity which had drawn them. Each one had been driven by a desire to meet with God. The college staff appointed one of their members to act as public relations officer between themselves and other institutes of further education. On top of this, reporters began to arrive from various newspapers and from Christian magazines. The special characteristics of the revival were all on the same plane: a spirit of worship, prayer; thanksgiving; supplication and intercession. The intensity of their prayers was the key to the answers they received from heaven.
On the Sunday following the commencement of the revival, instead of attending their usual places of worship, many of the inhabitants of Wilmore went to the college's auditorium. They were irresistibly drawn to this fresh fountain of the blessing of God.
What an experience it was for the visitors when they heard the students testifying of the manner in which the Lord had saved them. At the end of the service, more than a hundred people from the community went forward and began to seek God. The whole front area of the auditorium was filled with people praying, confessing, weeping, praising and being reconciled with one another. No event in years had solved so many problems as that one time on Sunday at the college.
Invitations were received from all over the country. One of the teachers told the students of all the requests they had received. The response was enormous. Of the one thousand students at the college, some four to five hundred volunteered to go out and work on the teams. The first wave of blessing was carried into 16 different States through the work of the missionary teams in this first week. And several thousands of people were converted as a result of their labours.
To keep track of the overall picture, the teams' movements were traced with coloured pins on a map of the United States. Yet, unusual as it may seem for Americans who love to quote impressive figures, the number of those converted was not recorded. Instead, they gave themselves to a far more rewarding task. The college, by means of the radio, brought into being a great network of prayer. By the end of the first week 16 other colleges had joined in the scheme. Later, the number increased fivefold. Such a rate of growth within a single week is almost impossible to grasp. Thousands of people caught up in the streams of blessing issuing from one college.
By the end of the first week, some 12,000 people had come from all over the country to visit the college in order to share in the outpouring of God's Holy Spirit. A minister from Pennsylvania, described how he and his own church had been gripped by the spirit of the revival in Asbury. His life and his ministry had been utterly changed.
The students themselves had continued in prayer for a total of 168 hours. Classes had been discontinued during this time, and they only began again on the Wednesday of the week following the first outpouring. Yet, whenever the students were free, they would make their way to the chapel, for the spirit of prayer at the college was not quenched.
Newspaper reporters were amazed at the results. One of them wrote, "What is wrong with these students? .All of a sudden, they have adopted a different attitude towards the opposite sex. A wave of inner cleanliness has swept away the sexual licentiousness. The militant spirit is gone. Instead of charging through our towns like wild animals, throwing petrol bombs and assaulting our citizens and police, here in the small town of Wilmore, a quiet spirit of prayer and communion with God reigns. While the peace of the nation is being disturbed by political and social unrest, here, in this student revival, the atmosphere has been cleared as if by the presence of God."
After three weeks, the students were still meeting together every day to pray. Throughout the day hundreds of students could be found on their knees in intercession and prayer. Each evening, visitors from all over the United States crowded into the large auditorium which, in spite of its 1,500 seats, was unable to contain all who came.
Irrespective of their denomination, everyone shared in this new manifestation of the Holy Spirit. Questions of doctrine and liturgical differences no longer mattered. Only one thing was important: getting right with God and conforming to His will."
After the first six weeks of the revival, Arthur Lindsay, reported, 'More than a thousand evangelistic teams have already gone out. On top of this, the neighbouring theological seminary has also given birth to several hundred teams.'
Wherever the students from Asbury travelled, revival followed. By the end of May, the revival had reached more than 130 other colleges, seminaries and Bible schools, and two thousand witness teams had gone out from the college and the seminary. To this must be added the hundreds of teams that went out from the colleges and churches that were touched by the Spirit of God through the witness of those sent out from Asbury, including the church in Anderson, Indiana, mentioned below.
When several Asbury students gave their testimonies at the Miridian Street Church of God in Anderson, Indiana, the church experienced a spontaneous revival that lasted for 50 consecutive nights. According to old clippings from Indiana newspapers, the Anderson church soon became so packed that the services had to be moved to a school gymnasium. Up to 2,500 people a night flocked to the gym in hopes of being touched by God. Testimonies abounded of criminals being converted; alcoholics being delivered; divided families being reunited, denominational boundaries disappearing; whole schools turning to the Lord, and whole communities being transformed.
By the first week of May, teams of people from this church had visited scores of churches in thirty one states and in Canada. Wherever they went, the power of the Holy Spirit was evident, with thousands making commitments to Christ. In Huntington, West Viginia, the Spirit worked so powerfully that the meetings continued every night for two weeks.
Those remaining at the college prayed for the teams and heard their reports on their return. Wherever teams went, the revival spread. The college remained a centre of the revival with meetings continuing at night and weekends, along with spontaneous prayer groups meeting every day. Hundreds of people kept coming to the college to see this revival and participate in it. They took reports and their own testimonies of changed lives back to their churches or colleges. And so the revival spread. The little town of Wilmore, Kentucky became the centre of a network of revival that brought spiritual life and blessing to untold thousands of people in thousands of communities all over the land.
Looking back, in retrospect, it can be said that the 1970 Asbury Revival, in which many were impacted and converted throughout the nation and even other countries, was one of the 'greatest revivals' of the twentieth century, a time of deep working of the Holy Spirit in which thousands of lives were radically transformed.
And the movement can be traced back to one student gathering five others, who took prayer and obedience seriously, and who covenanted together to discipline themselves in prayer and study of the Bible. When people do this, something is bound to happen, for prayer is the most important activity in which any child of God can be engaged.
For, as Wesley Duewel wrote, "The most wonderful thing is that it can happen again. God is no respecter of persons or places or institutions. The price of self humbling, of disciplined seeking God's face may seem great, but it will be eternally worthwhile."