Published October 21, 2004
IMAGINE a world in which:
With the exception at the turn of the last century, Wales has never been a large player on the world stage. With 500,000 residents in 1904 it was largely known for being the world's supplier of coal and slate, and to a lesser degree iron, steel, and tin. It had a booming economy and its churches were regularly attended, but services had become cold and impersonal. Religion was given a token nod but there was little spiritual transformation.
But on Oct. 31 a revival that had been building for several months broke out among a group of Welsh young people mostly in their 20s and spread to the four corners of the world. By the time the revival had run its course in about 18 months, about 150,000 people had come to faith in Christ - most of those in the first nine months. One-fifth of the nation's population of 500,000 claimed a living faith that changed their lives and the lives of those around them.
While the revival at first centered on 26-year-old Evan Roberts of Loughor, a small town near Swansea in South Wales, indications are that it had begun in a smaller vein a few months earlier. Yet, it was Roberts' evangelistic zeal that fanned the flames and helped spread the spirit to churches across the denominational spectrum.
Roberts was the most unlikely candidate to be used in a Great Awakening. He was the son of a coal miner and, at age 12, was pressed into service as one of the thousands of child laborers of the day. Yet even as a youth Roberts was different; he regularly read his Bible and passed out scripture verses to adult miners in the morning as they descended into the pits and asked them, at the end of the day, what God had revealed to them through the verse.
As he matured he decided he'd enroll in a school to receive a basic education to receive the credentials to study at a Bible college. But within a matter of weeks, under conviction of the lostness of his country, he returned home to await God's direction.
Roberts prayed 11 years for revival of his nation
Roberts, who had been praying for revival for 11 years, met with 17 young people of his church - Moriah Calvinistic Methodist Chapel in Loughor - and shared his desire to be used of God in revival. By the end of that meeting the fires of revival had been lit and the young adults fanned out to churches throughout Wales, bringing the gospel story with a new sense of urgency and conviction.
The revival quickly spread to churches of all denominations as the Holy Spirit began to manifest itself through different church traditions. In the early days the revival spirit was spread through the ministry of Roberts and a handful of young female vocalists who served as itinerant evangelists. Once they walked 11 miles through a storm to lead a service at a distant church. But this was no ordinary revival, and the intensity of its spread was unlike any that had ever touched the country - a country that had experienced spiritual awakenings several times in its history.
What was unusual about the revival was the vast numbers of individuals who came to faith with such little urging, and the overall desire of the populace to hear the gospel proclaimed. As the awakening progressed, shopkeepers would close their stores early in the afternoon and walk to church to assure themselves and their families a seat. Others not so fortunate - sometimes numbering more than 200 - were content to stand outside in the street and try to eavesdrop on the services.
Stories of the conversions and changed social conditions could easily be dismissed today, a century later, as mere exaggeration if they had not been so thoroughly documented by local media. And the most prominent accounts were recorded through the pages of The Western Mail, the national newspaper of Wales. In fact, it was that newspaper which first called the event a revival and gave it credibility outside the realm of the churches.
Revival experts agree that coverage by the secular press actually helped spread word of the awakening throughout the country, into small towns and villages cut off from the larger cities. The growing event piqued the curiosity of many and churches were kept informed of the curious happenings that were being reported in other congregations.
One of the most often quoted reports from The Western Mail is the story of how the converted coal miners had to retrain their pit ponies - the small Welsh horses which were used in the mines to pull the coal carts - because they were used to being sworn at and did not understand the cleaner language.
The Welsh Revival had a two-fold result - the initial meetings revived church members who had grown lukewarm in their faith, and the spiritual awakening that followed brought vast crowds of new believers into the fold.
While the initial event lasted about 18 months and produced 150,000 professions of faith, the afterglow continued for up to four decades and spread around the world. The accompanying stories further explore the event and provide insight on what occurs during a Great Awakening - and how Georgia Baptists can similarly pray for revival on a daily basis.
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