The Flame Still Burns

 

A testimony by Lawrence Chewning on the 50th anniversary of the Anderson, Indiana "Revival of Love".   

My life was radically changed by a spiritual awakening in Indiana during my junior year of college. I had moved from South Carolina to Anderson, Indiana in late summer, 1967, in order to attend Anderson College (now Anderson University). I had felt a calling to preach since I was ten years old, so my plan was to go to college for four years, earn a degree in Social Work and Religion, and then to go on to the theological seminary on campus for three additional years.

 
Although I enjoyed my college experience and formed lasting friendships, something was beginning to trouble me. I began to feel a disconnect, a sense that something was lacking in my life. I was slowly becoming disillusioned and cynical toward the church and organized religion as a whole, even though I loved the Lord. It was the late sixties, and all over the nation my generation was starting to question institutions and authority. I still attended church but I didn't get excited or involved at any place I attended. 

This gnawing emptiness caused me to long for a more vital walk with God. Looking back, I realize that yes, the church was in need of reform in various areas, but the problem was really me. I needed more of God and was not happy with my own status quo. I would regularly go for walks alone at night and just talk to God, as if He was walking beside me. I wanted my Christianity to be more than rituals and routines. 

As time went on, I began to get an impression in my mind, a sentence that would come to me, night after night, as I prayed. It didn't make sense, but I kept hearing in my mind, “Something is about to explode in this city, and when it happens, you will be thrown into the middle of it, and you will never be the same.” I certainly didn't believe the sentence was referring to a literal explosion, but I did begin to feel my life was about to change in a surprising and significant way. 

In late December, 1969, I happened to read an article in Time magazine, entitled, “From the 60's to the 70's – Dissent and Discovery.” It was a retrospective on the previous decade and a look forward to what the 1970's might hold. One of the predictions startled me. The article anticipated religion would be making a comeback, especially in the younger generation. In other words, my generation. This astonished me, given the upheaval and pervasive cynicism and unbelief that seemed to define the mid- to late sixties. And then the December 26, 1969 cover of Time magazine asked in bold letters, “Is God Coming Back to Life?” 

All these things were causing me to wonder if the spiritual climate in America was about to change. In addition, there had been Christian-themed songs that had made it onto the rock and roll charts in the previous few years, most notably “O Happy Day” by the Edwin Hawkins Singers, “Jesus is a Soul Man” by Lawrence Reynolds. 

So all of these signs formed the backdrop as the calendar moved toward February, 1970. 

On Tuesday morning, February 3, 1970, a spark lit the fuse of revival which would soon lead to a watershed moment in my life. It happened on a small college campus near Lexington, Kentucky. Asbury College (now Asbury University) was a religious school with roots in Methodism. As is the case in many religious colleges, mandatory chapel services were part of the ebb and flow of campus life. On this particular Tuesday, the scheduled speaker felt led to forego giving a talk and simply opened the convocation for testimonies from the students. 

Prior to this time a small group of students had begun to meet together regularly to pray for revival on their campus. They not only prayed, but they also began to search their own hearts in order to make an effort to turn from everything and even every attitude which might not be pleasing to God. 

At some point during this testimony service, one student who had been rebellious regarding spiritual matters stated he had wasted his life and wanted to come to Christ. He went forward to the altar at the front of the auditorium and many others followed him. There were tears and a deep sense of awe in the presence of the Holy Spirit. They not only accepted theologically that God was in the room. They experienced a close, “felt” sense of His presence. The service continued for another hour and then another. People were not only going forward to pray. Afterwards they began to make apologies to others 
in the room and to try to make things right between each other. This was followed by more testimonies and then more people coming to pray. 

For the next one hundred eighty-five hours, non-stop, around the clock, the service continued. Classes were canceled for an entire week, and the local media found out about it, featuring it on the newscasts. This caused the news of the remarkable awakening to spread and to draw more people to come and witness these extraordinary events. It was like something straight out of the Great Awakening. 

It was not long before other churches throughout the nation wanted to learn more about the revival, and teams of students from Asbury began to fan out on weekends to various parts of the country to give testimonies of what they had seen and heard. 

Two and a half weeks after the Asbury phenomenon, a group of students drove the four hour trip from Kentucky to Anderson, Indiana. A pastor in town, Charles Tarr, was an alumnus of Asbury and had invited the group to come and share their testimonies at the South Meridian Church of God. 

I remember on Saturday night, February 21, several Asbury students went from room to room in the dorms, sharing briefly about the revival on their campus and inviting everyone to come to the service the next morning. I didn't give much thought about what the students shared in the dorm and didn't attend the service. After all, I was from the Bible Belt and was used to the word, “revival.” Almost every church hosted a fall revival and a spring revival, which was a series of evangelistic meetings. So there was nothing unusual in getting an invitation to attend a “revival service.” 

On Sunday night, February 22, at about 10:00 p. m., a student in my dorm came into my room and asked, “Have you guys heard about what happened at South Meridian today?” He went on to convey the morning service had started at its regular time but did not end until close to two o'clock because so many people had come to the altar for prayer. Then he reported the Sunday evening service started at six o'clock and was still going on. Several of us drove to the church out of curiosity and discovered although the crowds had receded, there were still plenty of people praying at the altar. 

The next day, all over the campus, the conversation was focused on the events of the previous day. It was electric and permeated the entire atmosphere. An article about the Asbury revival had appeared in the Indianapolis Star that very morning entitled, “Does Nation Face Spiritual Awakening?” Various professors devoted part of their class to commenting on the South Meridian services. I noticed people on campus who had not shown any interest at all in Christ were giving their testimonies to each other about how the Lord had touched their lives. The word also spread that the team from Asbury had decided to stay in town for one more night and there would be a Monday evening service. 

My college friend, Bud Sempsrott, and I decided to attend Monday night's service, and we drove to the church early in order to get a good seat. (I think we went to every service of that revival from that time onward, other than the times we went out on witness teams to other parts of the country.) I remember there was snow on the ground and it was cold. We soon realized that what we deemed as early wasn't early enough. We had to park several blocks from the church because so many were already there. When we arrived at the church we learned there were so many in attendance we had to sit in the overflow section in the church's gymnasium. Monday night's service lasted several hours, and it was announced nightly services would continue indefinitely, even though the Asbury 
students had to leave and get back to their classes. 

On Tuesday evening Bud and I found a seat in the balcony of the church. The sanctuary was packed to the gills. All the pews were filled, and people were standing all along the walls. In the front of the sanctuary the choir section was full and people were sitting in chairs set up on the platform. I felt a deep sense of God's love and presence in the atmosphere as the congregation sang, “There's a sweet, sweet Spirit in this place.” 

There were no formal sermons preached. Instead, there was testimony after testimony, interspersed with congregational singing, and altar calls. The testimonies were heartfelt accounts of how God had intervened in each person's life in the past few days as a result of the revival meetings. Humble, broken expressions of deep repentance and confessions of sins, not just against God, but against each other. There was an unusual amount of transparency and honesty as people publicly sought reconciliation with each other. And this continued for fifty nights. There was also a breakfast prayer meeting every 
morning at a restaurant and another prayer meeting at noon at the City Hall auditorium. Large rallies were held each Sunday afternoon at a school auditorium. The front page of the local newspaper proclaimed one day, “2,500 Told to Get Right With God.” 

Love, humility, forgiveness and restitution were the defining hallmarks of this revival. There were very few, if any, expressions of noisy emotionalism, although there was no lack of deep emotion. Tears seemed to be the order of the day. An overwhelming sense of reverence and humble gratitude because God had decided to visit our city with an authentic revival. A large banner was hung across the podium which proclaimed, “God's Power Shows Up Best in Weak People”, which is the Living Bible translation of 2 Corinthians 12:9. 

One night a man stood up and said, “What I am about to say is going to cost me five hundred dollars.” He went on to apologize publicly to a man in the crowd whom he had cheated out of money. On another occasion a local school teacher, who had been involved in contentious contract negotiations between the teachers and the school board, confessed he had previously found a dead skunk and had secretly put it into one of the school board member's mailbox. The teacher then related God had shown him had to go to the school board member's home and to ask forgiveness. Divorce papers were torn up when couples were reconciled after attending the services. A waitress in town, who was planning her own suicide, visited one of the services and came to Christ and found a renewed sense of hope. 

There were usually two to three altar calls each night. On one of the nights, the moderator of the service made an announcement requesting those at the altar to please return to their seats when they were finished praying in order to make room for all the others desiring to kneel there. 

A turning point in my life, perhaps the turning point, occurred on the third night of the revival, Tuesday, February 24, 1970. I was sitting in the balcony and observing what was happening at the front of the sanctuary with so many flocking to the altar to pray. I was very happy for those who were coming to Christ, especially those who had previously shown no interest in Him. 

It hadn't crossed my mind that maybe I needed to search my own heart as well. After all, 
I had accepted Christ when I was eight years old and had felt a calling to preach when I was ten. I was going to college to become a full-time minister and had preached a few times even in high school. It was as if I had forgotten all those lonely prayer walks at night when I would call out to God for something more real in my walk with Him. 

And then the Holy Spirit whispered in my mind with that “still, small voice” a question which exposed the crux of my problem. As the congregation continued to sing and an altar call was in progress, it seemed that He was asking me, “If I was to call you to go to Africa for the rest of your life as a missionary and to work in obscurity, would you do it?” 

The question troubled me because I knew I couldn't fool God and I had to give Him an honest answer. Without saying anything verbally, I answered, “No.” I felt ashamed to have to give that answer, but it was a truthful one. The fact of the matter was that although I had accepted God's calling to work for him, I wanted to be successful and well-known and recognized for what I did. To preach to crowds, maybe write books. I didn't want to go to to some faraway, unknown location in a secret corner of the globe. Once again, as I sat there, I felt as if He was clarifying the question. I felt He was saying, “It's not that this is what I am asking you to do, but would you be willing do to it if it was My will?” And I realized again my answer was still, “No.” 

It dawned on me in that moment that the reason I had been feeling a disconnect and an emptiness was that even though I was a Christian, I had never surrendered my entire life to do His will, regardless of what it might be. I had given him possibly 99 percent, but He wanted it all. Many years later I wrote a song which stated, “All that I have I now offer. All that I have I now bring. I lay my life on the altar. I now give you everything. All of my future and all of my plans. All that I treasure I place in Your hands.” 

I made my way down the stairs of the balcony and walked up to the altar and knelt as the congregation continued singing. There were a number of people who laid their hands on me as I prayed silently. I settled things with God that night. I told Him he would have 100% of me for the rest of my life. I told Him that even if He asked me to do difficult things or things against my own will, like going to Africa, I wanted Him more than anything in this world. I promised Him that for the rest of my life I would do whatever I felt He said to do and I would give up anything He wanted me to give up. 

And amazingly, once I prayed that prayer of surrender, a flood of peace came over me that to this day is still hard to describe. I knew that my life and my future was in God's hands and He was committed to lead me and to take care of me. There is an old gospel song entitled, “The Old Account Was Settled Long Ago.” That watershed moment of my life happened at an altar on a cold night in Anderson, Indiana, and I have tried to stay true to that promise I made. 

I couldn't sleep that night because of the joy and peace I felt. I remember getting up in the wee hours and going for a drive out in the country. I hope I didn't wake anybody up, but as I rode, I would just tell Jesus how much I loved Him and honk my horn. It seems crazy now, but it was my way of letting the happiness and gratitude out. I was making a joyful noise. 

Some people used to say the revival was a fad that would wear off. Fifty years later the flame still burns.

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