Early one morning in February, Johnny Maxwell received a call from his 18-year-old granddaughter.
“My granddaughter got a hold of me Friday morning and said, ‘Papa, what are doing today? Let’s go to Asbury,’” said Maxwell, pastor of Nature’s Trail Church in Priceville.
That call would take the duo on a two-day, 350-mile journey from Morgan County to Wilmore, Kentucky, to what some Christian leaders have described as the latest spiritual awakening.
“I’ve been to a lot of revivals and various church meetings and conventions. They are all helpful and good, but this was way up higher. This was not a revival. It was electric. You could feel the pop in the air. It is probably the closest thing to the day of Pentecost I will experience,” Maxwell said.
The revival at Asbury University, which became an international event, began on Feb. 8, when students lingered in the chapel after a morning service to sing and pray. By that evening, students had dragged mattresses to the chapel in order to spend the night.
Within days, thanks to TikTok, Instagram, Facebook and word of mouth, Christians and questioners from across the country descended upon Asbury University in the 6,000-person town of Wilmore.
Maxwell and his granddaughter, Ella Grace Maxwell, arrived on the campus on Feb. 18, 11 days into the revival.
“There were 25,000 to 30,000 people there the Saturday we went. The town actually shut roads down so no more people could get in,” Maxwell said. “There were four lines and they were each 12 hours long and over a mile long. But just being in line was an experience. We saw people on their knees praying, people playing guitars and people singing in groups.”
They talked with people from four different countries, who flew to the United States specifically for the revival. They prayed with individuals uncertain of their faith. They spoke with four people from California, who hoped they would be able to spread what they received in Kentucky with their community at home.
“To me, it revealed the fact that people are fed up with religion and are starving to death for a relationship with God,” Maxwell said. “A lot of church people were there who had been going to church for all their lives, but never felt Christ. Up until then it had just been an orthodoxy.”
One young man’s testimony stood out to Maxwell.
“He said he went to church when he was young, but always felt empty after. He said he turned to drugs, sex and alcohol — anything he could find to fill him up. When he heard about the revival, he didn’t want to go, but his friends convinced him to. He said as soon as he got there Jesus started dealing with him and he dedicated his life to him,” Maxwell said. “We heard those testimonies over and over and over again.”
The university estimated that the revival drew in more than 50,000 people, including individuals from 17 countries and 40 denominations, by the time it ended Feb. 24.
While the Asbury revival ended, the impact has extended across the country with reports of events at Abilene Christian University in Texas, Harding University in Arkansas, Virginia Theological Seminary, Lee University in Tennessee, Cedarville University in Ohio, Holy Cross Church in The Bronx, New York, and Samford University in Birmingham.
“There is no encounter with God that can easily be forgotten. God is reaching out to a whole generation and He is showing them who He really is, a God of love and mercy,” said Jacob Jones, pastor of River City Pentecostals. “I’m praying that it continues to grow and spread. I’ve been praying daily that the churches in Decatur will catch some spark from this event. One spark can start a wildfire in our city.”
Like past spiritual awakenings, the movement is being led by young people.
“Historically, spiritual awakenings have begun in the hearts of students and young people," said Rob Cain, an Alabama pastor. "The reason why is pretty easy — young people believe. They have an open-ended faith. When God says something, they say, ‘Great, let’s do it.’ That pliability of the heart of a student, you can’t match that and we don’t need to outgrow it no matter how old we are."
Cain, president of the Hartselle Camp Meeting, campus pastor at American Christian Academy in Tuscaloosa and associate pastor at Circlewood Baptist Church in Tuscaloosa, has seen the effect of student-led revivals firsthand.
“I have met college presidents, evangelists and leaders who were touched by the 1970s Asbury revival,” Cain said, referring to the weeklong revival that took place at Asbury University 53 years ago. “There is a great wave of impact that is happening and we are going to feel it everywhere because of what God is doing through that spiritual awakening.”
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