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FIRST-PERSON: Making evangelism good news again

ALPHARETTA, Ga. (BP)–God is on the move these days. I am beginning to see it nearly everywhere I go. As I write this, I am in Alaska for their state evangelism conference. The week before I was in Missouri for theirs.

In both of these states God is doing something unusual through college students. Students have felt led to gather and pray and read the Scriptures together in preparation for the conference. Now, these are not student conferences. They are mostly attended by pastors, staff members and adult laity. But these students are taking the lead in prayer. And in both states we have had the best conference in memory. The presence of the Spirit of God was unmistakable. There was repentance and joy and unity, and we left as a mission force to the unreached as Jesus intended us to be.

We should not be surprised at this, because God has always used students in mighty ways. Jan. 22 was the 11th anniversary of what some call the Brownwood Revival. It began in Brownwood, Texas, but it was really a movement among students across North America. And it, too, began with a group of students, from Howard Payne University, who prayed all night and sought God for revival in our church and on the campus.

God answered those prayers and at one point, according to Bill Bright, there were over a hundred college campuses in a major revival movement. I have never gotten over what happened in those years. The results of it changed me and continue to change lives across the world as those students have spread out everywhere, taking the power of God with them. And now, just maybe, there seems to be a fresh move of God among college students again. In fact, in Missouri, the students who prayed all night did so on Jan. 22, the anniversary of the Brownwood outbreak, though they did not know it at the time!

What will revival look like if God uses students to bring it again? I don’t know the mind of God on this, but I have to think that a massive movement of evangelism will be at the very heart of it. A post-modern generation of students have been nursed on the sour milk of relativism and pluralism. Ultimately, this leads to despair –- to a philosophy without hope, without direction, without truth. And no generation will stay in that barren place for long. Students are hungry again.

I saw it in the eyes of a new friend who is a student at American University in Washington, D.C. I met him on a plane. He is not a Christian but has read 14 Christian books in the last two months! He said that a group of his friends “are what they call born again,” and that they keep praying for him and talking to him. I asked him if he thought it could be an accident that God sat him beside the guy who leads evangelism for the largest mission agency in North America? He didn’t accept Christ. But he had a hard time believing that could be a coincidence. He is open. And so is nearly everyone, especially students. We are ripe for the next Jesus Movement. I wonder, if it comes, will we as Southern Baptists support it and resource it this time, or will we chip away at it with our usual criticism because it is not like what we have done before? You know, I am starting to believe that enough Southern Baptists are getting so tired of fighting over lesser issues than the Word of God, that we actually just might join God the next time He moves. Wouldn’t that be something to see? And don’t be surprised if it starts with these wonderful praying students.

Next week in this article, you will hear from Mark Lydecker, our brand new director of collegiate evangelism at the North American Mission Board. He couldn’t be coming at a better time. Pray for him, and for all of us who love and work with students, that together we will make evangelism good news again.
John Avant is vice president for evangelization at the Southern Baptist North American Mission Board.

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  • John Avant