JENA, La. (BP)–The revival that began Feb. 17 in Jena, La., continues this week, April 7-11, and may conclude during its eighth week -– a biblical number for “new beginnings.”
“In the Bible, the number eight represents new beginnings,” L&A Baptist Church pastor Jimmy Ray Young said. “I believe that God has brought us to this very important week to say Jena and LaSalle Parish now have a new beginning in Christ.”
The Jena community found itself in the national spotlight last September over race-related issues when an estimated 20,000 people from out of town marched in the streets of the community of approximately 3,000 citizens
“Now, during these past two months something extraordinary has happened in Jena and LaSalle Parish, La.,” said Craig Franklin, associate editor of The Jena Times. “God chose to orchestrate something special here and, through the humility of bended knees, the desperation of broken hearts and the confession of sin by God’s people, the Holy Spirit of God has transformed this community for His pleasure and purposes.”
The eighth week of meetings will be held in a tent that was to have been used in week seven. However, inclement weather prompted organizers to move the meetings indoors.
“We’ll meet at the tent erected in a ball field at the Ward 10 Recreation Complex,” said Bill Robertson, interim pastor of Midway Baptist Church, where the revival began. “We didn’t get to meet there last week, but God knew where we were supposed to be.”
And that place was L&A Baptist Church, one of the area’s black churches that has been participating in the protracted meetings since week one. Although the church building was crowded, the revival leaders reported a renewed sense of needing to be right with God. The movement to the altar, confession of sin and reconciliation with God and man continued during the services and the invitation time, said Robertson, who has been the revival’s main speaker and also is director of the Louisiana Baptist Convention’s pastoral leadership team.
Young recounted that “we all felt impressed to conduct the rest of the week at L&A.” Having the majority “white” revival congregants meet in the black church did much in the way of reconciliation between the two races, the pastor said.
“What it did was show the black community that the white community was serious about reconciling,” Young said. “Members of our black churches realized that a work of God had taken place that moved the hearts of our white brothers and sisters so strongly that they desired fellowship with us on our side of the ‘tracks.'”
Franklin, the primary worship leader during the revival, agreed.
“God knew that we [Anglos] first needed to be in a black church to demonstrate to our fellow black believers that we were serious about restoring our community to what God desires,” Franklin said. “While we, to our knowledge, didn’t have any conversions last week, what we did have was true reconciliation, and now a unity exists that before last week wasn’t there.”
The ministers noted that throughout the week, apologies were made from both races, some public, and many private, that contributed to another outpouring of the revival winds of God.
“In one service, there was a time when whites and blacks got up out of their seats and went to one another, hugged one another and simply said, ‘I love you,'” Robertson said. “In another service, one of the black pastors called LaSalle Parish District Attorney Reed Walters to the front and had all of the ministers, a racially diverse group, pray over him. There could be no greater example of reconciliation that this.”
Walters, who is seen as the center of the Jena Six drama evolving from race-related incidents at the local high school, participated in nearly all of the services during the seven weeks. Walters spoke to the crowd that night, thanked them for their prayers and asked them to continue to pray for the ministers whose work plays a part of what “determines heaven or hell for people.”
The extended revival that started at Midway Baptist Church on Feb. 17 continued there for two weeks. For the third week, services were moved to East Jena Baptist Church and, for the fourth week, the Jena High School gymnasium. The fifth week, services were moved to Temple Baptist Church, the sixth week to First Baptist Church in Olla and the seventh week at L&A.
During the past seven weeks, more than 100 people have come to know Christ as their personal Savior and Lord. The majority of those decisions have been by adults. At least three have surrendered to a call to the ministry, while hundreds of other decisions have included fresh surrender to the lordship of Christ and reconciliations both relational and racial.
The meetings are marked with extended invitations of confession of sin and repentance and requests for personal forgiveness. Many have testified during the services and asked for forgiveness for their personal role in damaging the community.
There is interest across the nation for this kind of transformational meeting. During the past three weeks, church leaders from Texas and Oklahoma have traveled to Jena to participate in the revival. People from other states have called Robertson wanting additional firsthand information. They reported to him that they read about the Jena revival on Baptist Press, the news service of the Southern Baptist Convention. They shared that they have prayed for this kind of event to occur in their own communities.
“Word has spread about the revival across America, and Jena is now getting a new name,” Robertson said. “God has restored this community, and people from all over our nation are learning about the work He is doing here … and they want to be part of His great work.”
John L. Yeats is director of communications for the Louisiana Baptist Convention and recording secretary of the Southern Baptist Convention. For more information on the revival, contact Bill Robertson at 318-451-9141 or Franklin at 318-312-0752.