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Jena revival heads into week 4

JENA, La. (BP)–If you have not heard, the Lord is doing something extraordinary in Jena, La., population 2,971. This is the same southern forestry town where old prejudices cropped up in a local school and then were exploited by the national media and celebrities such as Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton. On Sept. 20 of last year, an estimated 20,000 people from out of town marched in the streets of the community.

On Sunday evening, March 9, the community will start its fourth week of revival services. The meetings, now being held in the Jena High School gymnasium, are bringing together more people from the community than any church auditorium in the area can handle.

The location seems ironic. More than one person has asked, “Isn’t that the high school where all the troubles started that wounded this town?”

God often uses such things to confound those who see themselves as wise. On Feb. 17, the pastorless Midway Baptist Church started a “normal” spring revival meeting and, in answer to prayer, the Holy Spirit moved in power. Led by their interim pastor, Bill Robertson, confession of sin, worship, prayer and seeking forgiveness has become the “new normal” for this church.

Every service, people are surrendering their lives to Christ and the majority of them are adults. The Jena community buzzes with the news about the meetings and people are reaching out to each other across racial lines in love and prayer.

During the first week, the crowds at Midway included African American pastor Jimmy Young and many of the congregants of the L and A Baptist Church. Pastor Young was asked to preach the first Friday night service. The crowd had grown from 200 at the beginning of the week to more than 300.

The following Sunday night, the start of the second week, the African American congregation, L and A Baptist Church, joined with the Midway congregation to seek God and to worship. The crowd had grown from 300 to 400 by the end of the second week. In every service that week, adults were coming to Christ. On Wednesday evening, 22 people were baptized and 15 of them were adults. People continued to confess sin, ask for forgiveness, make restitution and call out to God for the unsaved in the Jena community.

Midway leaders believed God was leading the revival into a third week but they did not have enough room to accommodate those who were coming. The interim pastor of Midway was scheduled to be out of town, so he asked the interim pastor of the East Jena Baptist Church, which has a larger auditorium, to host the meeting.

By the middle of the third week, the crowd, now at the East Jena church building, grew to more than 700. Chairs were in the aisles. The response of the people was much like the response during the first two weeks. Adults were leading the way as they surrendered their lives to Christ and students were quickly behind them. Confession of sin and repentance punctuated the hour-long invitations. No one seemed to want the services to end.

On Tuesday evening, March 4, the altar was full and people were trusting Christ before the preaching began. At the invitation time, the altar filled again with seniors and young adults alike, bowing and calling out to the Lord.

Leaders of another church in town, Temple Baptist, were heard asking forgiveness of the East Jena church leaders. Almost 70 years ago, Temple Baptist was formed by a split from the East Jena congregation.

“This is the movement of God’s Spirit,” East Jena interim pastor John Hebert said. “It’s not the preaching. I think all Bill Robertson, the interim at Midway or Jimmy Young, the African American pastor, or I would need to do is stand and read John 3:16, extend the invitation and people would be saved.

Hebert said he watched a woman come to the altar, kneel, pray a while and return to her seat. “Then I could see the power of God change her countenance,” Hebert said. “She quickly moved again to the aisle and back to the altar sobbing in repentance and surrendering her life to Christ.”

Ten people received Christ Tuesday evening and 10 more on Wednesday evening. This is not something humans can prefabricate or manipulate. All the glory belongs to God. God is stirring this place.

Leaders from the First Baptist Church in Jena and other congregations, Anglo and African American, have participated and are asking their churches to join the Sunday evening service at the high school gymnasium. The gym can seat approximately 1,100. There is some concern that if the Lord continues to move as He has in the past three weeks and the crowd continues to grow, there isn’t a larger place in Jena to accommodate the people.

Our God knows the true mosaic of the Jena community and wants to heal its wounds. He is using brokenness and much prayer to launch the fresh winds of revival. The Jena Christian leaders have responded to the Spirit with an unselfish attitude. They simply desire to cooperate with the movement of God’s Spirit. They ask Southern Baptists who hunger for a movement of God’s Spirit to join them in prayer for this fourth week of revival meetings.
John L. Yeats is director of communications for the Louisiana Baptist Convention and recording secretary of the Southern Baptist Convention.

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  • John L. Yeats