CHESTERFIELD, S.C. (BP)–A bomb plot at the local high school was thwarted several days after a prayerwalk there as part of a revival initiative by the Chesterfield Baptist Association in South Carolina.
Robert Dickard, director of missions for the association, told Baptist Press that the May 4-10 revival week, which had been planned for months, was all the more poignant for the community because God recently had spared their children from a looming tragedy.
Chesterfield High School is a high-achieving student body known for outstanding ACT scores, and it’s “the last place in the world I would have anticipated this happening,” Dickard said. On April 19, a senior honors student was arrested for plotting to use explosives at the school the following Monday.
The student, identified by the Associated Press as 18-year-old Ryan Schallenberger, was turned in by his parents who discovered a package containing 20 pounds of ammonium nitrate and then found a cassette tape he wanted played after he died.
AP said authorities found a 50-page journal in which Schallenberger had written notes on more than 10 types of explosives he had evaluated as well as detailed plans to bomb Chesterfield High School.
“He said death was better than life,” Craig Townsend, an agent with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, said in a federal hearing April 29. “He told the sheriff he wanted to die and go to heaven and once he got there, he wanted to kill Jesus.”
Dickard told Baptist Press that in preparation for the community-wide revivals, groups of pastors, deacons, Woman’s Missionary Union participants and youth had been meeting to pray for God to move in their city.
It so happened, he said, that more than 100 people from local churches gathered at Chesterfield High School to prayerwalk on the property the Tuesday night before Schallenberger was arrested. They prayed for the students, the teachers and for revival services the churches would be hosting on the high school grounds in the coming days, not knowing what would soon show up in headlines.
“The sheriff said had [the student] been able to pull this off, he would have killed probably 100 people,” Dickard said. “I believe in response to the prayers of God’s people, God stopped that thing from taking place. I really do.”
The idea for the revivals stemmed from a group of pastors in the association who had been burdened about the need for revival in their city for more than a year, and much prayer led to a concrete strategy.
“We have 60 churches in our association, and we divided those into seven geographic zones,” Dickard said. “Then in January we had a leadership banquet where we invited every pastor and the leadership team from every church, which could have been staff members or deacons or whoever they consider their leadership team.”
At the banquet, Dickard delivered a five-year history of church attendance, baptisms and giving in the local association. He also shared statistics from the county government regarding crime and other issues the churches would be interested in addressing.
“I looked at the total population of the county and I looked at the total number of people in church on any given Sunday,” Dickard said. “The ratio had been dropping every year. I think people in the churches saw how desperate we were for God to do something in our midst.”
At a subsequent meeting in March, the director of missions met with the pastors to talk further about demographics and to devise a plan for reaching their city for Jesus.
“I said, ‘Here are your particular church demographics, here are the demographics of the association, of the county,'” Dickard recounted to BP. “‘What we’re asking is for your group of churches to work together to plan revival services for the first week of May.
“‘You can choose your location. It can be in one of your churches, it can be in another auditorium, it can be wherever,'” he said. “‘You decide in your group of churches who the speaker will be, who the musicians will be. But all of the county in those seven geographic zones will be having revival services at the same time.'”
The pastors took the challenge, which picked up the name “The Connection,” based on Ecclesiastes 4:12, “… a cord of three strands is not easily broken,” and a May 4 community-wide kickoff was sponsored by the Chesterfield association.
“We rented the evangelism tent from our state convention,” Dickard said. “It seats about 1,100 people, and we overflowed that tent. We had 1,200 or 1,300 people there just for the kickoff service. It was a powerful time.
“On Monday through Friday, the churches met in their regions to have their individual services. Some of them decided that the pastors themselves would preach, one each night,” he said. “Some of the areas decided they would bring in a vocational evangelist, but it was up to the groups.”
Attendance at the services was far greater than he had anticipated, Dickard said, and decisions for Christ were made each night.
“On Saturday we came back together for a celebration rally and had testimonies from the seven areas of exactly what God did,” he said. “We had a baptism rally where the churches in those zones would bring their folks and baptize them. We had a huge baptism rally, and I don’t know exactly how many we baptized, but the service lasted about two hours.”
The director of missions said the simultaneous revivals were a tremendous success because they energized local churches.
“The amazing thing that’s come out of this is the churches have said, ‘Such a move of God happened in our group, we’ve decided that at least once a quarter we’re going to do this again — our churches are going to come together for a joint worship service,'” Dickard said.
More prayer went into the revival preparations than anything he has been part of in many years, Dickard said. And though it was sponsored by a Southern Baptist association, he said Methodists, Presbyterians and people from other denominations also took part.
“It was a great thing, and I would encourage other associations or groups of churches to do this because it really turned into a move of God,” Dickard said. “The spirit continues. I’ve had folks come to my office I’ve never met before — pastors and laypeople and deacons — just weeping because of an awesome sense of God. They were saying, ‘In some way, let’s continue this on.’ So we’re going to see how God’s going to use this in the weeks and months to come.”
Erin Roach is a staff writer for Baptist Press.