News Articles

When revival came, God placed passion in their lives

EDITORS’ NOTE: The following four stories are part of a new series initiated by Baptist Press to explore and describe how individuals, churches, associations and conventions exhibit a passion for Christ and His Kingdom.

BROWNWOOD, Texas (BP)–A spiritual wave that touched more than 100 college campuses has largely faded into the annals of history, but key participants in what became known as “the Brownwood revival” say it left a lasting impression.

John Avant, former pastor of Coggin Avenue Baptist Church in Brownwood, Texas — where the revival originated — said it stimulated his passion for missions. Previously, he had only been overseas once, but now travels abroad regularly.

“I can’t explain why, but that seems to be one of the hallmarks of revival,” said Avant, now pastor at New Hope Baptist Church in Fayetteville, Ga. “When I went overseas I saw a passion for God I rarely see in the Western world, except when revival breaks out.”

Rick Cavitt, minister to students at Coggin Avenue for the past 15 years, sees more students going to the mission field than when the revival broke out in 1995.

They include 15 collegians who were among 66 church members who traveled to Mexico in mid-March.

“Our students are a little different today,” Cavitt said of the long-term impact. “They’re wanting to be challenged more. If we said we needed 20 students to go to China, we’d have 20 students ready to go to China.”

Cavitt also sees the revival’s influence living on through graduates now serving as pastors and missionaries, or teaching and leading teens to Christ through groups like the Fellowship of Christian Athletes.

Other results are more subtle, Cavitt said, such as marriages on the verge of divorce getting healed, and diminished bickering and dissension among church members.

“It brought a great humbling in my life,” Cavitt said. “I wouldn’t have considered myself a prideful person, but having an awareness of God’s Spirit brought a brokenness. Realizing who God was had a tremendous impact on my life.”

The revival started on Jan. 22, 1995, when two college students from Howard Payne University came forward during a Sunday morning invitation at Coggin Avenue to confess sins.

The service stretched into the afternoon as people flooded to the altar, confessing everything from lust and lack of prayer to pride and arrogance.

Several days later, the scene repeated itself at Howard Payne, and the following week at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth.

As participants shared testimonies in other places, it sparked confession and repentance on campuses stretching from Massachusetts to Alabama to Illinois. Wanting to get rid of unwholesome influences, people brought pornography, alcohol, cigarettes and CDs and tapes to be destroyed.

Chris Robeson, whose reading of Joel 2:12 touched off repentance at Coggin Avenue, confessed a more “mundane” sin -– lethargic and apathetic attitudes.

Now a pastor in suburban Dallas, Robeson remembers how he had gotten so wrapped up in activities that he stopped being faithful to personal worship.

Robeson recalled amazement at the level of confession that day and how quickly God set people free of bad habits when they admitted their problems.

“I hope my life … in some way perpetuates [the revival], that it causes others to say, ‘What could be if we cried out to God?’” said Robeson, pastor of Woodbridge Community Church in Wyle, Texas. “I hope in some way it does impact the way I lead and serve as a pastor.”

Two academics who have since moved to other institutions say Brownwood still affects their actions and thoughts about God’s work.

Former Southwestern Seminary President Ken Hemphill is now the national strategist for the Southern Baptist Convention’s Empowering Kingdom Growth emphasis. He said his travels and writing on spiritual renewal emerged from the 1995 awakening.

“I can see the dynamics of what God has led me to do at this next juncture of my life, coming out of that unique experience,” said Hemphill, who is now based in Nashville, Tenn. “There are spiritual moments where you lay down a marker and God began to move in a new direction and a new way.”

As for personal impact, Hemphill said God renewed a more serious appetite for prayer. While he wasn’t prayerless, the former pastor said his friends wouldn’t have listed it as one of his outstanding characteristics.

The other is a growing passion for God’s Kingdom, Hemphill said. Many people struggle with the fact that life is not about them or their accomplishments, but how much they invest in God’s Kingdom, he added.

“I believe that final temptation of Jesus [by Satan] — ‘If you would worship me this one time, I’ll give you all the kingdoms of the world’ –- is the temptation we all face,” Hemphill said. “That is, do I get up and go to work today because I want to advance the Kingdom of God … or do I go to work because I need to advance my kingdom?”

Alvin Reid also was directly affected by the revival: After hearing about it, he received an invitation from Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary President Paige Patterson to join the faculty there.

Though reluctant to leave Houston Baptist University, Reid said when he walked onto the North Carolina campus he sensed God saying, “This place is for you.” Since then, Reid has written or coauthored several books on revival, along with teaching an annual course on spiritual awakening.

“That’s been a focus of my life,” Reid said. “I think the revival made it not just theory for me. It strengthened my resolve that the power of God cannot be left out if we are to impact America. [And] it showed me that youth play a vital role [in revival].”

Participants believe there are continuing lessons for all Christians that emerged from Brownwood.

For Reid, it starts with the truth that Christianity is a changed life, not just showing up for church on Sunday and going home.

The revival also caused him to rethink the influence he has and how to use it more effectively. Reid said this led him to focus more attention on reaching the “radically unchurched” and on ministry to youth.

Hemphill noted that if God’s children expect to experience revival, they have to be willing to suspend daily routines.

He mentioned the first barrier after Avant’s chapel sermon at Southwestern, which touched off revival there, was the bell signaling the next class. Hemphill got up and urged students and faculty to stay if they sensed God leading them to remain.

“It was a risk to say, ‘We’re going to suspend things as long as we need to in order to sense what God is doing,’” Hemphill said.

“If something like that happened in a Sunday morning service today, the tendency would be: ‘It’s noon. What are we going to do now?’ Or if it happened in somebody’s home and God moved spontaneously while we expected to be doing something else.”

Avant listed three key lessons:

— Recognize God’s presence every moment of every day: “People you meet at the gas station could be a life-changing moment.”

— Realize the power of humility and repentance in daily life.

— Remember the power of one person who is willing to be part of a praying remnant that helps bring revival.

“None of these people knew their time on their knees was going to result in a great move of God,” Avant said of small prayer groups in Brownwood, some that met for years prior to 1995. “That can be significant beyond anything you do in life.”
(BP) photos posted in the BP Photo Library at http://www.bpnews.net. Photo titles: THE BROWNWOOD REVIVAL, JOHN AVANT, CHRIS ROBESON, ALVIN REID, KEN HEMPHILL and RICK CAVITT.

    About the Author

  • Ken Walker