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Youth revivalists of late 1940s to convene for public symposium

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (BP)–What started as a student-led revival by Baylor University students in April 1945 and repeated again the next spring quickly spread throughout Texas and the South and became a youth revival movement that had an impact on the life and growth of Southern Baptists.
A half-century later, many of the original evangelists will gather for a public symposium on the movement in Birmingham, Ala., June 18-20. Convened by Samford University and its Beeson Divinity School, the three-day event is open to the public and will feature the personal perspectives and insights of various leaders of the movement and dialogue with the audience.
The movement began as the result of a prayer meeting in the dormitory room of a young Japanese-American student, Reiji Hoshizaki, recounted Bill O’Brien, director of Beeson’s Global Center. Along with fellow student M.D. Oates, Hoshizaki was convicted of the need for revival on the campus.
Hoshizaki contacted Bob Denny, Baptist Student Union director at the time who later served as executive director of the Baptist World Alliance, to get a “big-name” evangelist for the revival. Denny told young Hoshizaki to “do the revival yourself,” O’Brien recounted.
Another student, Bruce McIver, helped raise $1,100 for the expenses, and the first youth-led revival was conducted in April 1945 under a tent near the Baylor campus. The event was so successful that a second revival was held the next year. This time, McIver raised $2,200, and the movement spread beyond the campus.
An estimated 15,000 attended a revival in Dallas. Names like Buckner Fanning, BO and Dick Baker, Frank Boggs, Howard Butt, Bob Harris, Reiji Hoshizaki, Bruce McIver, Ralph Langley, Jess Moody, Asa Couch, Jack Robinson, Foy Valentine, Charles Wellborn, W.F. Howard and W.J. Wimpee became household words as their success and effectiveness spread through the Southeast. All of these are expected to be present and participate in the upcoming Beeson symposium.
Within a couple of years, the movement had spread throughout the South. On Sunday, June 26, 1949, an estimated 5,000 people packed the municipal auditorium in Birmingham, Ala., for the closing night of a week-long, city-wide revival. A two-page picture spread in The Alabama Baptist carried a banner headline, “Birmingham Young People Throng City Auditorium to Hear Texas Youth Revival Team.” Frank Boggs was the song leader with Jack Robinson, Charles Wellborn and Howard Butt sharing the preaching assignments.
The Alabama Baptist reported the following: “Decisions recorded include 39 professions of faith, 83 rededications and 23 who offered themselves for definite full-time Christian service. These came from 36 Baptist churches of the two cooperating associations (Bessemer and Birmingham), eight Methodist churches and some from other denominations, 49 in all receiving direct benefit from the evangelistic series.
“Much of the crowd came via chartered bus. Every available bus of the Birmingham Electric Company was in use. At least one church wanted to charter another and had to be refused.”
Arthur Walker, a student at Samford at the time, served as chair of the spiritual preparation committee for the city-wide revival effort. Walker, who served as professor and vice president at Samford and as executive director of the former SBC Education Commission, before retiring in Birmingham, said the movement was “very significant” at the time in that many of the college-age young people participated in it.
“Many of us had been involved in World War II and were seeking for answers, and so these youth revivals provided some basics for religious experience,” Walker said. “During the war, many lost all sight of what it was to be sober, sincere and moral. So these revivals were very meaningful for people who were trying to get back into the proper attitude and approach to life and, as a consequence, really had an impact on the city.”
Also, Walker noted, the atomic bomb had just been dropped on Hiroshima, Japan, and the world was still reeling from the aftermath of that event.
In addition to the times, the personalities of the young evangelists also had an impact on the audiences. One of those was William E. “Bill” Hull, a young Samford student.
“They made a profound impression on me,” said Hull, who entered the ministry in 1949 and did several youth revivals. He said these young men, who were articulate and were thrilling to listen to, created a legitimacy for the young preacher, elevated student work to a high-water mark in that day and were a tonic for the youth program in every church in the Birmingham area.
The movement carried over into the mid-1950s when a second wave of young people they had touched went to college. By the mid-1960s, summer mission programs had begun by state conventions, which was an outgrowth of the youth-led revival movement, O’Brien said. The trend has continued but is now more localized in focus.
O’Brien noted that he was caught up in the movement in 1952 while a student at Hardin-Simmons University in Texas. O’Brien, who had just married Dellanna, now executive director of Woman’s Missionary Union, applied to be a team member but was rejected by W.F. Howard, the Texas student director, because of that.
“I had heard these guys preach and they were ‘with it’, ” he said. “I really identified with them. They had a great sense of humor, were articulate and hit us right where we were at the time — an age when we had heroes. They were our heroes and we wanted to be like them.”
O’Brien was involved, however, for he was invited by Howard to train the music directors from 1958-61. “I was not on a team, but a trainer of teams,” O’Brien said.
Like the O’Briens, who served as missionaries in Indonesia from 1962-74 and then on the staff of the SBC’s former Foreign Mission Board until 1991, most of the original team members went on to distinguished Christian service as pastors and missionaries. Oates, now deceased, served as missionary in Peru and Hoshizaki and his wife served 35 years in Japan before retiring. A son now serves as a missionary in Japan. Now in their 70s, 15 of those earliest team members will convene at Samford University June 18-20 for a time of reunion and sharing. The public is invited.
On Friday and Saturday from 9 a.m. until 4 p.m., the symposium will convene in Harrison Theatre. A fellowship banquet (fee and reservation required) will be held on Saturday evening. Most of the guests will preach or sing in area churches on Sunday morning and the symposium will end with a worship service on Sunday evening at 7 o’clock in Wright Center. For more information, call O’Brien’s office at (205) 870-2170.
“If you cannot attend and your life was touched by this movement or any of its leaders, you are invited to participate by sharing your testimony,” said Samford President Thomas E. Corts. The mailing address is Samford University, Birmingham AL 35229, Attention: President Corts. The fax number is (205) 870-2271. The e-mail address is [email protected].

Brymer is director of communications and publications at Samford University.

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  • Jack Brymer