Welsh Revival revisited – part 2
Last updated on October 11th, 2018 at 12:23 pm
This article continues the Gardner’s World column printed in the OCT/NOV 2018 issue of HEART
Bucketloads of blessing
Revisiting the Welsh Revival during a conference at the Bible College of Wales – Part II
By Charles Gardner
As I continue my report on our visit to the Bible College of Wales and the nearby birthplace of the Welsh Revival, it seemed apt that my wife and I, along with my son’s family, should visit the famous Alnwick Garden in Northumberland the following week.
For the stunning spectacle of its cascading fountains beautifully reflected the purity and power of God’s presence we had experienced on the Gower Peninsula.
It was also at Alnwick that I came across the following inscription carved into stone: “Only dead fish swim with the stream.”
The likes of Rees Howells, the college founder who played a significant role in the revival, made a huge difference to the world because they swam against the tide, as the Bible urges us to do – specifically, “Do not be conformed to the pattern of this world…” (See Romans 12:1-2)
One of his big challenges as he sought God’s leading on personal intercession was when the Lord told him to go hatless in order to reflect a permanent attitude of prayer. This, in 1909, went very much against the grain; in fact, it was unheard of for men to go about without a head covering. And he confessed to having had a tremendous struggle with obeying this particular call.
Fashion enslaves people into ‘keeping up appearances’ rather than pleasing God with acts of faith and devotion. But in this and other ways, Rees learnt to become ‘dead to the world’ and all its influences and expectations; he no longer cared that some would no doubt have considered his strange behaviour as somewhat fanatical. (Standing up for sexual morality and the sanctity of life is now generally considered unacceptable).
Hatikvah Films, who have already produced a string of inspiring documentaries on Israel’s place in God’s purposes as well as other Christian endeavours, are planning to make a movie called ‘Surrender’ on the Rees Howells story, according to staff member Stephen Briggs, who also addressed the conference.
Participants had flown in from throughout the United States as well as from Holland, while others came from across the south of England and Wales – we were the lone visitors from the north.
Although a relatively small gathering with no more than 50 taking part, most of them were men and women of great spiritual stature and faith – at least one had met with US Presidents while others had walked with the likes of Billy Graham and had witnessed God’s miraculous guidance over many years.
Dick Funnell, from New Orleans, shared his extraordinary journey of how God had led him to come and live on the west coast of Wales where he and his Guatemalan wife Gladys now have keys to a small chapel where they have been praying daily for the past 13 years, convinced that revival is on its way.
As we prayed and lifted our hands in worship, we were aware of the crucial part played by Howells and his students who interceded day and night for a nation facing disaster at the time of Dunkirk. Their God-ordained prayers brought us back from the brink of destruction. They also prayed through to victory at the UN for Israel’s recognition in November 1947, having also made provision for Jewish children escaping the Nazi net.
Among other participants was former student David Dare, now 80, from Lyme Regis in Dorset, who spoke of life-changing times under the ministry of Samuel Howells, son of Rees. David and his wife Rosemary now host intercessory prayer meetings four times a week.
Further testimonies shared included that of Tara, a seven-times married young woman whose story is told in ‘Gangster’s Girl’, soon due out from Penguin Books.
Dr Harry Schmidt, a Bible College principal from Chicago, told the remarkable story of how his wife had led him to the altar twice – initially at the age of 12 when she took him to the front of the rather cramped church to give his life to Jesus. Because there was not much room, he knelt at the corner of the piano stool where he wept buckets as he wiped his tears on the dress of the pianist, who was later to become his mother-in-law!
After falling into disrepair and closing in 2009, the Swansea college site was reclaimed from developers, refurbished and then re-opened in 2015 thanks to a £5 million cash injection from Singapore pastor Yang Tuck Yoong in honour of British missionaries and the revival legacy.
The standard of singing was already high, as you would expect in Wales, but took off into heavenly realms when opera star Huw Priday took the microphone and treated us to glorious renditions of classic numbers including ‘I’ll walk with God’. And when his soprano wife Elizabeth joined him, it was a blessing beyond all expectation to have a front row seat as they sang the ‘All I ask of you’ duet from ‘Phantom of the Opera’!
Huw believes we are in for a period of great darkness ahead, and that we will need to stand firm in the faith to be ready to care for the many broken people who will flock to the Saviour. Having left a glittering career to commit himself full-time to Gospel ministry, he has an inspiring vision to help reach this generation through classical music.
Huw, who is from Brecon, told me of an exhibition at Brecon Cathedral focused on the part played by Welsh soldiers in the 15thcentury Battle of Agincourt. They were particularly accurate with their arrows, which did not deflect from armour but instead penetrated it thanks to the ‘secret weapon’ of beeswax, though their notorious courage obviously also came into play.
Some years ago, at the same venue, I met the granddaughter of a soldier who famously won the Victoria Cross at the Battle of Rorke’s Drift during the Zulu War of 1879. You may know that it was there that some 100 soldiers of the South Wales Borderers, many of them lying sick in a makeshift hospital, successfully fought off some 4,000 Zulu warriors. You may have seen the film (starring Jack Hawkins, Stanley Baker and a young Michael Caine), which I watched being made in 1963 as we lived nearby and frequently went for picnics there on the slopes of the majestic Drakensberg mountains – the actual site of Rorke’s Drift is some 100 miles away, but they chose this spot for the stunning backdrop.
Anyway, those young Welshmen were subjected to severe intimidation as hordes of chanting warriors surrounded them, and I have no doubt that many prayers went up as, with great courage, they fought against all the odds until eventually, and to their enormous surprise, the Zulus gave up and saluted them for their bravery. As many as eleven VCs were awarded, some posthumously – the highest number ever handed out for a single engagement.
The conference was not short on humour, being graced with the presence of Gospel singer Bryn Yemm, a terrific entertainer who had us in fits of laughter even though not actually performing. An award-winning artist who has travelled the world, he has a special love for Israel, having led cruise ship tours from Haifa when he boldly witnessed to Jews about their Messiah.
My wife and I stayed at Nicholaston House, a beautiful Christian retreat some ten miles down the Gower Peninsula, and we had a magical view of the beach at Oxwich Bay. It was a vision of the Gower Peninsula, an area of outstanding natural beauty, that had originally acted as confirmation that I should accept the invitation to attend this conference.
A friend with whom we had stayed in Cwmbran, South Wales, before heading for Swansea, had correctly predicted that we would experience ‘bucket-loads of blessings’ and it seemed apt that the long drought was broken by rain – later bucketing down – as we drove to the college via the M4 motorway.
Our Welsh experience finished, fittingly, with a stop to see old friends in Brecon who were missionaries to Bolivia and whose daughters are now following in their footsteps to Colombia and Rwanda. All the family are, like Abraham, still living by faith, not knowing where they are going next, but trusting in the Lord for every step of the way, which had proved to be the theme of the conference.
It seemed entirely appropriate, when we finally arrived back in Yorkshire at the end of our 250-mile journey from Swansea, to learn from TV news coverage of a new hero from Wales, Geraint Thomas, following his epic win in the Tour de France, cycling’s premier event. Will leading the world in this hugely challenging physical pursuit soon be eclipsed at a spiritual level as wells of revival are once more unblocked in Wales?
“In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he will direct your paths.” (Proverbs 3:6) We had been on an epic journey ourselves as we continue to discover more about the perfect way to live!
The Battle of Britain
My recent visit to the birthplace of the Welsh Revival has prompted me to add a third reflection on that great movement – with particular reference to the ministry of Rees Howells, whose biography I have recently rediscovered; a veritable treasure half-hidden on our bookshelves.1
Rees was a product of the 1904 revival whose influence spread across the globe, but is perhaps best remembered for the intercessions he led during World War II which, in the opinion of many, probably did more for Allied victory than any amount of military firepower.
But when Rees and his Bible College students fought the great battles of the war on their knees, it wasn’t just for our freedom. Their prime motivation was to clear obstacles to the preaching of the Gospel, because Hitler’s regime blocked the path to fulfilling Christ’s Great Commission.
Not only was the Nazis’ atheistic ideology the very antithesis of Christianity, but the upheaval of ongoing war would continue to distract people everywhere from a consideration of their soul’s destiny.
And because the Swansea college’s chief concern was for the Gospel, they were also greatly burdened for the Jewish people, who were under threat of genocide. After all, the Gospel is “to the Jew first…” (Romans 1:16). And if the Jews were destroyed, they could never be restored to their ancient land as the prophets had predicted, and Jesus could not return, for the Bible clearly states that the Jews must be back in the Holy Land before this happens (see Zechariah 12-14).
The college company, however, knew what must take place (it is so important that Christians are familiar with scriptural prophecy) and thus had confidence to pray for victory as the Holy Spirit led them.
Their prayers during the Battle of Britain, for example, were informed by a very clear scriptural goal: “Every creature is to hear the Gospel; Palestine is to be regained by the Jews; and the Saviour is to return.”2
Time and again the German forces were on the point of winning crucial battles when, quite inexplicably, the tide suddenly turned – and the only reasonable explanation was that God must have intervened miraculously in response to prayer.
These Bible students were laying down their lives as much as those young men at the front. From the time of Dunkirk, through the rest of the war years, the entire college (about 100 strong) prayed every evening from 7 o’clock to midnight, with only a brief interval for supper, in addition to an hour-long prayer meeting every morning, and very often at midday.
I have already mentioned how the Welsh Revival was ignited (humanly speaking) by passionate young people determined for God to come down and use them as his instruments.
Tragically, few of the UK’s young generation have even heard the Gospel, but among the few are outstanding men and women whom God has already touched, and the mantle is falling on them to usher in a new era of radical Christianity, filling the vacuum created by the hopeless, lifeless and meaningless ideologies of secular humanism.
Under secular humanistic ideology, we are no longer categorised as either male or female, but there are now some 70 other ways to identify our gender – all of which makes ‘Alice in Wonderland’ sound positively sane. No wonder we are faced with a shattering breakdown of the family along with a vicious attack on the sanctity of life and sexual morality.
One of these ideologies makes our genes responsible for bad behaviour, which neatly avoids facing God’s instructions for living, summed up in the Ten Commandments: “Thou shalt not worship false idols/blaspheme/kill/commit adultery/steal/lie/covet”. God told us not to do these things – and trusted us to have such a holy reverence for him that we wouldn’t dare disobey – no excuses.
But God is also realistic and the Bible teaches that we are born sinners whose natural tendency to rebel needs dealing with. The solution was provided by Jesus on the cross, where he took the full punishment for our sins, paying for it with his blood. God’s own precious Son chose to die in our place so that we would not perish, but inherit eternal life.
The devil tries every trick to prevent us from acknowledging our deep need of life, love, hope and peace which can only be found at the cross.
Returning to today’s radical young Christians, I ask, will they be up for the task? Remember Gideon, who only needed 300 men to defeat the enemy, and young David – the anointed ancestor of Messiah Jesus – who required just a single well-aimed stone to slay an intimidating giant.
I have met, come to know and even work with some passionate young people who are up for the fight. And I am reminded of Churchill’s famous speech after the Battle of Britain, in which (referring to the brave Spitfire pilots) he said: “Never in the field of human conflict has so much been owed by so many to so few.”
Just as the 1939-45 battles were fought chiefly by young men, so must the spiritual warfare for our nation be fought in the main by millennials.
If we are to pray for nations, we must first have the kind of passion for individual souls that Rees possessed in bucketloads; he would fast and pray for a tramp, or drunkard, or village trouble-maker until he had gained victory – however long it took. He also learned to walk by faith for every move he made, refusing to make his financial needs known, trusting God for every penny. In the case of the Bible College, he began with just two shillings and saw God send him £125,000 (the equivalent of millions in today’s money) over the next 14 years.
In 1915 he and his wife Elizabeth went out to Africa as missionaries – under the auspices of the South African General Mission founded by Andrew Murray – and witnessed marvellous revivals, accompanied by extraordinary healings, blazing a trail for a future student, Reinhard Bonnke, who would see millions drawn into the kingdom through his huge rallies across the continent.
Even the Queen of Swaziland came to faith. Rees reported: “I told her that God had one Son, and he gave him to die for us; and we had one son, and had left him to tell the people of Africa about God. She was very much affected by hearing that my wife and I loved her people more than we loved our own son.”3
The Bible says: “Anyone who loves their son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me.” (Matthew 10:37) It’s that sort of commitment to which we are called.
Additional material sourced from ‘Rees Howells – Intercessor’ by Norman Grubb, published by Lutterworth Press
1I am indebted to ‘Rees Howells, Intercessor’ by Norman Grubb (published by Lutterworth Press) for much of the background to this article
2Quoting the prayer journal entry for September 14, 1940
3Samuel was brought up by Rees’s uncle and aunt, and later succeeded his father as Bible College director.