Premier’s Kathleen Durham spent two days at Asbury University during the height of the revival. Having interviewed students, teachers and onlookers, and reflected on her own experience on campus, she concludes that a genuine outpouring of the Holy Spirit has taken place
I hesitated as a stepped onto the lush green lawn of Asbury campus and moved slowly toward the small crowd of about 50 gathered there.
It was just one day after the 24-hour worship gatherings had officially ended on campus. Already the crowds had dissapated.
There were very few college students present, save a young woman leading the swaying crowd in singing “Yeshua” on repeat, and a few others interspersed throughout the crowd.
Suddenly a woman’s hand shot up to get our attention: “Does anybody need healing?”
A young man in a backpack timidly stepped forward and mentioned his backpain. She gathered everyone closer to lay hands on him and people all around began to pray. When they finished, she looked to him for his response, to which he simply said, “It still hurts.”
She prayed again. And, again, he responded, “It still hurts.”
She prayed again.
“It still hurts,” at which point, she turned and said, “Do you have any unconfessed sin in your life?”
I looked around to gauge people’s response to this, but instead was immediately struck by something completely different. I had honestly never seen such a diverse crowd of worshippers in my life. There were women and men of all ages and from a wide range of cultures (I had already heard multiple languages spoken within a few minutes of having arrived), young children gazing wide-eyed as they clung to their mothers who were rapt in worship, elderly men in wheelchairs, and a few of us on the periphery trying to soak it all in - and, at least in my case, - to figure it all out.
But what struck me most was our shared hunger and vulnerability.
I didn’t need to judge the motivations of every individual present to know that there was no one there - including myself - who did not desire to see God move in powerful and personal ways. And I couldn’t help but think of Matthew 9:36, “When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.”
I’ve often come back to that particular moment as I’ve reflected on my brief time at Asbury because it seems to capture so much of what I’ve wrestled with in trying to process how God was moving there. And I wholeheartedly believe that God was moving in beautiful and powerful ways. That much was clearly evident when I sat down with four students to hear their experiences of what was taking place during the height of the revival (hear our roundtable discussion here), and when I listened to the college’s vice president Jennifer McChord tell the story of how the Holy Spirit interrupted all their plans (read her thoughts here).
every single student said that for them, the greatest fruit of the revival was a deeper experience of God’s love and a greater sense of community on campus
But I continue to be haunted by a complex mix of impressions that resists facile analysis – from the palpable need for God that filled the air there and drew tens of thousands of people from all over the globe to a tiny town they had never even heard of before, to the propensity of humans to take a work of God and begin to mold it into their own image, as well as our tendency to judge and criticise that has been on display in so much of the coverage of the outpouring, but perhaps most importantly, the deep compassion of God, whose unfailing love was the ultimate mark of this outpouring, and continues to hold this complex reality together.
MORE ON REVIVAL
- ‘Asbury is already very different’: After the Holy Spirit hits your campus, what happens next?
- Report from Asbury: God showed me wells of revival springing up across the whole world
- ‘This is real. God is very present’ Reports of revival are breaking out in Asbury
- Asbury revival: An incredible move of the Spirit - and it’s touching the UK too
- Asbury is a new move of God. And Gen Z is facilitating it
Don’t get me wrong. I had many concerns about what I was observing on the lawn at that moment, not least of which was how radically different it all was from what characterised the Asbury Outpouring from the beginning - the humility, repentance, reconciliation and rest that seemed so profoundly attractive, and different from how I had imagined a “revival” to be.
As I spoke with students, staff and townspeople, I learned they shared many of these same concerns about how things had morphed outside of Hughes Auditorium; and yet they also had incredible compassion towards those who had flocked to their town in search for God, often in desperation.
I have to say, it is precisely that compassion - the extraordinary kindness, gentleness and generosity lived out sacrificially in the midst of their own exhaustion - that has convinced me more than anything that there truly has been a miraculous outpouring of God’s Spirit on Asbury campus.
And I would add to that the fact that, when asked, every single student said that for them, the greatest fruit of the revival was a deeper experience of God’s love and a greater sense of community on campus. In light of Jesus’s own words in John 13:35 (“By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”) it seems reasonable (even likely!) that an authentic outpouring of his spirit would be fundamentally borne out in precisely these ways.
Which leads me to wonder, as we see similar revivals/outpourings continue to develop on campuses across the country, is this the fruit we desire to see? Or are we seeking to recreate this experience in our own image?
What if the primary work of God in this outpouring is in this subtler work of love and deeper communion that the church so desperately needs? Will we surrender to his work even if it does not fit our expectations or categories?
And to those who have been quick to criticise the leadership of Asbury for encouraging it to spread out from campus by discontinuing the public worship services, I can only appeal to your own compassion for the students, staff and townspeople who have graciously carried an unimaginable burden over these past several weeks and now need to rest, restore and return to daily life. Lest we fall into one of the oldest heresies of the church, let us not forget that even Jesus, in his humanity, needed to rest. It didn’t hinder his mission, and it need not hinder ours.
Indeed, it is just possible that the greatest fruit of the revival is yet to be revealed precisely in that faithful return to daily life, in which every moment of the “ordinary” is now imbued with the extraordinary gift with which God has blessed Asbury, and the world, in these recent days, and our discipleship to Jesus Christ is revealed most powerfully in the love we have for one another.