Some big names came to Oakwood University at the end of April. Clifton Davis is a Hollywood personality best known for the lead role in role in the television series Amen and an Adventist preacher. Yolanda Adams is a Grammy-award winning gospel artist and Billboard magazine’s 2009 pick for Number One Gospel Artist of the Decade. A local a capella group also performed, Committed which “wowed the judges” on the premiere of NBC’s The Sing-Off.
They were all part of the Spring Revival at the University’s Seventh-day Adventist Church. The main speaker for the event was Dr. Carlton P. Byrd, director of the Breath of Life television ministry and senior pastor of the church.
Oakwood used all the technology at its command to promote the event through the web, on the Breath of Life program and elsewhere. The team produced a promotional video for YouTube and announced the event through Facebook and Twitter, as well as in local media. During the event there were live streaming webcasts.
If the goal was to increase attendance, it was a success. Hundreds came, many of whom had never visited the campus before. However, big names alone do not make a real revival. The focus was on “dynamic, Bible-based preaching, inspirational music, warm fellowship, and children’s ministries” for the average 200 children who attended nightly. Health screenings and free transportation were also provided.
There is a sense in which it could be said that this revival was a remake for today’s generation of a very traditional American experience, common as early as the late 18th century. These featured large gatherings—once in barns or fields, later under canvass tops like the traveling circuses of the time, now in large auditoriums with sound systems, large screens and professional lighting. There was often powerful music, usually provided by voice alone, but sometimes with instruments, even brass bands. The Oakwood event included a hit sung by the children on the final evening, called “Tweet This—My BFF is Jesus.”
The preachers were often young. Dr. “Buddy” Byrd recently turned 40, which would have made him older than the norm then, but is young today. They were nearly always passionate, and Dr. Byrd is. Particularly in the Adventist stream of this tradition, seeking truth was a common theme. Dr. Byrd’s “trademark mantra,” according to local members is, “Know what you believe, know why you believe it, and know where you can find it.”
Even with all these elements working together perfectly, there might not be a revival. Revival, literally “being brought back to life,” can only be done by God. Was the Holy Spirit there on the Oakwood campus? Many people were praying earnestly behind the scenes, before, during, and after this event for the presence of the Spirit. Like the wind, you can’t always see the Spirit’s work. But sometimes you can and observers in Huntsville saw it take two church services on the final day to baptize 126 people, seven at a time, two in the church baptistry and five in a rented pool.
Tim Allston from the university staff describes the scene this way: “What many Sabbath morning Worship congregants remembered fondly in that standing-room-only church service was the back double doors opening, ushering in the two-by-two, promenade of white-robed candidates into their roped-off 12 rows – egged on by a unanimous, five-minute standing ovation.”
Allston also noted that the baptisms which occurred that morning and afternoon included “several entire family and multiple family member units, significant numbers of wheel-chairs and otherwise handicapped persons . . . and an unusually large number of men and younger males joining the predominantly female church group.”
That was not, however, the end. That evening, after the preaching and singing and the children’s presentation, after the invitation to come to an open house at the university to consider enrolling in classes, after six more baptisms, Dr. Byrd prayed and dismissed, and then reconsidered. He apologized, saying, “Saints, I’ve made a cardinal mistake. Forgive me: I ended this service, and failed to open the doors of the church with one last appeal for one to give their heart to Jesus.”
As he prayed again two more individuals came forward—an Orthodox Jewish woman and a six-year-old boy named Jason. They were “church vote approved” and baptized on the spot. In the weeks that have passed since the event, the total has risen to 160.
Numbers by themselves are not a good indicator of God’s work. Power and passion for God’s work are. The growth of love is. The joy in belonging to God’s family is. These markers of God’s presence abound on this growing university campus.
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