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By: Jeremy T.K. Farley
Despite being founded by some of the most religious individuals to ever step foot upon the North American continent, by the 1740s Puritan New England had declined into a state of spiritual decay. Far from keeping the faith of their ancestors who had stepped off the Mayflower nearly a century earlier, early 18th century New England society was one in which neither the church nor its doctrines played center-stage in the daily lives of the American people.
Concerned about the state of their land, many church leaders began to actively dedicate themselves to seeing a revival of the Christian ways their forebears had held so tightly.
Wishing to see a stirring in his church, a Congregationalist pastor in Enfield, Connecticut, invited a 38-year-old guest speaker from Massachusetts to come and preach to his congregation. That guest preacher’s name was Jonathan Edwards and the effect his simple message would have upon world history will never be fully comprehended.
Edwards arrived in Connecticut, with a concise warning: the people of America were “sinners in the hands of an angry God.”
Preaching a burning message about eternity, Edwards warned, “There is nothing that keeps wicked men at any one moment out of hell, but the mere pleasure of God.”
Edwards was interrupted at several points throughout his sermon by people moaning and crying out, “What shall I do to be saved?”
Preaching that all men are “condemned already” due to their sin nature, the Puritan preacher taught that through man’s total depravity, there was nothing he could do in order to escape the pains of hell – instead, his only hope was to beg God for mercy, pleading for salvation through a covenant of grace fulfilled in Christ.
The result was a Christian revival unlike anything America had hitherto experienced. Known as the Great Awakening, the message of “You must be born again” became a hallmark of American preaching and helped to motivate an entire generation to become “passionately and emotionally involved in their religion.” For the first time in a long time, Christianity was no longer about laws of man or human government, but about a personal relationship with Jesus Christ — a message that spread like wildfire throughout the western world.
In the years to come, Christian historians would make the case for other “awakenings” and revivals, however, none have come close to the scale and scope of the First Great Awakening.
Fast-forward some 276-years later and even most evangelical leaders are conscious of the fact that the power and draw of modern-day Christianity is lacking. “People just ain’t interested in God like they once were,” remarked one eastern Kentucky pastor.
This may be true, but there is also a quiet, yet very real evangelical revival taking place across Appalachia and many in the secular media are beginning to take notice.
Like most revivals, it’s often hard to pin-point just where this present-day awakening has its roots, but many point to the coalfields of Southern West Virginia, where Skyler Miller, a student at Logan High, started preaching in the halls of his school in late March 2016.
According to reports, his preaching, warning students about the pitfalls to sin and an eternity apart from Christ brought many fellow students to tears and ushered in a revival in the school’s hallways.
In the neighboring county of Mingo, a place whose reputation for lawlessness and murderous ways earned it the title “Bloody Mingo,” a series of revival meetings began at a student prayer meeting and quickly outgrew their meeting area and had to be moved to the public school’s field house.
“The atmosphere has changed,” said one high school senior, in an interview with local news station WSAZ. “Everyone is more loving. I love seeing all my friends so happy to be at revival.”
Andrew Fletcher, a junior in neighboring Pike County, Kentucky, told West Virginia’s News Channel 3, “It’s just really touched the young people’s hearts… They’ve been healed and set free.”
According to Katie Endicott, the Prayer Club sponsor at Mingo Central High School, “Probably six schools have had kids getting saved left and right and that’s been going on for two weeks. In the past three days, 1,500 kids have given their lives to Jesus through this movement.”
Despite the fact that school has ended for the year, church leaders in the community from multiple denominations say they are still seeing signs that the revival — now being dubbed as the “Appalachian Awakening” — isn’t showing signs of slowing.
Interestingly, an evangelical awakening isn’t being limited to the West Virginia coalfields. Some 270 miles to the southeast, the community of Burlington, North Carolina, is experiencing a similar phenomenon.
Independent Baptist preacher and West Virginia-native CT Townsend preached the Mother’s Day service at New Hope Baptist Church in Burlington last month.
The crowds quickly swelled beyond the capacity of the Piedmont region church and a large tent had to be brought in to accommodate the capacity audience.
According to C.T. Townsend the revival has grown into a “regional thing,” with families traveling five or more hours to hear the Gospel preached.
For weeks now, dozens of individuals have been giving their hearts to Christ. The latest reports state that hundreds have heeded the preacher’s call to ‘get right with God before time runs out.’
Though Christian leaders are quick to caution that the scale of revival touching the eastern United States is nowhere close to that of the Great Awakening, many are optimistic that the “Appalachian Awakening” is but the early stages of a much larger and more enduring movement.
Katie Endicott, Prayer Club sponsor at Mingo Central High School, told Appalachian Magazine, “What is taking place in southern West Virginia is the result of decades of prayer. People in this area have always believed and prayed for regional, national, and global revival. It truly isn’t about an evangelist or a denomination, this is all about Jesus. It’s his platform, his region, his revival. We believe what the Bible says, when His name is lifted up He draws all men onto himself. We’ve seen thousands saved, hundreds baptized, hundreds healed. However, we know that God isn’t finished with our area. We aren’t going to be satisfied with this awakening. We want Him to not just visit our region but to stay in our region. We are contending for total transformation.”
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