The Roots of Revival
The spreading of the revival was a religious phenomenon. Nothing like it had ever happened in Western Canada. Especially used were revival teams of laymen and women who had met God in a new way. They went out to share. many times telling others in brokenness and tears what God had done for them. Ribbons of asphalt across the broad prairies had indeed paved the way for rapid communication. If you like, the phenomenon of the phenomenon was lay participation.
That laymen were allowed to participate at all was a vitally important factor in what transpired. A major key. The preachers stepped aside to allow the Holy Spirit to control the services. And the Holy Spirit spoke very powerfully through the inspired testimonies of the people.
And conversely, whenever the preachers refused to surrender control of the pulpit or service to the Holy Spirit there was no revival. (This is not to suggest that services were uncontrolled or that the pastors or evangelists allowed disorder; nor are we intimating that the importance of preaching and pastoral ministries was at all minimized.)
The first time I personally witnessed the surrender of a service to the Spirit's control was in Penticton, British Columbia. A number of men had gathered to share. As the spontaneous testimonies were given a discernible pattern developed. In various ways the men from different denominational backgrounds kept saying the same thing, "God heals."
From time to time one of the men would kneel at a chair in the center of the room asking for prayer. Though we did not know it at the time, there was a man there with an incurable disease. And he stepped forward asking for prayer. Medical testimony later confirmed a most unusual healing.
But God was not talking to me about healing. For me there was just one inescapable impression. "We preachers have been in the way, we have been obstructing God's Spirit." The Holy Spirit, we discovered, is well able to control and guide a service if it is surrendered to Him.
The evangelical media also took note. Christianity Today observed that the revival was "intense but not charismatic." Sherwood Wirt of Decision did an imaginative article on revival in Winnipeg. The Inquirer out of Toronto also spread the news. The Alliance Witness from New York also gave solid, appreciative coverage. And in our own Communicate the revival was followed carefully.
Thousands of copies of the tract Revival in Saskatoon went around the world from the Western Tract Mission of that city, but that too is a story in itself. We are interested in the roots of the revival. How did it start?
Obviously of course it started in the heart of God. There is no other explanation. But there are human factors - instruments, events and people - that God used.
Two years earlier, in 1969, the Rev. Duncan Campbell, a Presbyterian revivalist and God's instrument in the Hebrides revival, had visited Canada. In his extensive tour he visited many parts of the nation and it became his conviction at that time that Canada would be the next nation to experience revival. Privately and prophetically he had declared, "I believe the revival will begin in the Ebenezer Baptist Church in Saskatoon."
How right he was!
The roots of the revival were varied. Something was happening among the young people and it had been going on for two years or more. Many conferences, camps and retreats reported unusual movings of the Holy Spirit.
In our own camping program at Nakamun, about 60 miles northwest of Edmonton, Alberta, it certainly was so. Both 1970 and 1971 were years of most unusual blessing among the teenagers. Burning devotion. Fervent love. Really, revival had in one sense already come to the youth, though the eyes of their elders were unseeing.
The Bible school movement of Western Canada is distinct in Church history. Great schools like the Prairie Bible Institute, the Briercrest Bible Institute, the Winnipeg Bible College. the Canadian Bible College and the Berean Bible College, along with other institutions, had graduated over the years literally thousands of young people, not all of whom made their way to the "ends of the earth." If there are two million evangelicals in Canada, fully a quarter of them probably live in the sparsely populated western provinces of Canada. If you like, a Bible belt, and fertile ground for a spiritual awakening.
The Mennonite influence in Western Canada is also considerable. Though they are divided into several groups, one thing is especially true - their denominational history is one of revivals. A large percentage of the membership of all evangelical churches in Western Canada comes from a Mennonite background. These people, though many times no longer worshipping in the church of their heritage, were still revivalistic by tradition and especially responsive to the awakening. And willing to give it massive supoort. We should not be surprised that revival began in Saskatoon, a city of strong Mennonite traditions.
Dr. Bill Bright and the Campus Crusade for Christ were also having increasing impact in Canada. Hundreds of people were attending the lay institutes, learning how to share their faith, how to experience the abundant life and appropriate the fullness of the Holy Spirit. As the saying goes, people were being "turned on." Since revival has come we now realize that some were being revived even then.
The same can be said for Mr. Bill Gothard and his Institute in Basic Youth Conflicts. In meetings advertised only by word of mouth, thousands were attending seminars conducted not by an evangelist but a Bible teacher. Revolutionary truths about conscience, fasting and other basic Bible concepts were being communicated to masses. In recent years these large gatherings have been held only in the United States, but Canadians were attending. And. we realize now, being revived.
Also more localized revivals through the ministry of the Sutera Twins had occurred in Abbotsford and Prince George, British Columbia. Revival had come to the Abbotsford Alliance Church and Rev. M. Johnson first. Then two years later, in 1971, the Prince George Evangelical Free Church where Rev. C. Dietrick is the pastor was revived. By Pastor Dietrick's own appraisal, ninety percent of the church was renewed.
A revival team of lay people from Abbotsford had come to Prince George to share and they had sparked revival there. Later, people from Prince George were to go 800 miles to Saskatoon to share. Most important, Pastor Dietrick had carried for one year a most unusual prayer-burden for revival. It was not till the middle of the Prince George meetings that the intense burden lifted and he was able to sleep normally again.
And then there was Nakamun. In 1971, the Suteras had been evening evangelists at the ninth annual Nakamun Family Camp. It was a most unusual camp. The Rev. Paul Kenyon of Sandusky, Ohio, and the Rev. Carmelo Terranova of Buenos Aires completed the ministering team. God was pleased to especially bless Mr. Terranova's ministry in an unusual way. In other years there had always been a high point, a climax in each camp. But in 1971 there was one - and another - and a third.
It was on the last of these occasions that divine love was poured out. The only way to explain it is to say that God's love just rolled out over the camp grounds. Many of us were irrevocably and forever changed. My wife was inexplicably different. It was not until revival came later that I realized what had happened to her at camp.
Since we have been so vitally connected to Nakamun (Family Camp director for ten years now) I have hesitated to suggest that even one of the roots of the revival might have been at Nakamun. But in recent ministry in the Philippines where I saw for the first time in my own ministry that I which was undeniably revival, I could not deny that one of the roots went down to Nakamun. If anything, it was the love root.
We like what Ralph and Lou themselves say concerning the beginning of the revival.
"Could it have begun in the heart of the late Duncan Campbell who told Canadian audiences how God had shown him the entire Dominion of Canada in flames of revival fire? Could it have been in the testimony of lay people sharing their faith with others in Prince George, British Columbia? Could it have been in the heart of the Prince George pastor who could not sleep normally for one year because of prayer-burden for revival? Could it have been in the heart of the British Columbia woman who has been praying for four years that God would use our ministry for revival? Could it have been in the heart of the Saskatoon pastor who could do nothing but pray in his study for several months before the revival came? Could it have been in the step of faith exercised by pastor and people of another Saskatoon church to cancel a missionary convention and become part of what God was doing? We may have to wait until we get to heaven to be able to know the real answer. But meantime, to God be the glory!" 1
Speaking about the origins of revival, the Rev. Armin R, Gesswein, Lutheran revivalist, had this to say: "Revival begins when hidden springs, that are not able to be traced, break forth," 2 The words fit exceptionally well when applied to the awakening in Canada,
And I must return to say what I said a few pages earlier, revival began in God's heart of love.
1 Ralph and Lou Sutera, Revival Fellowship News, Regina, July, 1972, p. 2.,