Born JUNE 8, 1878In the first few years of the 20th century, Wales experienced something unique. After many years of Christians praying for a spiritual reawakening, God answered their prayers, touching the country on multiple levels. One young man who had prayed for revival for over a decade became the person most associated with the events. His name: Evan Roberts.
A GODLY HOME
Evan’s parents were pious members of the Moriah Calvinistic Methodist Church in Loughor. They valued prayer and memorizing large portions of scripture. That environment developed an awareness of God in Evan at an early age.
When Evan was only 11 years old, his father died. He helped support his mother and siblings by going to work in a coal mine. The young Christian’s spiritual light shone in the darkness of the mines. While working, he prayed and sang hymns. During breaks, while other miners played cards, Evan read his Bible.
As a young teenager, Evan began teaching a Sunday school class. He eventually served his home church as Sunday school superintendent, pianist, and song leader. His spiritual disciplines increased. He sometimes prayed into the night for hours.
In 1902, at the age of 24, Evan apprenticed with his uncle as a blacksmith. But a stronger pull drew the young man. In 1904, he began classes at New Castle Emlyn to prepare for a life of ministry.
BENT FOR GODHis preparation came sooner than expected. Evan and some other students attended services conducted by an evangelist named Seth Joshua. Evan heard the evangelist pleading in prayer, “Bend us, oh, Lord.” Evan personalized and echoed that prayer: “Oh, Lord, bend me.”
That day, Evan had a deeper spiritual experience. Here’s how he described the feelings that followed: “I felt ablaze with a desire to go through the length and breadth of Wales to tell of the Savior.” He saw himself leading a team throughout Wales, calling for salvation decisions and surrender to the Holy Spirit.
After attending classes for less than three weeks, Evan requested a short break from the school. It was granted. He would not return to finish his education.
THE INITIAL FLAME
Evan returned home to Loughor different than he had left. He told his family about his new experience and gushed about what God wanted to do in his hometown. He arranged to speak that weekend. His message had four distinct parts.
He preached for his listeners to confess known sin in their lives. He exhorted them to cease from any questionable actions. He told them to obey the Holy Spirit’s promptings. And he admon-ished them to make a public confession of their faith. The revival spark ignited that night.
Services continued. Up to 60 persons responded to the appeal the first week. A southern Wales newspaper reported that Evan was “causing great surprise by his extraordinary orations at Moriah Chapel, that place of worship having been besieged by dense crowds of people unable to obtain admission.”
Then Evan, his brother Dan, and three sisters who sang took the message on the road. Evan and Dan preached in mining communities throughout southern Wales. Evan continued his exceptional prayer life. At each new town, he went to the mines to introduce himself to the miners as they emerged from the ground. He gave each a personal invitation to attend his meetings.
In every village and town, the same results occurred: Large crowds gathered; people confessed and repented of their sins; behaviors changed.The transformation of thousands of lives in Wales led to social repercussions. Taverns began losing business. The crime rate decreased. People from other countries heard what God was doing in Wales and came to see for themselves.
Once a service began, visitors’ lives were touched. But not like in any service they’d attended before. Evan might preach, or he might stand at the pulpit and weep. He might speak softly or silently pray. Responses at the pews included silent prayers, confession of sins, and spontaneous hymn singing. In every town, people of all ages turned to following God. Churches grew.
Newspaper men who attended the services didn’t describe them as confusing. They count-ed the lives being touched and changed. The leading papers printed statistics of how many in each town made personal commitments to Christianity. The reports subsided after 1905.
Evan Roberts needed to rest from the demanding pace. God had allowed him to be at the forefront of a spiritual phenomenon. While others took the message to other countries, Evan changed his ministry emphasis. He stated, “By preaching I would reach the limited few–by and through prayer I can reach the whole of mankind for God.”His prayer life, which had preceded the revival, continued. He interceded for God’s favor for the world of his day. God heard that prayer too. The revival spark that began in Evan’s hometown ignited fires in the rest of the United Kingdom, in Asia, on islands in the Pacific and Atlantic oceans, and in America. Evan died in Cardiff in 1951, at age 73.
Rees Howells, another man known for his prayer life, took what he’d gained from the Welsh revival to Africa. He later returned to Wales to open the Bible College of Wales. In the United States, revival spread from New York to California. Joseph Smale returned from Wales to southern California to fan the flames. Beginning in 1906, meetings at 312 Azusa Street in Los Angeles would start a Pentecostal wave of revival that would extend to all parts of the world.
God had brightly shone His light from the darkened mines of Wales to the darkened hearts of people around the world. He used people like Evan Roberts, willing to commit time in prayer and personal surrender.
LET ME KNOW: How has Evan’s story informed, encouraged, or otherwise helped you? I welcome your comments.
- Duewel, Wesley, L. “Evan Roberts.” In Heroes of the Holy Life., edited by Wesley L. Duewel, (pages) 134-145. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2002.
- Larsen, Timothy, ed. Biographical Dictionary of Evangelicals. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2003.
- Books about Evan Roberts and the Welsh Revival at CBD: http://www.christianbook.com/Christian/Books/easy_find?Ntt=welsh+revival&N=0&Ntk=keywords&action=Search&Ne=0&event=ESRCG&nav_search=1&cms=1&search=
- Books about Evan Roberts and the Welsh Revival at Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_sb_ss_i_0_12?url=search-alias%3Dstripbooks&field-keywords=evan+roberts&sprefix=evan+roberts%2Cstripbooks%2C293#/ref=nb_sb_noss?url=search-alias%3Dstripbooks&field-keywords=welsh+revival+evan+roberts&sprefix=welsh+revival%2Cstripbooks%2C291&rh=n%3A283155%2Ck%3Awelsh+revival+evan+roberts.
- An Evan Roberts sermon text: http://www.sermonindex.net/modules/articles/index.php?view=category&cid=623.
- YouTube description of Evan Roberts and the Welsh revival by J. Edwin Orr: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ACGbasEBjmM.
- Missionary Jacob Bock relates his experience visiting Moriah Chapel: http://worldmissions.ag.org/regions/europe/2.cfm.