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A Community At Prayer For Revival
Preceding The Isle of Lewis Revival (1949-1952)
By Colin and Mary Peckham
After World War II, Gaelic ministers were scarce, and an appeal went out from the church authorities that if any Gaelic ministers on the mainland of Scotland could give some time to ministry in the Gaelic-speaking islands, including Lewis, it would be appreciated. [Gaelic is an entirely different Celtic language, no word of which would be intelligible to an English-speaking person.] Rev. James Murray MacKay went to Barvas parish on Lewis, which was vacant at that time, for a months locum early in 1949, and was deeply impressed with the earnest spirit of prayer and expectancy in the area.
Many people in the parish of Barvas were giving themselves to prayer and were crying to God for an outpouring of the Spirit. They were aware of the fact that the "tide was out." There were diminishing numbers in public worship and the youth were careless and worldly. The blessing of the 1939 revival, before the war, was still fresh in their minds. Was it not the case that ten years previously the 1939 revival had been born in cottage prayer meetings and continued in this way? They knew what God had given and they knew what they wanted!
When Mr. MacKay returned to his parish on the mainland, he said to his wife: "It only needs a spark!" She told us that he repeated this often when speaking of the tremendous sense of prayer in the Barvas area: "It only needs a spark," he would say, "It only needs a spark!" He himself was a product of a revival in Uig years before and was sensitive therefore to the movings of the Spirit.
Not long after this, Mr. MacKay was called to fill the vacancy in the parish of Barvas, and in April 1949 he was inducted to the charge. He became the much-loved pastor of the church, having a heart for evangelical truth and for revival. The normal programme of the church was backed up with spontaneous cottage prayer meetings. Prayer was woven into the very fabric of the church and at that time the whole membership of the church would be present in the weekly prayer meetings. You would not be accepted as a member of the church in Lewis if you did not have the testimony that Jesus Christ was your Saviour and Lord
Much has been said of two elderly ladies and their praying. Peggy and Christine Smith lived in a small cottage next to the garage on the Stornoway side of Barvas. Duncan Campbell, whose preaching was greatly used of the Lord in the Lewis revival, highlighted them on several occasions in his messages. Although both praying ladies were over eighty years of age, infirm and arthritic, they were effective prayer warriors and knew God in a special way. Christine was still attending church in 1949. Peggy was blind.
But they were not the only ones praying. "It was a community at prayer," said Margaret MacLeod. What a statement! Others agree. In 1949 everyone who was truly longing for God was seeking the Lord for an outpouring of the Holy Ghost. The Christians were praying! When Duncan Campbell found it impossible to come to Barvas, the two elderly ladies declared that God would bring him, and many other people who were walking with the Lord and who had that same burden for revival on their hearts said the same thing. There was huge expectancy in the air and people were not going to take "no" for an answer.
Prayer was spontaneous. As people visited one another in their homes, they would pray and then continue on until they felt that they had got through to God. The community was already seeing God at work in the salvation of souls before Mr. Campbell set foot on Lewis. That he declined the invitation to Barvas, saying that his programme was full, only added fuel to the fire and they prayed all the more fervently that God would overrule and bring this man to them. A huge volume of prayer for revival ascended from Christian folk all over the Barvas area. The place was soaked in prayer. It became a way of life to seek the Lord for His mercy.
God gave promises. To the aged sisters: "I will pour water on him that is thirsty, and floods upon the dry ground" (Isa. 44:3). To others He gave many other promises as they sought the Lord.
Some of the church officers met on occasions in the thatched cottage of Kenneth MacDonald (Coinneach Beag). There were only a few of these thatched cottages or "black houses" left. People had built attractive homes and were using these cottages for storage until they succumbed to the weather. To make a distinction between the normal homes and the old style, low, thick-walled thatched cottages, Duncan Campbell described the place where they met as a barn, perhaps thinking that it was actually used as a barn.
Kenneth MacDonald, John Smith the blacksmith, Ruiridh (Roderick) Alex MacLeod and Donald Saunders Snr., were some of the great prayer warriors at that time, and they, together with others of the church council, were at the heart of those burdened for revival. They were converted or were deeply blessed in the 1939 revival, so they knew what they were asking for and they continued to plead the promises of God. They normally prayed twice a week into the night while the Smith sisters prayed at the same time in their cottage on the south side of the village, and others prayed in their homes as well. This continued for months.
One must not forget that many were burdened and were also praying and seeking God for a move of the Spirit just as earnestly as the sisters and the elders and deacons. The Spirit of supplication was being poured upon the community.
One night when they were waiting on God in the "barn," Kenneth MacDonald rose, opened his Bible to Psalm 24 and read, "Who shall ascend into the hill of the Lord? Or who shall stand in His holy place? He that hath clean hands and a pure heart." He then said, "It seems to be worthless to be gathered here night after night seeking God as we are doing, if our hands are not clean and our hearts are not pure. O God, are my hands clean? Is my heart pure?"
At that moment the presence of God flooded the place and several of the men fainted or fell into a trance, with the overwhelming awareness of the Eternal. God had come to them in this wonderful and humbling manifestation. John Smith said that at that moment they all became aware that the holiness of God and revival were inextricably linked. God came, and when He came it was in a revelation of His holiness.
While Mr. Campbell highlighted this story, it is interesting to note that no one to whom we spoke knew anything about that meeting, for so many mighty prayer meetings were being held at that time. God came to meeting after meeting in the district. As Duncan himself said, "Revival was already there before I came to Lewis."
So while that meeting was significant, it was one of many other meetings which were equally significant as the praying people of the community of Barvas sought God in importunate prayer. Others were getting through to God in other homes, and they were soon to see what God could do as this community waited before Him.
SI Moderator - Greg Gordon