Church’s ‘Awakening’ has yielded 600 professions of faith
McAlister said the purpose of the Awakening is “to bring something new to the city of Hot Springs. The Awakening is a powerful move of God that we believe will change this city. We are committed to continuing the Awakening for as long as people respond in such a tremendous way.”
McAlister emphasized that he doesn’t see the results of the long-running revival ending anytime soon. “The nightly services may end, but the Awakening will continue. We have started Awakening groups, which are lifestyle evangelism groups, that are meeting throughout the city” to “see the lost come to know Christ. We also now have two around-the-clock prayer walls with two people praying every hour of every day.”
Sunday and Tuesday-through-Friday services from Feb. 7 through April 9 drew thousands of people. The Awakening emphasis now is continuing in the church’s three Sunday morning services and evening service, with weeknight services slated to begin again in September, McAlister said.
“We have seen marriages restored, people delivered from alcohol and drugs and many have responded to the need to make Jesus Christ the Lord of their lives,” McAlister told the Arkansas Baptist Newsmagazine.
The change in people’s lives is evident in the testimonies given by those who have accepted Christ. During his baptism ceremony, one man noted that when Awakening evangelist William Blackburn “started preaching about hell, I felt it in my body that I was getting close.”
Another man said he surrendered to Christ at home after attending a service. His profession of faith led him not only to Christ, but also to reject his 20-year “hatred” for his ex-wife and ask her forgiveness.
For others who already were believers, their awakening has been a recommitment to Christian discipleship.
“For years, I have been a closet Christian,” admitted church member Charlie Broadbent. “The Awakening has meant that the Holy Spirit has grown in me and has given me a passion for Christ I’ve never had before.”
John Garrett, a member of another local Southern Baptist church, said he attended “every night except when my church is open.” Noting that Blackburn “has an anointing I’ve seen in very few people,” Garrett added, “The Father speaks through him. I have seen hundreds and hundreds of lives changed here.”
While many attend for personal renewal, 15-year-old Jeni Kaylo said the revival also has been beneficial for the church. “It has changed the way people interact with each other. We don’t have many more cliques.”
That fellowship was a prayer of staff members as they planned for the event, said Mike Smith, Second Baptist’s director of evangelism. “The Awakening was really birthed in our hearts over a year ago. Our church went through tremendous problems a few years ago. However, that adversity gave us a new determination to regroup and become the church that God wanted us to be. The Awakening is the harvest we have been praying to receive.”
Joel Strickland, director of media ministries at Second Baptist, agreed, adding that the effects of the Awakening have extended beyond the church walls. “We prayed that God would awaken us as a church body and that would spill over to our friends, families, the community and surrounding area and change the community for Christ. That’s what we’re seeing happening.”
While the Awakening has resulted in mass numbers of decisions, its format is surprisingly conventional. Services featured praise music, testimonies and a gospel message from Blackburn, a Fort Smith, Ark.,-area evangelist. During a similar long-running revival last year in Laurel, Miss., nearly 1,300 people accepted Christ in services led by Blackburn.
A keynote of his messages, many say, is a straightforward presentation of the gospel. During one service, he described in easy-to-understand terms theological concepts such as what it means to be lost, eternal life, heaven and hell, condemnation, redemption and salvation.
His call to accept the gospel was just as straightforward. “The Bible says, ‘Choose you today whom you will serve,’” he said. “Who are you going to give your life to?”
That gospel message has resulted in a high number of professions of faith, said McAlister, who pointed to “a rural church near Jacksonville (Ark.) who baptized 18” as a result of the revival and a family which “saw more than 20 family members come to Christ and impacted three churches.”
He said another result is “Christians deepening their walk with God through a stronger emphasis on the disciplines of the faith, a more pronounced commitment to witness and a commitment to do those basic things that we have long held as being primary in our relationship with Jesus Christ.
“That’s the thing that excites me,” he added. “This is not about hype or show; it’s about the basics and doing those right.”
The blessings have come amid the sacrifice of members. In addition to the Awakening teams and prayer wall participants, an extended revival is both tiring and rewarding, many members said.
“It is very tiring,” Broadbent acknowledged. “But in our times of weakness is when we grow strong in Christ. I think that’s why we’ve seen the Holy Spirit moving so much. Everybody works, everybody’s got families and everybody’s making sacrifices to come here and worship our King.”
Member Jamie Burrough, who attended every service, agreed. “It’s been tiring, but the joy of the Lord is my strength. As long as I show up, God speaks to my heart.”
Burrough noted that, like other members seeking to describe the effects of the Awakening, “It’s unexplainable.”
Art Toalston contributed to this article.