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Some years ago we interviewed veteran missionary, Helen Roseveare about the 1950’s revival in what was then the Belgian Congo. Here are some extracts from her remarkable account.
What was your background before you went out to Africa?
I was saved when I was a medical student – I wasn’t very bright, so medicine was a real slog! I did no reading apart from my Bible and the next thing I knew I was out on the mission field! I was a good solid Anglican type, totally unprepared for the revival that came.
What led up to the Congo revival?
Basically, years of committed prayer that became increasingly desperate. Both senior local pastors and missionaries had been praying regularly with a real burden.
What can you remember of the first experiences you had of revival power?
The first day revival came to Ibambi, the actual building shook. We were sitting in the Bible School hall. It was seven o’clock on a Friday night. Jack Scholes, our field leader, had just come back from a trip in the south and he had seen revival down there. He stood up to speak about the revival and started to read from scriptures. Suddenly we heard a hurricane storm. It was frightening!
And not what you expected?
No! None of us stopped to think that this was strange because you don’t get hurricane storms in July (we have them in February or March). We heard this hurricane coming and the elders began to take the shutters down – the shutters are not very strong and fall in and can hurt people. We looked out and it was moonlight and the palm trees were standing absolutely still against the moonlit sky. It should have been pitch-black and stormy. Then the building shook and the storm lanterns down the centre of the building moved around. There was a terrific noise and a sense of external power around. We were all frightened – there must have been about five whites and 95 Africans present. You could sense fear all around.
How did you respond?
Jack stood at the front and said to us – ”This is of God, just pray – don’t fear and don’t interfere.” It was as if a force came in and we were shaking. There was no way you could control it and some were thrown to the ground off the benches as if someone had hurled them down! But no one was hurt. Everyone ceased to be conscious of anyone else.
What was the strongest sense you had around you at the time?
Conviction of sin. People began to confess publically what you might call ‘big sin’ (and these were all Christians). They spoke of adultery, cheating, stealing, deceit. One friend, whom I thought too good to be true, was crying out to God for mercy and confessing her sins. I couldn’t imagine she’d done anything wrong!
Sounds amazing! How long did all this go on for?
We didn’t leave the hall that whole weekend! Most of the time God was dealing with our sins. Some needed help from the pastors who moved around with much wisdom and encouragement. Then joy struck the repentant sinners and the pastors moved on. It was remarkable what discernment was given to these uneducated pastors. I remember they discerned that one lady’s confession wasn’t real and they urged her to confess what was really inside her.
Anything else to note about the revival moving of power as God’s work continued?
Yes! There were amazing visions from people which were often based on Old Testament scriptures – even though they didn’t have the Old Testament! I remember one woman standing up with her arms upraised and her face radiant, talking about wheels within wheels and eyes within the wheels and patterns and above it all a great rainbow. It was straight out of Ezekiel. She spoke of the glory and began weeping when she said she saw the glory was in the midst of the Bible School and then it went out of the hall, across the courtyard and into the forest. She broke down, crying, ”It’s because of our sin, our sin!”
How did you feel about this?
The white people just sat back and watched at first and the Bible School students held back. It was all right for the village people, but not for us! But God broke into the Bible School. We were soon broken down as well.
It was irresistible!
Yes! There were also amazing visions of hell and people would break down weeping because of unsaved relatives. They carried exhausting prayer burdens. What started off as a ten minute prayer meeting lasted three hours. We didn’t discuss anything, we spoke with God. There were waves of outpoured prayer. Some went off at 4am on one occasion and walked twelve miles to a village, compelled by the Holy Spirit, to share the gospel. Many were saved as a result.