Stories of revival reflect God’s work through RTN preachers
During spring break each year, Southwestern Seminary sends students and faculty across the United States to preach the Word and reach local communities with the Gospel through Revive This Nation (RTN). From March 12-15, dozens of daily tweets with the hashtag #RTN17 each told a different story of how God was working through this year’s RTN preachers.
Following his first sermon for the week, Phillip Koo reported on Twitter that there were seven decisions from members to “rekindle their joy and passion for Jesus.” Later that week, another student, Nirintsoa Mamitiana, praised God for the way He had moved in the lives of the members of Summit Church in Orlando, Fla. “Glory to God for all great things He has done here,” Mamitiana wrote. “This church will never be the same again.”
RTN is a program through which Southwestern sends students and faculty across the country over spring break to preach five sermons during week-long church revival meetings. The program began in 1959 as a result of students who were burdened to use their spring breaks to bring revival to local churches. It has since seen more than 15,000 people make decisions to trust in Christ as a result of hearing the Gospel through RTN preachers.
Vice President for Student Services Kyle Walker, who taught this year’s RTN course, says the program offers an opportunity for churches to connect with Southwestern as they bring in a preacher for the week to help them impact their community with the Gospel and to edify their church as they preach the Word of God. Reflecting on the many years of the program’s existence, Walker says he is always encouraged to see how God uses revival gatherings in churches each year. “Revival is ultimately a way that a church can come together to seek the Lord and come together with the purpose of hearing the Word, asking God to come and move in them in a special way,” Walker says.
This year, 89 preachers participated in RTN and were deployed to 36 different states. Their collective efforts resulted in 130 professions of faith, 255 other commitments, and 15 baptisms.
T.J. Detwiler, a student in the College at Southwestern, preached at Bethel Baptist Church in Billings, Mo. In chapel, March 21, he shared how God used an unexpected encounter to bring revival to the life of one man.
After preaching to the congregation on Sunday morning, Detwiler felt discouraged by the lack of “results.” After returning to his host home, he was eventually convicted that just sitting around and dwelling on his disappointment would not do any good.
So, he set out into the snowy, 20-degree weather and trekked to a nearby coffee shop. When he arrived, however, the business was closed. Not sure where to go next, he turned around and met a homeless man who greeted him and showed him to another local coffee shop.
Detwiler asked the man to join him for coffee and spent the next 20 minutes listening to the man share about his life. Detwiler identified with the man’s struggles, as he also had been homeless at one time in his life during a 20-year period of drug addiction. Detwiler shared his own story and invited the man to that evening’s revival service. The man accepted the invitation.
During his sermon that evening, Detwiler spoke on the transformation that can only come through Christ. By the end of the sermon, Detwiler noticed the man was in tears.
“That man knew at that moment that he was bankrupt,” Detwiler says. “He confessed that he wanted that transformation. He wanted that change.”
The man returned each night and was welcomed by the congregation, who extended love, grace and service to him. “The sleepy little church that I was discouraged by Sunday morning came alive,” Detwiler says. “They were revived themselves.”
Receiving Detwiler’s challenge to invest in a change that is long-term, the man agreed to receive help. Before returning to Texas, Detwiler connected the man to a year-long discipleship program for men coming off the streets with drug and alcohol addictions. “Sometimes God will send you 1,300 miles to affect change in one man’s life,” Detwiler reflects.
In Walker, Calif., Master of Divinity student Charlie Houck preached at Walker Baptist Church. Sharing his testimony in chapel, March 23, he said, “Coming back from RTN, I wish I could give a testimony of how God used me to change the lives of the folks in a small church, but the testimony I have to share is how God used the folks of a small church to change my life.”
Throughout the week, Houck had the opportunity to get to know many of the church members and was encouraged by their steadfast faith. He says he was challenged by the way they shared their faith and encouraged by the leadership of their pastor.
“I was encouraged,” Houck says, “because I know that if we have more shepherds like Jim Ricks who raise more congregations like Walker Baptist Church, it won’t matter how many people attend each Sunday, it won’t matter how many people are there on Sunday, it won’t matter what the budget is; the future of the small church in this country will look very bright.”