Two weeks ago, I flew nearly 5,000 miles from Rome to Kentucky to witness a revival, something I have prayed for, for years. As someone who left my homeland of Brazil to serve in Italy as a missionary for the past decade, I have continually asked God to make himself known again across the continent.
The videos I watched, the stories I heard, and the time I spent myself at Asbury University, led me to believe that what God had done in Asbury was not for Asbury alone. True revivals always spread, and one of the reasons I had come to believe this was an authentic move of God was from what I had seen and learned from one of the humble leaders now shepherding this one.
Back at a student chapel at Asbury Seminary in 2016, David Thomas, a local UMC pastor, shared about a trip to an island off the coast of Scotland to interview 11 eyewitnesses who had experienced the Hebrides Revival:
They described something more essential: a kind of spiritual posture that was found among some who were the catalytic core—a spirit of urgency and audacity, an attitude of brokenness and desperation, a manner of prayer that could be daring and agonizing. These friends in the Hebrides referred to it as travailing prayer, “like the Holy Spirit groaning through us,” they said, like a woman … in labor, like Paul in Galatians 4:19 travailing as if in the pangs of childbirth that Christ might be “formed in you.”
Thomas went on:
And … ever since I looked into the eyes of those people who once saw what you and I so long to see, I’ve become convinced that the real beginnings, the true native soil of awakening is the plowed-up hearts of men and women willing to receive the gift of travail.
It was the first time I heard someone putting into words what I and other friends have been experiencing as we prayed for Europe in recent years. Thomas compared it to a ‘’groaning,” like the one in Exodus 2:23, when the enslaved Israelites cried out to God.
Thomas believes that revival cannot be manufactured; instead, it is God intervening, and God intervenes as a response to people who are crying out to him, often through travailing prayer. This, says Thomas, “is not the only thing we do. But it is the first thing, and it is the most important thing.’’
I believe that what we saw the past weeks in Asbury will lead to a deeper hunger for the presence of God and an outcrying of even more voices, joining those of ours that long for revival in Europe. Look at history! Revivals rarely stay put.
My prayer journey
The seed for my own prayers for revival began during a difficult period for me. I had been struggling with anger for years. These outbursts felt awful, specifically because the people who would suffer the most were my two sons and husband.
Seven years ago, a friend recommended Bruce Wilkinson’s book The Freedom Factor. In it, Wilkinson asks his readers to list every person in their lives that they had not fully released forgiveness for. I wrote down 27 names. Then one by one, armed with the conviction that Jesus had fully forgiven me, I forgave each one.
To my utter surprise, after releasing forgiveness, I had a fresh hunger for God. I spent hours in my room in prayer and worship, unable to do anything else.
I started praying night and day for a revival among the student generation in Europe. The only thing was, the idea of a revival was completely new to me. I literally had to Google “what is revival” and “history of revivals” to try to understand what was happening and what I had been praying.
When I prayed specifically for Europe, I started to experience a different kind of prayer— a type of intercessory prayer. This travailing prayer had few words; instead, I mostly wept and groaned. At other times, it looked like crying and laughing. The experience felt weird.
But, at the same time, I knew I was yielding to whatever the Spirit was leading, and the words of Paul in Romans 8:26 finally made sense to me: “We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans.”
As I later learned, travailing prayer was strongly linked with the idea of “birthing,” where “the Spirit is birthing something, bringing forth life,” as Maxie Dunnam describes in The Intercessory Life: A Missional Model for Discipleship. “It is a form of intercession that releases the power of the Holy Spirit to give birth to something ongoing, redemptive, reconciling, and healing in people.”
Months into my prayer journey, I found out that I was not alone in offering travailing prayer for Europe. In October 2020, Elisabeth Pesonen, an Australian living in Finland, experienced this type of prayer when YWAM leaders visited Slovenia and she began to pray for the central European country.
In February 2021, Benedicte Mella from Norway, the director of Onething Europe, visited our home, and when she began interceding for Norway, she experienced a similar visceral prayer, mostly through tears, groaning, and shouts of Norway! Norway!
As I began to pray regularly with Elisabeth, Benedicte, and others representing different parts of the continent, travailing prayer also offered us the ability to connect with God at a visceral and intimate level. Rather than praying in our second language (English), we could address God from the heart in a way that transcended words.
From Asbury to Europe, and the rest of the world?
We had prayed for revival in Europe. So why did we see this revival in the States as a possible answer to our prayers?
Back in my days of researching revival, I found instances where revival had broken out in one place and then spread to another. (Within several days of reports coming from Asbury, neighboring universities had already reported revivals of their own.)
The 1904 revival in Wales touched India, Korea, China, America, and Scandinavia in an era without flight, internet, or social media. The Moravian revival in 1727 had a deep impact on John Wesley, who led the 18th-century revival in the Church of England that gave birth to Methodism. This movement of God also crossed the ocean to the US with George Whitefield, who became an instrumental figure in the First Great Awakening.
As soon as my ministry partners and I heard what God was doing in Asbury, we wanted our European students to learn the news. So, 24-7 Prayer and Revive Europe hosted a Zoom call the first week of the revival so they could hear from the students who had led worship or participated in worship during the revival.
Now, at the student movement I lead, Revive Europe, we are praying and rethinking our entire year in light of what God has done in Asbury. How can we steward what he has done in the US so students here in Europe can also be a part of a move of God?
Josh Green, the UK 24-7 Prayer youth director, has also experienced travailing prayer and serves a part of the world where young people are harder and harder to find at church.
‘’Hearing about Asbury is music to our ears,” he said. “Just this past October, at our 24-7 Prayer Gathering in Belfast, we were crying out for God to spark a prayer movement in young people once again.”
Even as the fire of the revival has already impacted both sides of the Atlantic, it is also touching the rest of the world.
In a matter of days after the Asbury revival started, people from China, Kenya, Brazil, Lebanon, and other European nations had traveled to Kentucky, eager to experience God and awaken something similar in their own countries.
Since returning from Kentucky, I’ve spoken with the organizers of the Arise Asia conference, which is bringing together over 1,500 students from all across Asia this July. They too had visited Asbury in person and have been praying about how to steward what they have seen in the different Asian countries.
In 2024, the Lausanne Movement will convene leaders from every nation in Seoul at the 4th Lausanne Global Congress. Two others from the nine-member program team (of which I am a part) also visited Asbury. The team has been in preliminary conversations of how the movement God has started in Asbury might impact next year’s Global Congress.
The saying goes that “what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas.” But Asbury professors repeatedly told us that this revival should be the opposite: what happens at Asbury should not stay in Asbury.
Instead, they called for the revival to go across campuses, churches, streets, and society. In their own words, “If it doesn’t get to the streets, if it doesn’t get to the nations, it didn’t get where it was meant to be.”
It is my longing—and a longing of many others—that what happened in Asbury will indeed not stay in Asbury but will touch the global church for God’s glory.
“What’s happening at Asbury is not everything but it is something, and right now we need something to shock the system so that this generation can experience for themselves the life-changing power of God,” wrote the founder of 24-7 Prayer International Pete Greig. “We need repentance and holiness. We need the kind of outpouring of the Spirit on campuses that can incubate and detonate a new generation to preach the gospel with greater confidence, fight injustice with greater defiance, and transform society with greater intelligence.”
A new focus
Since returning from Asbury, my prayer life has already begun to shift.
I’m no longer praying that God would intervene and start a fresh movement of God in this generation, because I believe he already has. Instead, my prayer is that I and countless other leaders whom God is raising in the global church would have the eyes to see what he is already doing and to steward this well.
May what God started in Asbury come to the full fruition of his intended purposes. I praise him for giving the global church a seed of what potentially could become one day a global revival in this generation. This seed needs to be watered and stewarded in a very healthy way, and we must give God all the glory like the leaders in Asbury modeled.
This process may take years or decades, but I believe that what God has started in Asbury will touch nations. As one Asbury professor reminded us from Hughes Chapel, ‘’Prayer is what got us in this room, and prayer is what is going to carry it out of here.’’
Sarah Breuel is the director of Revive Europe and serves on the board of directors of the Lausanne Movement.
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