Great Awakenings focus of Joseph Willis Institute

By Karen L. Willoughby, Managing Editor

PINEVILLE – The Joseph Willis Institute for Great Awakening Studies was launched Jan. 24 at the 2012 Louisiana Evangelism Conference as a partnership between Louisiana College and the Louisiana Baptist Convention.[img_assist|nid=7876|title=Joseph Willis Institute|desc=Randy Willis, the fifth-great-grandson of Joseph Willis, (center) watches as Evangelist Sammy Tippit (left) presents Louisiana College President Joe Aguillard with a box of documents, DVDs and audio discs containing historical accounts and information on the development of the Baptist faith in Louisiana through the efforts of Joseph Willis.|link=none|align=left|width=640|height=424]

Conceived by Evangelist Sammy Tippit, a Louisiana native, the “JWI” as it is likely to become known, is to educate the present and future generations of spiritual leaders on the historical and biblical principles of the great Christian revivals that have significantly impacted Western civilization, culture and church growth around the world, according to a brochure promoting the Institute.

“Dr. [David] Hankins’ and Wayne Jenkins’ heart at the Louisiana Baptist Convention for revival connects with the heart of Louisiana College to see revival and awakening come to Louisiana and the nation,” said Rod Masteller, JWI director. “We’re thrilled with this partnership.”

Much of the material will be in electronic form, Masteller said, available online through the LC website: LBC Archivist Karon McCartney will catalogue hard-copy items such as books and original photographs, which then will be housed in the LBC Archives until such time as dedicated space can be allocated for JWI at LC.

A red plastic basket of Great Awakening-related items was symbolically passed from Tippit’s hands to those of LC President Joe Aguillard and Masteller during the launch of JWI at the 2012 Louisiana Evangelism Conference.

Knowledgeable Christian leaders – and an internet search – indicate JWI could be the first-ever repository in the United States or the world specifically devoted to the study of Great Awakenings.

Yale University houses the Jonathan Edwards Center, which provides for the study of the writings of the man widely acknowledged to be the foremost Christian theologian of the 1700s, and shaper of the First Great Awakening, which took place in the 1730s-40s.

Wheaton College in suburban Chicago, Ill., houses the Billy Graham Center as well as the Institute for the Study of American Evangelicals.

But, though Christian leaders since the 1960s have been expressing the need for revival across America, though the books website has 321 books on the subjects of “revivals and revivalism,” and though the internet search engine has 678,000 listings related to “revivals and revivalism,” until now there has been no central location for dedicated study of previous spiritual awakenings and what led to them.

“One reason we’re not moving forward is we’ve forgotten who we are,” Tippit said during the launch dedication ceremony. “We need to equip future generations on the great truths of revival.”

Later, he told the Baptist Message that because of the history, “for me, this [LC] was the right place. “Louisiana College is an outgrowth of the Louisiana Baptist Convention, which is an outgrowth of the churches started from Joseph Willis crossing the Mississippi River,” Tippit said about the man whose name is reflected in JWI’s name.

Willis, with English and Cherokee blood flowing through his veins, is said to be the first Baptist pastor to preach west of the Mississippi. Much will be written this year – the 200th anniversary of Baptists in Louisiana – in the Baptist Message about Willis and the Baptist movement he started within a year of the Louisiana Purchase of 1803, despite persecution and death threats.

“I think because of the Louisiana Purchase – which some say was the second most important single event in our nation’s history, after the American revolution – Louisiana has a unique place in the history of our nation,” Tippit said.

“Spiritual growth is in the DNA of Louisiana College, and I saw what God was doing on the campus,” Tippit continued. “It seems to me this [LC] was the only place for the study of revivals, great awakenings and what precedes them.”

As part of the Joseph Willis Institute for Great Awakening Studies, LC plans to host symposiums with leading scholars lecturing on specific areas of Great Awakenings in the history of the Christian church. Leading voices on the practical aspects of revivals and spiritual awakening are to train pastors and church leaders to seek God for revival.

Future curriculum at LC is to integrate courses on spiritual awakening and the history of the Great Awakenings.

 Masteller, formerly of Summer Grove Baptist Church in Shreveport, passionately led Louisiana Baptists toward revival during his two years – 2010-11 – as president of the Louisiana Baptist Convention. He was named director of  JWI in part because of his constant focus on the need for God’s people to humble themselves and pray, and seek God’s face so He might heal America.

“If God does not move, our nation is gone,” Masteller said during the launch and dedication of the Joseph Willis Institute. “We are going to do everything we can, and God will do what we can’t, which is send revival.

“The wind of the Spirit is blowing,” Masteller continued. “I pray we, as pastors, leaders and people, will have our sails up by being on our knees, humbled before Him – 1 Peter 5:6. I pray we will catch the movement of His Spirit and experience revival, and awaken.”

Masteller spoke with the Baptist Message after the JWI launch and dedication ceremony.

“As I travel across the state and speak in churches, I sense a real hunger and passion for awakening,” Masteller said. “Dear Lord, would You be gracious to us and bring awakening to pass?” In his usual way of punctuating his words with scripture, Masteller cited 2 Corinthians 12:9.

For more information, to contribute to the collection of Great Awakening materials or to examine the holdings, contact Masteller at or call him at 318.426.1512.