By Philip Timothy, Message Staff Writer
DEVILLE – A spur-of-the-moment decision proved to be the catalyst needed to ignite a revival that engulfed a small central Louisiana community, and in the process has helped to heal an 83-year-old church.
As Robby Poole, pastor of Longview Baptist Church in Deville, was fixing the marquee to announce the church’s approaching 4-day revival, God told him to use the word ‘community’ instead of the church’s name on the announcement.
[img_assist|nid=6178|title=Revival at Longview Baptist Church Deville turns into a community-wide event|desc=|link=none|align=left|width=100|height=67]He did, and what resulted was an overwhelming response from the community and a spiritual movement that, at times, left Poole speechless, emotionally drained, on a spiritual high, and praising God’s power and love.
“It was the right word to use at the right time,” Poole said. “Often time people won’t attend because they feel the revival is just for that church. It’s not, of course, but that’s the perception. That one change rang true with the community, and they responded. Because of the vision God gave me, it turned into a community-wide event.”
Sister churches in the community embraced the idea of a community revival, cancelled their Sunday evening services, and pastors encouraged their members to attend. People from other denominations also came.
“Deville is like so many other communities,” said Poole. “It is suffering. There is hurt, pain and poverty; drug and alcohol abuse; a brokenness that only God can repair and fix.”
The community wasn’t the only place hurting as Longview was slowly emerging from a difficult period in its history due to growth pains and changes in order to reach the community, coupled with the cost and stress associated with the completion of a new children’s education building.
“I can truthfully say that 2009 was my most difficult in 22 years of ministry,” said Poole, who has served as Longview’s pastor for the past five years. “There wasn’t a whole lot of fellowship and we had fallen on some lean ministry times.”
In February, five weeks before revival, the deacons and volunteers from the church, taking a page from ‘Sharing the Peace of Jesus’ initiative, canvassed more than 3,000 homes in the area. Not only did they invite people to come on Easter, but also to the revival.
Noted evangelist Bill Britt, a veteran of more than 800 revivals and 90 world crusades, began the revival Sunday morning a little uncertain as to how he would be received.
“It felt a little tight before the music,” Britt said. “But as I was sitting there, the Lord whispered in my heart, ‘son, I’ve got this under control. You just preach My Word.’ I knew then everything was going to be all right.”
He began the morning in the book of Luke (14:25-34) and continued the evening session in Luke (14:19).
“I’m not against new ideas – news ways to reach out to people – but God’s Word is still the most powerful way to reach them,” Britt said. “Too often we take a humanistic approach to things, instead of relying on the power of God. Far too many churches have given up on revival and VBS, because it takes a great amount of work and they simply just don’t want to pay the price.”
Mixing humor with scripture, Britt’s powerful, often time-fiery delivery, captivated and resonated through the crowd that packed the Longview sanctuary nightly. At the invitation each night, the altar was flooded with people, and counselors stayed busy helping those making life changing decisions in their lives.
“I could sense the brokenness of all those getting saved,” Britt said. “You could see God working in the hearts. You could feel the Holy Spirit changing lives, and that told me true revival was beginning to take place. I told a friend that on Monday or Tuesday night, I found the prayer guide – 40 days of preparation for revival – which Robby had given out. It answered a lot of questions for me about this revival.”
As added encouragement, the church had a series of functions for the community – midday manna, children’s hot dog hog-out, and youth pizza pig-out – designed to draw in fresh faces. Poole and Matt McCann, minister of students/education, asked everyone to invite a friend to revival.
Tuesday the sanctuary was filled with almost 80 young children, their parents and another huge crowd. Younger children sometimes have a hard time staying still in church but Britt, who described the crucifixion of Jesus as told in the Gospel of Matthew, had everyone, including the children, mesmerized.
“You could have heard a pin drop in the church. No one moved, not even the kids and that’s surprising. They hung on every word,” Poole said. “Bill was preaching the Word in a way that only Bill could deliver it.”
One of the week’s biggest moments may have come Wednesday during a morning assembly at Buckeye High School when Britt shared his testimony and presented the Word to 480 students.
“It is hard to get in any school and share the Gospel these days,” Britt said. “It is a very small circle so I was thrilled to have the opportunity. It was amazing to see how the students responded. I was even more amazed to see how the teachers had such a burden for these students.”
Britt invited the students to the revival that night and to bring a friend along. Members of Longview’s youth took charge and handed out card inviting their friends and classmates to eat pizza and then attend the revival. Thirty pizzas were purchased for the night.
More than 175, a third of the student population, attended and they filled 15 pews in the front of the church. By the night’s end, 35 made decisions, including 26 professions of faith.
Realizing the need to extend the revival, Poole quickly conferred with Britt and the Willis Family to see if they could stay another day. They both said they could and Poole announced the revival would be extended.
“I really didn’t know what to expect or how many people would show up,” Poole said. “I told everyone to invite a friend. I announced we would have another pizza night for the youth, and I said we’d see them back the next night.”
At midnight, Poole changed the marquee to announce the revival would continue another night. It read ‘God is working! Revival continues.’
The next day members of Longview’s youth took it upon themselves to make an announcement at school, which was definitely the buzz of the school and the community. The ones who had attended the night before invited more of their friends.
“I just believed in my heart it was what God wanted me to do. I knew He was a big enough God to fill this church many times over and I just needed to put it in His hands,” Poole said.
“We were going through a true revival. I had experienced something similar 15 years ago, when I was in student ministry. I didn’t want this one to end. So many others have told me the same.”
The following night the youth, despite high school softball and baseball games, returned with their friends and family. The pews were full. Sixteen people were baptized to start the service and Britt delivered another powerful message to the crowd.
At the invitation, people streamed into the aisles and flooded the altar. Some youth, still dressed in their uniforms, came forth with a friend in tow, and another 31 decisions, including 23 professions of faith, were made.
“I feel completely blessed by God,” Poole said. “He has been so gracious to me. I wouldn’t want to have to endure another year like the last one. But if it meant going through the desperation, the brokenness, and the pain to reach where we are now, I would do it.
“Our jobs, though, are just beginning. We as a staff and as a church must begin discipleship with all the ones that accepted Jesus,” Poole said. “This week has renewed and strengthened me. I don’t want it to end and I really don’t think it will. I think this revival is going to spread. It is a good and powerful first step. It has nothing to do with any man; it has everything to do with God.”
In five days, there were more than 80 decisions, of which 62 were professions of faith and 56 baptisms. But both Poole and Britt said where there are no more services, revival isn’t over. It has just begun, and will only continue to spread through the community, the school and the church.
“Praise God,” Britt said. “I love it when I can reach a person – young or old. Weeks like this one are like a fresh breath of heaven on my heart. And it has certainly been a very good week for my wife Wendy and myself.
“But revival, true revival, isn’t confined to just a few nights,” Britt said. “I’m an optimist and I think God can bring revival to America. And I think He can do so starting right here in Deville.”
Britt continued, “Stretch a rubber band out. It won’t stay that big when you let go, but it will never be the same either. It is my prayer Longview and this community will never be the same.