(My trip to Switzerland to speak in a pastor’s conference this past April has generated a great deal of interest from the GBS and Revivalist families. Enough that I decided to share the experience with you. Rev. Timothy Keep, who traveled with me, and was also a speaker at the conference, assisted me in writing this article.)
When I placed the Kwasizabantu Pastor’s Conference in Switzerland on my web page speaking schedule, I had a number of people ask, “What kind of Christian Minster’s Conference is there in Europe?” For those who understand the spiritual condition of Europe, the question makes perfect sense. There are many conferences that take place in Europe but not many that are made up of local pastors from Europe. In today’s Europe less than 8% of the population attends church with only 3% attending regularly. It is predicted that by 2050 there will be no significant church presence in Europe at all! To make matters worse, the Muslim population has tripled in the last 30 years. This has given rise to the belief that parts of Europe are beyond being Post-Christian and are quickly becoming Pre-Islamic. So it was natural for people to wonder where you could find enough conservative evangelical ministers in Europe to have a pastor’s conference. The answer lies in the conference’s sponsor.
The conference was sponsored by the Kwasizabantu Mission that is based in the Republic of South Africa. The mission was born out of a revival among the Zulu people that began in the 1960’s. The Rev. Erlo Stegen, who is the Director of the Mission, tells the story of that revival in his book, Revival Among the Zulu’s. A brief recounting of that story is important to understand the conference in Europe. Rev. Stegen explains that the roots of this revival began with a crisis he faced early in his missionary service. He had been called upon to pray for the deliverance of a young demon possessed Zulu girl but after three weeks of intense intercession her condition remained unchanged. He writes,
“We prayed day and night for three weeks, but the girl wasn’t healed. Instead, I was at the end of my strength and close to a nervous breakdown. The girl sang her satanic hymns incessantly. Someone advised me to plead the blood of Jesus, which the devil would fear and flee, but to no avail. On the contrary, the girl began to blaspheme the blood…
“I couldn’t understand it. We had done what the Bible taught us, but it didn’t work… What was I to do? Go back to the mother and tell her that her daughter had not been healed? Everyone in the area knew that we Christians were praying for the girl. They had heard me preach, ‘Don’t go to the witch doctors, don’t sacrifice oxen and goats to the spirits. Jesus is the answer to every problem, come to Him.” They were all waiting to see what would happen, and now we Christians had failed.”
In his humiliation Stegen begged God to send him to another place of ministry but the Lord would not. For six long years he preached while suffering intense spiritual darkness, even doubting the truthfulness of Scripture. “I deemed it possible that some parts were true and other parts weren’t.” He struggled to believe the words of Jesus in John 4:13-14, “Whoever drinks of this water will thirst again, but whoever drinks of the water that I shall give him will never thirst.” Through his years of ministry hundreds had come forward to accept Jesus Christ but he knew that most of them still craved the things of this world. “Perhaps Jesus had made a mistake. Or maybe the authors of the New Testament did – for what I was experiencing was different than what was recorded in scripture. I had preached the gospel for twelve years and there weren’t even twelve true Christians to show for it.”
Stegen grieved that most of the young people who claimed they had become Christians under his ministry still craved the things of this world and were conformed to its ways. Something was missing – so he and his little congregation arranged to meet twice a day to search the scriptures, confess their sins and pray earnestly for the kind of revival Isaiah prayed for in Isaiah 64:1-4. They asked themselves what the life of a person who believes in Jesus should be like. In John 7:38 Jesus said, “He that believeth on me, as the scripture hath said, out of his belly shall flow rivers of living water.” Stegen said that when we asked ourselves, “Are there such rivers of living water flowing out of our lives?” we had to answer, No! This only made Stegen and his Zulu people yearn for these rivers as never before.
Christmas Sunday came but Stegen’s hunger was so intense and his brokenness so profound that he forgot to celebrate! As they continued to meet day after day for Bible study and prayer the Holy Spirit began to make them very aware of their sin. While God was dealing with him in very specific ways he was also dealing with the Zulu congregation. Church members confessed the sins of bitterness, hatred and gossip. As their hunger for holiness increased so did their expectation of revival.
One day, when a handful of his most faithful believers were with him for a time of prayer and confession, there was suddenly the noise of great wind. “Everyone was conscious of the presence of God without anyone saying a word,” Stegen says. Sinners began to be drawn to the meeting place as if drawn by unseen hands. People couldn’t sleep as they could only think of their sins. Hundreds came! Even thousands! Witches were converted. Hardened sinners wept like children. Unbelieving husbands were so amazed by the change in their wives that they too believed. Children were converted and led their parents to the Savior. Stegen said that, “God had kindled a fire, and it spread through the valleys and mountains, so that thousands were saved in one week, yes, even in one day.”
There were countless accompanying signs and miracles as well. The blind received their sight, the lame walked, the dumb were given a voice and demoniacs were delivered. The young girl who six years earlier, in spite of prayer and struggle, had not been healed was brought to a meeting and taken home completely whole! The work of God among them now resembled what they had read in their Bibles!
Fifty years later the flame of revival still burns in South Africa with people being convicted of sin and converted to Christ every day. At the same time the spiritual influence of this revival has spread around the world – particularly to Europe. Rev. Stegen felt he owed something to the continent of Europe. It was from a revival in Germany in the early 1800’s that missionaries were sent to South Africa. It was from these missionaries that Stegen’s ancestors heard the gospel and were saved. Stegen felt that he must give back to those who first brought the gospel to his family by returning the light of revival to what is now a very dark Europe. Kwasizabantu Mission has established eleven missions in some of the most spiritually barren countries in Europe.
The conference, in which Tim and I spoke, was held at their mission in Switzerland. It was attended by 550 pastors from 14 different countries. The majority of these pastors have had very little training in the Bible and almost no contact with the conservative evangelical churches of the West. I was awed by their hunger for the Word, moved to tears by their pleas for discipleship training and encouraged by their zeal to see a revival spread across Europe.
I was there to share, but more importantly, I was there to witness what the Holy Spirit is doing in and through the Body of Christ around the world. It is vital to my well-being and to that of GBSC and to the movement it serves to witness what God is doing through His Body. Isolationism is the tourniquet that brings suffocation and death to both individuals and churches. In the “Plain Account of the People called Methodists,” John Wesley said,
“The thing with I was greatly afraid of all this time, and which I resolved to use every possible method of preventing, was a narrowness of spirit, a party zeal… that miserable bigotry which makes many so unready to believe that there is any work of God but among themselves. I thought it might be a help against this, frequently to read, to all who were willing hear, the accounts I received from time to time of the work which God was carrying out in the earth, both in our own and in other countries, not among us alone, but among those of various opinions and denominations.”
I rejoice in the work of the Holy Spirit in these days of both peril and opportunity. I want to humble myself continually before God that the power of the Holy Spirit might rest on my life, this school and this generation as He has rested on others. Would you join with me in praying the prayer of Isaiah? , “Oh that thou wouldest rend the heavens, that thou wouldest come down, that the mountains might flow down at thy presence . . . For since the beginning of the world men have not heard, nor perceived by the ear, neither hath the eye seen, O God, beside thee, what he hath prepared for him that waiteth for him.” Isaiah 64:1,4