SPIRITUAL AWAKENING: The Only Thing That Will Save Us
by J. Lee Grady
We can learn an important lesson from the East African Revival,
which transformed a region 80 years ago.
The people of Uganda call it Balokole. In the Luganda language it
means “the saved ones,” but the word became synonymous with
the East African Revival-one of the most significant Christian
movements in modern history.
This revival had humble beginnings in September 1929, just
before America’s Great Depression. Historians trace it to a
prayer meeting on Namirembe Hill in Kampala, Uganda, where
a missionary to Rwanda, Joe Church, prayed and read the Bible
for two days with his friend Simeoni Nsibambi. They felt God had
showed them that the African church was powerless because of
a lack of personal holiness.
It is impossible to explain exactly what happened after this prayer
meeting or how the resulting spiritual fervor spread. When God
comes, unusual things happen. Within weeks after the Rev.
Church returned to Gahini, Rwanda, Christians gathered to pray
and confess their sins openly. A heavy spirit of conviction fell on
the people. Whenever they repented for their sins and failures
they would weep uncontrollably, ask others to forgive them and
pledge to make restitution.
The weeping spread to farmlands and open fields. Unbelievers
who visited these gatherings were converted after they witnessed
the sincerity of the Christians. Repentance went deep. Husbands
publicly apologized for adultery and farmers repented for stealing
cows from each other. Eventually, as the revival spread from
Rwanda to Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania and Burundi, even the
centuries-old tradition of polygamy (which was still common
among professing Christians) was unraveled in some areas.
Balokole changed African Christianity forever. In a 1986 article for
Christian History, Michael Harper writes of the revival: “It’s effects
have been more lasting than almost any other revival in history, so
that today there is hardly a single Protestant leader in East Africa
who has not been touched by it in some way.”
I spent the past two weeks ministering in Uganda and Kenya, and
everywhere I went I met people who still talk about the East African
Revival-80 years after it began. It breathed resurrection power into
dead, traditional churches and triggered aggressive church-planting
movements that affected a variety of denominations.
Whether sermons were delivered from pulpits or under trees, six
important themes were emphasized in those days: 1) the blood
of Jesus; 2) the name of Jesus; 3) the cross of Jesus; 4) the
Word of God; 5) the testimony of the saints; and 6) the anointing
of the Holy Spirit.
Leaders also stressed the message of 1 John 6-7: “If we say
that we have fellowship with Him and yet walk in the darkness,
we lie and do not practice the truth; but if we walk in the light as
He Himself is in the light, we have fellowship with one another,
and the blood of Jesus His son cleanses us from all sin (NASB).”
As was true in other spiritual awakenings in history (such as the
Asbury Revival in Kentucky in 1970), people stood in front of
each other and admitted their sins, no matter how embarrassing.
The honesty cut deep into human pride and dealt a fatal blow
against entrenched sin and religious hypocrisy.
After hearing more details about the East African Revival while I
was in Uganda last week, I was convinced that this type of
movement is the only thing that will pull the United States out of
its current despair.
We must have a spiritual awakening, or we die. Political
engineering, economic policies, government bailouts and stimulus
packages will not save us. No politician, Democrat or Republican,
will reverse our course toward destruction.
Our only hope is that a backslidden American church-a church
that is as smug, blind and lukewarm as the Laodiceans–will
“be zealous and repent” (see Rev. 3:19).
What encourages me is that God, not man, initiated all the
spiritual awakenings of the past-including the First Great
Awakening, which gave our country its historic Christian identity.
Yes, we play our feeble part by praying, and we must storm
heaven. Yes, awakenings come in response to our weak attempts
to repent, and we must passionately seek a fresh baptism of
But we cannot manufacture revivals. Pentecostal fire comes from
heaven alone. It is a sovereign blessing from a God who loves us
and desires to rescue us from ourselves. We charismatics have
generated a lot of our own sound and fury in the past 30 years,
but much of what we have created is a shameful substitute for
revival. We must become desperate for the real thing.
Today our movement is mired in the shallow waters of self-centered,
carnal Christianity. May God mercifully send us our own version of
Balokole. May gut-wrenching repentance and public confession of
sin interrupt our trendy worship services. May this holy fire spread
until the people of the United States see genuine Christians living
the message we preach.