In the second part of a series on the Welsh Revival Gateway News UK correspondent Charles Gardner reports back from a recent conference he attended at the Bible College of Wales
As I continue my report on our visit to the Bible College of Wales and the nearby birthplace of the Welsh Revival, it seemed apt that my wife and I, along with my son’s family, should visit the famous Alnwick Garden in Northumberland the following week.
For the stunning spectacle of its cascading fountains beautifully reflected the purity and power of God’s presence we had experienced on the Gower Peninsula.
It was also at Alnwick that I came across the following inscription carved into stone: “Only dead fish swim with the stream.”
The likes of Rees Howells, the college founder who played a significant role in the revival, made a huge difference to the world because they swam against the tide, as the Bible urges us to do — specifically, “Do not be conformed to the pattern of this world…” (See Romans 12:1 – 2)
One of his big challenges as he sought God’s leading on personal intercession was when the Lord told him to go hatless in order to reflect a permanent attitude of prayer. This, in 1909, went very much against the grain; in fact, it was unheard of for men to go about without a head covering. And he confessed to having had a tremendous struggle with obeying this particular call.
Fashion enslaves people into “keeping up appearances’ rather than pleasing God with acts of faith and devotion. But in this and other ways, Rees learnt to become “dead to the world” and all its influences and expectations; he no longer cared that some would no doubt have considered his strange behaviour as somewhat fanatical. (Standing up for sexual morality and the sanctity of life is now generally considered unacceptable).
Hatikvah Films, who have already produced a string of inspiring documentaries on Israel’s place in God’s purposes as well as other Christian endeavours, are planning to make a movie called Surrender on the Rees Howells story, according to staff member Stephen Briggs, who also addressed the conference.
Among other participants was former student David Dare, now 80, from Lyme Regis in Dorset, who spoke of life-changing times under the ministry of Samuel Howells, son of Rees. David and his wife Rosemary now host intercessory prayer meetings four times a week.
Further testimonies shared included that of Tara, a seven-times married young woman whose story is told in Gangster’s Girl, soon due out from Penguin Books.
Twice to the altar
Dr Harry Schmidt, a Bible college principal from Chicago, told the remarkable story of how his wife had led him to the altar twice — initially at the age of 12 when she took him to the front of the rather cramped church to give his life to Jesus. Because there was not much room, he knelt at the corner of the piano stool where he wept buckets as he wiped his tears on the dress of the pianist, who was later to become his mother-in-law!
After falling into disrepair and closing in 2009, the Swansea college site was reclaimed from developers, refurbished and then re-opened in 2015 thanks to a £5 million cash injection from Singapore pastor Yang Tuck Yoong in honour of British missionaries and the revival legacy.
The standard of singing was already high, as you would expect in Wales, but took off into heavenly realms when opera star Huw Priday took the microphone and treated us to glorious renditions of classic numbers including I’ll walk with God. And when his soprano wife Elizabeth joined him, it was a blessing beyond all expectation to have a front row seat as they sang the All I ask of you duet from Phantom of the Opera!
Reaching a generation through classical music
Huw believes we are in for a period of great darkness ahead, and that we will need to stand firm in the faith to be ready to care for the many broken people who will flock to the Saviour. Having left a glittering career to commit himself full-time to gospel ministry, he has an inspiring vision to help reach this generation through classical music.
Huw, who is from Brecon, told me of an exhibition at Brecon Cathedral focused on the part played by Welsh soldiers in the 15th century Battle of Agincourt. They were particularly accurate with their arrows, which did not deflect from armour but instead penetrated it thanks to the ‘secret weapon’ of beeswax, though their notorious courage obviously also came into play.
Some years ago, at the same venue, I met the granddaughter of a soldier who famously won the Victoria Cross at the Battle of Rorke’s Drift during the Zulu War of 1879. You may know that it was there that some 100 soldiers of the South Wales Borderers, many of them lying sick in a makeshift hospital, successfully fought off some 4 000 Zulu warriors.
You may have seen the film (starring Jack Hawkins, Stanley Baker and a young Michael Caine), which I watched being made in 1963 as we lived nearby and frequently went for picnics there on the slopes of the majestic Drakensberg mountains — the actual site of Rorke’s Drift is some 100 miles away, but they chose this spot for the stunning backdrop.
Anyway, those young Welshmen were subjected to severe intimidation as hordes of chanting warriors surrounded them, and I have no doubt that many prayers went up as, with great courage, they fought against all the odds until eventually, and to their enormous surprise, the Zulus gave up and saluted them for their bravery. As many as 11 VCs were awarded, some posthumously — the highest number ever handed out for a single engagement.
The conference was not short on humour, being graced with the presence of gospel singer Bryn Yemm, a terrific entertainer who had us in fits of laughter even though not actually performing. An award-winning artist who has travelled the world, he has a special love for Israel, having led cruise ship tours from Haifa when he boldly witnessed to Jews about their Messiah.
Linda and I stayed at Nicholaston House, a beautiful Christian retreat some 16km down the Gower Peninsula, and we had a magical view of the beach at Oxwich Bay. It was a vision of the Gower Peninsula, an area of outstanding natural beauty, that had originally acted as confirmation that I should accept the invitation to attend this conference.
A friend with whom we had stayed in Cwmbran, South Wales, before heading for Swansea, had correctly predicted that we would experience “bucket-loads of blessings” and it seemed apt that the long drought was broken by rain — later bucketing down — as we drove to the college via the M4 motorway.
Our Welsh experience finished, fittingly, with a stop to see old friends in Brecon who were missionaries to Bolivia and whose daughters are now following in their footsteps to Colombia and Rwanda. All the family are, like Abraham, still living by faith, not knowing where they are going next, but trusting in the Lord for every step of the way, which had proved to be the theme of the conference.
It seemed entirely appropriate, when we finally arrived back in Yorkshire at the end of our 400km journey from Swansea, to learn from TV news coverage of a new hero from Wales, Geraint Thomas, following his epic win in the Tour de France, cycling’s premier event. Will leading the world in this hugely challenging physical pursuit soon be eclipsed at a spiritual level as wells of revival are once more unblocked in Wales?
“In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he will direct your paths.” — Proverbs 3:6)
We had been on an epic journey ourselves as we continue to discover more about the perfect way to live!
Additional material sourced from Rees Howells — Intercessor by Norman Grubb, published by Lutterworth Press