By Mark Ellis
The day after 70,000 people jammed the L.A. Coliseum to cry out for revival, God sent the wind of the Holy Spirit many miles away to a humble town of 500 in West Virginia coal mining country.
“We’ve prayed for many years for this,” says Mitchell Bias, pastor of the Regional Church of God in Delbarton, West Virginia. His church had a live stream from the Azusa Now event on April 9th with their own prayer gathering, but little did he know what would happen, beginning the next day.
It seems Pastor Mitch had invited Matt Hartley, a 31-year-old evangelist from Tennessee, to preach at the church’s “spring revival.”
“I felt impressed of the Lord to connect with him,” he notes. “I knew he was a young evangelist.”
After Hartley checked his schedule, he proposed April 10-13 for their event. “He came and started that Sunday. We had tremendous services the morning and evening on the 10th,” says Pastor Mitch.
The next day Hartley spoke at a chapel service for the church’s Christian school in Williamson, the adjacent town, which Pastor Mitch describes as another “tremendous” gathering.
On the 12th, Hartley spoke at a prayer club meeting at Mingo Central High School at the invitation of the students. The club normally has 30-40 students show up, but everyone was shocked when 450 students arrived – more than half the high school.
“He (Hartley) preached the Gospel, preached against sin,” Pastor Mitch recounts. “I know it’s not popular, but he did. It wasn’t a lengthy sermon.”
At the end of the message Hartley gave an altar call. “He gave an invitation and 150 students responded to receive Christ. There was a lot of emotion. They cried. He prayed for them. They were touched. It was a move of God,” Pastor Mitch says.
“The Lord did it. It was a sovereign move of the Lord.”
Two days later, another prayer club meeting was held at the same high school. About 450 students came, and 150 more students received Christ!
Meanwhile, Pastor Mitch’s church continued their revival services at night. “The crowds continued to grow at our church,” he recounts. “We wanted a revival. We wanted a radical move of the Lord. But we didn’t anticipate this would happen,” he says.
Young people from the high school began attending in the evening, along with others, and the word spread that God was stoking the fires of revival.
“By Saturday we were going to have a break and let the evangelists have a break.” But some of the students decided they wanted to organize a rally at the stadium.
Some 2500 to 3000 students from 25 schools in the area jammed into the stadium. Hartley preached and again had a great response as the Lord touched many hearts with salvation.
“The next Sunday morning and evening we had huge attendance at our church. After the Monday evening service we realized we couldn’t accommodate the crowds,” Pastor Mitch says.
One student, Mackenzie Lester, received the Lord in that first week and posted this on her Facebook page: “I’m so happy to announce that my best friend and I made the most amazing decision tonight, we completely gave our lives to God. Three days ago my life was changed for the better and I have pastor Matt Hartley and Kaleb Hanshaw and the rest of the prayer team to thank for that.”
“They have really opened my eyes, and made me see such wonderful things that I’ve never saw before. Tonight is a night that I will never forget.”
Another student, Cynthia Kaye, also posted on her Facebook page: “Tonight 602 people came to Revival and 32 of them were saved. The numbers keep going up! God is moving, and I’m pumped to see just how far it goes.”
“I’m beyond blessed for him to have given me a second chance, and so glad I can say I’m saved! The joy I feel is unlike anything I’ve ever felt in my life. He is so good, and I just wish everyone could feel the way I do. God is so good, and he’s so great. This is just the beginning of what God is getting ready to do.”
On Tuesday, April 19th the meetings moved to the Williamson Field House. “There, it became a multi-congregational revival,” Pastor Mitch notes. “We led the worship; I welcomed everyone and introduced and Matt preached. Scores and scores of people – not just young people — were getting saved.”
After meetings on multiple nights a week for five weeks, the revival spread to Logan County, with gatherings at the Coal Field Jamboree. “We feel like the revival will continue to course through this state,” Pastor Mitch says. “We don’t want this to be a novelty. It’s got to be the real thing or we’re not interested. We just want the Lord to get the glory.”
He hasn’t seen any unusual supernatural manifestations. “We don’t have any gold dust appearing. Nobody’s
teeth are being filled supernaturally. No one is barking like a dog or laughing.”
“We want the Lord to inhabit this place. We need him. We are desperate for him.”
Pastor Mitch finds some irony in the Lord choosing to bring revival to small towns in an equally humble state. “This state is a hidden place. You can’t even see us on the Weather Channel. They never mention us. I watch them cover Pittsburgh or Lexington or Richmond, but they don’t even see West Virginia. They never mention us. Some people don’t even know we’re a state.”
In 1998 Pastor Mitch attended a prayer event in Flatwoods, West Virginia organized by Ron Thaxton. “While we were there the Lord gave a prophetic word like he was speaking to a person, but he was speaking to our state,” Pastor Mitch recalls.
That word has been “emblazoned in his spirit” ever since:
Do not disdain your hiddenness, West Virgina. For I have hidden you for the last days. If you will seek me for further revelation, I will show you what this is all about.
“Then the Lord quoted from Micah 5: But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, Though you are little among the thousands of Judah, yet out of you shall come forth…”
Pastor Mitch is hopeful the wind of the Sprit will continue to blow. “I believe the revival will just continue to spread from county to county,” he says.
“This is not about us. Let the Lord do what he wants. We’ve prayed for many years for this.
Pastor Mitch notes that West Virgina is the only state in the U.S. formed by executive order by President Abraham Lincoln during the Civil War. “Primarily it was that our people did not believe one person could own another person. We did not believe in slavery and would not stay a part of that.”
“Williamson is known as the heart of the trillion-dollar coalfield. God invented coal and he put it here,” he notes.
In 1904-05, God sent revival to the quarries and mining areas of Wales during the Welsh revival.
“My house is in a valley and off in the distance is a coal mine on the mountain top and a deep mine. A beautiful stream that is crystal clear runs from there near my house. I don’t wipe coal dust off my furniture. We are smack dab in the middle of it.”
For whatever reason, the Lord smiled once more on those who go down into the heart of the earth and mine its riches. While many are out of work today, they have felt a wind from God lift their spirits and fill them with unsurpassed joy, as they continue to watch many entering His kingdom, day-by-day.