The Haystack prayer meeting!


The Father smiled, and the wise men shook their heads at the dream of the youth, but now the place where they met for prayer and the grove where they walked in counsel have become shrines.”
         Robert Wilder
The Story

It was 1806 and divine circumstances were about to reveal to the world its new unlikely heroes.  Samuel J. Mills, James Richards, Francis L. Robbins, Harvey Loomis, and Byram Green were about to decide their destiny.  These five students at Williams College in Massachusetts found themselves in a time when revival and awakening were sweeping across America and this small college town.  There were many prayer meetings being maintained by students.  One, to which these five men belonged, met in Sloan’s meadow north of the college.  On a hot Saturday afternoon in August these five left to pray and discuss William Carey’s small booklet, An Inquiry into the Obligation of Christians to Use Means for the Conversion of the Heathen.   It was a controversial book that laid on all believers the weight of responsibility of world missions.  There were threatening clouds in the distance, but the group met faithfully despite the thunderstorm that was approaching. 

As they discussed world missions and specifically the needs in China, their attention was focused so intently on their responsibility to the un-reached that they failed to notice the speed with which storm had approached.  The young men were too far away to run for adequate shelter and were soon trapped by the angry thunder clouds. Within minutes the sound of the thunder was deafening and the pouring rain and strikes of lightening drove the students to scramble for the first shelter available – a haystack. 

Even as the storm rolled over the five continued their building discussion.  Beneath the cover of the haystack, Samuel Mills, the leader of the group, continued to insist that the gospel must be taken to the lost in Asia. 

All were inspired to act by Mills’ passion except for Loomis, who argued that it was too dangerous in China.  “We must wait until they are civilized,” he maintained.  Samuel suggested that they make it an issue of prayer, and they began to pray over the wail of the storm.  All prayed except for Loomis.   Mills, remembering the objections of Loomis, prayed, “O God, strike down the arm, with red artillery of heaven, that shall be raised against a herald of the cross.”

 Finally after singing a hymn, Mills looked at the others, and over the roar of the drenching rain, and with flashes of lightening reflecting in his eyes, cried out, “We can do this, if we will!”  Something broke loose in that moment within the hearts of all five.  All pointed back to that moment as the one that changed them forever.  The five later consecrated themselves to full devotion to the Great Commission and taking the gospel to all the nations.  They felt that it was the job of the American church to send its own missionaries and proposed to the General Association of Massachusetts that the first American missions agency be created, later given the name “The American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions” in 1810.  Adoniram Judson was among the first five men that the American Board sent to Calcutta, India.  Mills went on to inspire the creation of several other mission agencies and works such as The United Foreign Missionary Society, the American Baptist Missionary Union, and the American Bible Society.
This Haystack Prayer Movement became known all over the surrounding area, especially among college students.  Samuel had began a group in 1808 called the Society of  Brethren, which bound its members together by the single-minded purpose of giving themselves to extend the gospel around the world.  Several missions societies began to spring up on campuses all across the U.S. in the footsteps of Mills.  

Years later, several women purchased with one gold dollar, the spot of land which Bryam Green identified as the location of the haystack that day.  Today the Haystack Prayer Monument stands at Williams college as a reminder of what God did, not only in the lives of the five, but also in the life of Luther Wishard 80 years later.  Luther, inspired by the Haystack Prayer Movement, initiated the mobilization of 100,000 college students through the Student Volunteer Movement.  That moment in 1806 under the haystack was the spark for the greatest missionary movement that the world has ever seen.  They were ordinary young men – college students.  Life forced them to search out their life purpose, maybe before it was too late; before the world had a chance to steal away their passion and talents into other great endeavors; before the roots of careers, and comfort grew too deeply into the American dream.  These five had no idea that all of history was watching that day and what weight of responsibility lay on them.  God uses moments like this, not to test our hearts, but to reveal them.  He is unveiling to us what holds our true loyalty.  Neil McClendon says, “Life’s interruptions are God’s invitations.”  Heroes like this are made, not born.  Let us press on to know Him deeply and know His heart so that in times of testing and interruption it might be revealed that our heart has been replaced with His.  Out of the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks. Out of the deepening of our passion for His renown and glory will come an overflow: our lives heralding a message to the world, “We can do this, if we will!”
 The Week of the Haystack!

In 1806, God used a Haystack to change the world!  It began with a group of five college students that gathered for prayer and had read the great commission and believed that the words were for them.  A thunderstorm drove them to the shelter of a large haystack, and there they consecrated their life to bring the gospel to those that needed it most.  After they graduated, they started the first missions agency in North America, and sent out our first missionaries.  Eighty years later, God used their story to inspire the Student Volunteer Movement – the greatest student mission movement ever.

During the week of the Haystack we are going to take some time to commemorate the “haystack prayer meeting” that took place 200 years ago this month. Only, if the young men and women of the past movement would have understood the importance the local church plays in world evangelism the world would have would have been impacted with the Gospel in a more lasting manner. We can change history, but we can pray that it will repeat itself.

During this week at World Vision Baptist Church we are going to look at some of the principles that made the student volunteer movement such a matter force for missions. We are also going to set aside some extra time out of our schedule to ask God to send more laborers to His harvest!

Twice God’s used the Haystack to change the world.  Could lightning strike again in our generation?  Bring the Haystack to your church and ignite global prayer vision and involvement!

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