When Revival Came To Canada
By Bill McLeod
Arranged from a message delivered at the “Heart-Cry for Revival” conference held in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, May 26-29, 1998.
In 1962 I became Pastor of a Baptist church of 175 members in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Canada. In Canada this would be an average size church as the country is only around seven percent Evangelical as compared to thirty percent in the United States.
It was a good church I thought. We had some university people and students and quite a few Bible School graduates. Most of our people were young. I had many marriages but few funerals!
After I had been there long enough to get to know the people fairly well, I divided the church into five groups for soul winning. Once in five weeks each group would be expected to do some house calling and soul winning.
I knew that some of them at least would not feel able to do this so I left the door open and suggested that if they did not feel able to engage in this kind of ministry, then just stay home and pray. All of them stayed home and prayed. Nobody showed up and I don't think they were really praying at home either. I thought the problem was that they did not know how to win people to Christ so I announced classes in soul winning. These lasted for eight weeks and we had a very good attendance.
Again I left the door open and suggested that if any did not feel able to go soul winning, just stay home and pray. The same thing happened as before. Only two people showed up and they were both shaking from head to foot. At this point it dawned on me that the real problem was that the people just did not have a heart to do this kind of thing, and it was then I began to seriously pray for revival.
Paving the Way With Prayer
Five years before the revival came I started a Saturday night deacons' prayer meeting at nine o'clock. It was understood we would pray for revival in the congregation and in our own hearts. We had ten deacons and averaged about seven at these prayer times. God put His seal of approval on us that first prayer time because the next day, Sunday, we had a powerful moving of the Holy Spirit in the congregation. During the service people were leaving the meeting and going downstairs to find a place where they could pray. It was as if God was saying to us, "You are on the right track now; stay with it."
On another occasion at a deacons' meeting, all I said at the beginning was that it was useless to pray if we had unconfessed sin in our hearts. God immediately began to move on hearts and the men began to make things right with each other. One deacon took another deacon by the hand and went into another room and asked forgiveness. One deacon came to me and wept on my shoulder as he asked me to forgive him for being critical.
In those days I used to tell the congregation, "Miss Sunday morning if you have to; miss Sunday evening if you must, but never miss the prayer meeting unless you are dead." The prayer meeting became the most exciting and fruitful meeting of the week. It climbed in attendance from 25 to 50 to 75 and kept climbing. We started children's prayer meetings in conjunction with the adult meetings and eventually had at times forty children attending. We had to divide them into two groups. Each group had one adult leader whose job was to train the children to run their own prayer meetings. The children loved it. Having children's prayer meetings swelled the attendance at the prayer meetings and eventually we had 150 people attending, and I recall counting once close to 170 people in the prayer meeting.
We put a prayer wheel on the bulletin board with fifteen-minute pie-shaped wedges where people could sign their names as to the time they would pray for revival. After a while we had the a whole twenty-four hours taken up. We also suggested that people ask God to waken them through the night just to pray for revival. Numbers of people took this challenge. (I had been doing this personally for some years.) We finally came to the point where at any time of the day or night there would be someone on their knees praying for revival.
Finney, the revivalist, said that if he ever lost the spirit of prayer he could not converse with people privately or publicly with any effect. He based this on Zechariah 12:10 where it speaks of God pouring out on His people "the spirit of grace and supplication." One translation puts it this way, "the spirit of grace to supplicate." When the Lord saw that we meant business in prayer He began to give us a real spirit of prayer. People sometimes told me how they used to be prayed out in five minutes, but now they could pray for an hour without any effort. More and more people were having a wonderful time praying and calling on God.
For about a year and a half before the revival came, I used to end all our Sunday evening services with a half-hour of prayer for revival. Thirty or forty people would stay behind for this time of prayer. Saturday nights I used to go into the church and pray at the end of every pew for the people who would be sitting there the next day. I recall suggesting to the people that when they gave thanks for their food at each meal they take a little extra time and pray for revival.
Had I laid all this extra prayer on the people all at once it would not have taken. I did this over a period of time as I sensed the people would be able to carry it. We prepared the best we knew how and really did little by way of preparation for revival other than pray.
The Revival Is On!
Two years before the revival I shared my burden for revival with a visiting missionary, and he suggested I contact Ralph and Lou Sutera for meetings. They could not come for two years as they were solidly booked up. God used these humble men in marvelous ways among us.
The meetings began on a Wednesday night and were planned to go for a week and a half. That first meeting we had around 150 people present and several people responded at the invitation, and the revival was on. By Saturday night we were packed out and Sunday was almost impossible. We contacted a neighboring church and spent two nights only there as their building would not seat more than 600 and we were beyond that already.
At this juncture the Christian and Missionary Alliance church opened their facilities to us although they had planned a missionary conference and already had missionaries in town. It was possible to pack close to a thousand people in their building. That was fine for a few nights, but we had to move again. The largest church building in the city would seat around 1600 or so and it was quickly filled to overflowing. The caretaker lost his cool and told us we would have to get rid of some people or the Fire Marshall might close us down. I asked my people to go to the Alliance Church where I had a meeting with them, but when my people went out, more people came in off the street and the problem remained the same as before. A week or so later the caretaker got saved and then he didn't mind how packed we were.
Eventually we had to start double services each night to accommodate the crowds. We finally had to move to the city auditorium which would seat 2400 and there, too, we had to have double services. Instead of going for a week and a half, we had to go for six or seven weeks altogether.
The main meetings were followed by smaller meetings called "after glows." These smaller meetings sometimes went for hours and many, many people met with God in these smaller meetings. Numbers of people who were baptized church members discovered they had never been born again. This included some from my church also. A young man who had been an assistant pastor to me some years before phoned to tell me God had showed him he had never been born again. I got some men together and we prayed with him. He suddenly burst into tears and said, "God is real; God is real!"
His family found it hard to believe because for some years he had worked as a leader with a group training people in evangelism. As he told us, he knew the language but he never knew the Lord.
Broken homes were restored by the Lord of glory. One woman whose husband had left her with three children, who was cracking up emotionally and who had seen several Psychiatrists, was touched and healed by the risen Christ. One day her husband dropped in to see the children. He took one look at his wife and said, "Whatever happened to you?" She told him what God had done for her and he came under deep conviction of sin. About a week later he received Jesus Christ as his personal Saviour and the home was beautifully restored.
The Revival Spreads
Teams mostly of lay people, began going out across the country and eventually every province in Canada and every state in the United States was visited by teams of revived Christians. We quit counting after two thousand teams had gone out. I know of one church that sent out six hundred teams in all.
Teams began going overseas also. One team of German-speaking people from Winnipeg, Canada, went to Germany to share revival truths. They were Mennonites, Baptists and Pentecostals. Many countries were visited at that time by other teams also. Teams went to many countries in South America and Europe. India was visited as was the Philippines and other lands. We lost track of it all.
In Saskatoon, Canada, there is a group called The Western Tract Mission. They had then about 3000 people who were distributing tracts in various ways. They reported that tract sales almost tripled in the first year after the revival. The Alliance denomination reported a one hundred percent increase in the number of people who were brought to Jesus Christ in their churches in that first year also. One Baptist group reported that for the first time in their history they went over the top in their financial budget in that same period of time.
Gordon Bailey was the head usher in our church at that time. He was always in church and had been a believer for six years. He told me after the revival how he used to sit in church in a cold sweat as he was so afraid I might call on him to lead in prayer. He told me that if I had ever done that he would have dropped dead.
One Sunday morning he went before the church and asked forgiveness because he had had a very bad attitude toward some of the people. He then went home and asked his wife and children to forgive him for being a poor example of a husband and father. He told me this was the hardest thing he ever did. That same night he was working in the barn--he had a herd of about fifty Black Angus cattle--and he said that suddenly God filled him with the Holy Spirit from top to toe. He and his wife began soul winning and led about 35 people to the Lord in nine months.
He started preaching on an Indian reserve not far from his farm and some 35 Indian people found Jesus Christ. Churches and other organizations began asking Gordon to preach, and one year, although working full time as a cattle inspector, he preached 105 times. Souls were saved and many people and churches experienced real revival. He had only grade eight education and had never seen the inside of a Bible College, but he could preach!
Gordon Bailey was not a great student, but he had the New Testament on tapes and he listened to them by the hour as he had much travelling to do in his job as a cattle inspector. I once asked him if he had any trouble getting messages. He told me that was never a problem, but something else was. He said he had trouble keeping his heart right with God and with others. He said sometimes he might have a tiff with his wife and if he didn't make it right and went off somewhere to preach, there was no power there. He would have to phone home and make things right with his wife and then God would bless again. He had meetings where entire congregations would come to the altar at the invitation.
Did Gordon read some book telling him how to do it? No! He had a humbling and honest meeting with God and God filled his life with His power. Before this happened he had a fast temper and he told me that he was going broke taking people out to dinner and asking their forgiveness. God took care of that when Gordon humbled himself at the cross.
The Chief of Police in Saskatoon at the time issued a statement to the daily newspaper to the effect that while he was not a religious person, he did know the difference between ordinary church work and revival. He said that revival had come to Saskatoon because they had people coming in and confessing to different crimes.
Sometimes people flying into Saskatoon would ask what was going on there as there seemed to be something electric in the air. The Holy Spirit was being poured out in answer to the prayers of God's children.
The Ebenezer Baptist Church where the revival began is pastored by Wes Long who experienced revival in Alberta before coming to Saskatoon. They have since started two churches and have built a larger building seating some 800.
After the meetings in Saskatoon I felt strongly God wanted me in full time revival work. I did not want to try and get into this on my own, however, and so simply prayed and asked God to lead me into this kind of work if it was His will. Within 24 hours after praying this way a brother of mine phoned from Winnipeg to say that he and another Christian worker felt I should come to Winnipeg and hold some meetings. They had heard what God had been doing in Saskatoon and they felt God wanted to do the same thing in Winnipeg. I suggested they see if they could rent Elim Chapel, a building situated in the center of the city and seating around 1200.
With only four days' notice and no churches cooperating we began meetings at Elim. The first night there were around six hundred people in attendance and eventually we were packed out. We had to run for five weeks in all. We moved to a building seating 1400 or more and there we had to hold double services at times. The same things happened in those meetings as had happened in Saskatoon. There was deep and powerful conviction of sin with many experiencing revival and salvation. Before those meetings were over we had decision cards from close to 100 different congregations.
Some years later we discovered there were around 30 people who had gone into full time Christian work as a result of this work of God in Winnipeg. Many lives were transformed. One Christian I knew who had been a doctrinal fighter, came into a new relationship with the Lord and eventually was taken on as a full time director of evangelism by his home church as he had won so many to the Lord. As in Saskatoon, restitution was a prominent feature of the revival in Winnipeg also.
A team of Gideons from Canada was visiting India and happened to mention there had been a revival in Saskatoon, Canada. Some men came to them afterward to tell them how they had been praying for several years for revival in Saskatoon. They did not know from where they had obtained the name. Another group in India also told how they had been praying for several years for revival in western Canada. Saskatoon and Winnipeg are both in western Canada. The great Lord of the harvest is in total control of individuals and nations, and He did the preparing for the revival movement in His own way. Certainly He used prayer and faith, but both faith and prayer have their origin in God.
"The Lord has done great things for us whereof we are glad" (Psalm 126:3). "Fear not, O land: be glad and rejoice: for the Lord will do great things" (Joel 2:21).