Looking Back to Look Forward

By Ryan Shaw

Ryan is the international lead facilitator of Global Mission Mobilization Initiative (GMMI) and lives among the unreached.

This article was originally posted on 10 February, 2005

The Emerging Generation’s Hour

I am excited beyond imagination concerning this current generation of young adults. Why? Because you have been privileged by God Himself to be alive today, facing the challenges and struggles of our corrupt and dangerous world.

You are His voice, hands, and feet in what might be the church of Jesus Christ’s final push in seeing disciples made globally and the world reached. It is not an accident that you are the ones alive in this hour, and not Hudson Taylor, Amy Carmichael, Jim Elliot or a host of other past missionary heroes.

God has handpicked you for this hour – the nameless and faceless generation that make up half of the world’s population. God has graciously allowed you to be alive in this crucial hour and to possibly serve in His global harvest because He seems to know something that the rest of the body of Christ might not recognize.

Satan’s Tactics Overturned

Satan is the author of destruction, and he always has a strategic purpose behind it. He seeks to destroy that which threatens him. Today’s emerging generation seems to be up against one of the greatest onslaughts Satan has ever waged.

Yet the Spirit of God is not deterred. The brokenness in our midst could be the very thing that qualifies this generation for power ministry. Recognizing the reality of a shattered life and the offering of it to a Holy God requires a large dose of humility.

Coupled with a subsequent drawing near to God, we position ourselves to receive a measure of the grace of God which cannot be obtained any other way.

By this, I am in no way condoning the reckless release of wounded people into global ministry. What I am proposing is that God in His remarkable mercy and grace is using for good the very thing the enemy meant for evil (Romans 8:28)!

Throughout the Scriptures, is not the heart of God drawn especially near to those who are hurting and broken-hearted? And are not those who are forgiven much, also those who love much (Luke 7:47)? True brokenness is a right understanding and humility concerning our fallen state in light of Almighty God.

God’s Use of the Emerging Generation

The history of the missionary movement bears abundant witness to God’s passion to use the emerging generation. Most of us need to be continually reminded of the ways that God has used and will continue to use young adults as His vessels.

I am convinced that many in this generation have very little knowledge of the ways He has used others of the same age to do extraordinary exploits in His name.

When we allow this reality to spill over into our hearts, our faith is propelled to envision God accomplishing His will through our lives and our generation. We don’t have to wait until we become “of age” to be used of Him.

God is building character and brokenness into us so as to form His own heart within us until He can trust us. There is no minimum age requirement for Him to use us for His purpose.

Revival & Kingdom Expansion

Paul Pierson, professor of church history at Fuller Seminary, says that in the history of the church true revival and subsequent expansion of the Kingdom of God have always gone hand in hand[i].

Geographical expansion of the Kingdom is the natural result of the genuine reviving and renewing of His people. As a result of the powerful moving of the Spirit of God, we can expect an increase in involvement in evangelistic activity to produce subsequent growth of the Kingdom of God throughout the earth.

There is only one way to hasten this powerful moving of the Holy Spirit – a devoted and focused commitment to persevering prayer.

Expanding on this principle, the time is now to collectively seek God for a present outpouring of true Biblical revival in the student arena, knowing that through spiritual awakening Jesus is given His rightful place of head of the church, and prepared and effective global laborers are fashioned and readied by His hand.

We see this principle embodied as we look back 200 years to the famed Haystack Prayer Meeting.

2006 is the bi-centennial anniversary of this prayer meeting that shook the foundations of the church in North America. It was through college students in 1806 that the missionary movement from North America was initially birthed, two hundred years ago.

SVM2 is sponsoring the “Year of the Haystack” campaign throughout 2006 to commemorate this historic student prayer meeting and to tell the story to today’s generation in a compelling manner and call you to similar action for the global kingdom.

How many of us are aware that college students have been at the forefront of every major historic mission thrust?

God pours His Spirit out upon students, drawing them to Himself in deep intimacy, and out of this relationship, moves on their hearts with vision and provokes them to global impact when they graduate, motivating their peers in the process.

The Spiritual Climate on Campuses in 1806

The end of the eighteenth century found many colleges in North America slipping from their biblical foundations. This low spiritual climate was the backdrop for the Second Great Awakening.

The revival was brought on through a group of believers who had enough of the low spirituality and called for fervent prayer against society’s ills.

God answered with a mighty downpour[ii]. This Awakening moved across the church as a whole, but had a profound effect specifically upon many of the colleges of the day. In 1802, Yale put out a report that stated that one third of their students had found faith in Christ[iii].

Radical prayer became a normal part of the students’ lifestyle. Entire days were regularly set apart totally for prayer.

The Haystack Prayer Meeting

In this setting of spiritual fervor, five students met regularly in 1806 to pray in a grove on the Williams College campus, in northwest Massachusetts.

On one specific summer day, a thunderstorm forced them from the grove to find shelter under a large haystack where their hearts were arrested in prayer for an awakening of global mission interest among their fellow students.

While praying, each determined in their own hearts to become message bearers*. Their personal watchword on that day became, “We can do this, if we will!” Over the subsequent years, these prayer meetings continued as these five students influenced other students to consider serving God overseas.

The First Ever Student Mission Movement

Eventually they organized formally, and in 1808 launched the Society of Brethren, a group of students on Williams’ campus bound together by the single-minded purpose of giving themselves to extend the gospel around the world.

This was the first ever student mission movement on a college campus in North America and the ancestor of what God desires to rebuild on multitudes of campuses globally today. These were serious young men who had a high standard of commitment and covenanted together to keep it through thick and thin.

The influence of these five was unprecedented as they confronted multitudes of their classmates with God’s beating heart for the nations, influencing countless ones with personal vision to get involved globally once they graduated.

North America’s First Mission Board

It is important to note that at this point in history, no mission organization, agency or denominational mission board was in existence in North America! North America’s involvement in the missionary movement had not yet begun.

These students then approached various denominations asking them to set up a mission board which would send them out as message bearers. Many turned them down, but finally the first north American mission board was set up, called the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Mission[iv].

It was through the prayers, intercessions and influence of five college students that the North American missionary movement began.

Principles For Today

There are numerous principles and lessons we can glean today from what took place among these five devoted students at Williams College. Let me highlight four.

1. Perseverance Pays Off

There was a deliberate determination as these five recognized the centrality of prayer and its definite relation to laborers being raised up for the Kingdom (Matthew 9:38). After the initial haystack prayer meeting, they continued seeking God in prayer with perseverance toward these ends.

The prayer commitment actually increased as they sensed a newfound focus and vision to their prayers. What might happen in our student spheres if we commit ourselves with perseverance to devoted and radical prayer and the dedicated spreading of the vision of God’s global purpose?

2. Peer on Peer Influence

These five took every opportunity to creatively encourage their friends to think about global ministry endeavors and to show them its basis in the Scriptures. They demonstrated a willingness to boldly talk an idea up that was very new and not well accepted at the time.

They communicated their convictions for global proclamation and many were influenced as a result. It is students themselves, not necessarily staff leaders or pastors, talking with others and calling upon one another that will bring about the increased numbers of long-term message bearers being raised up.

3. The Place of Faith

Who knows what God might do through the serious and devoted prayers of His people? Do you think these five students knew that their humble attempts at prayer would someday be historic in scope? Did they have any idea of the outcomes and the momentum brought about by what they started?

Of course not! They were just five ordinary young guys committed to an extraordinary God, who asked Him and trusted Him to do the impossible, and He answered. It is the same today. Who knows what ministries and works of God might be birthed as a result of the heart felt actions and prayers of the student generation.

4. It Doesn’t Take Many

A final key principle to integrate into our lives is that it doesn’t take many to affect spiritual change. Movements are commenced by a few committed and faithful individuals. John Wesley once said, “Give me 100 men and women, who love nothing but God and hate nothing but sin, and I’ll change the world in the next 20 years.”

Our campuses can be revolutionized with student mission movements by just a handful of committed students who make it their aim to pray for it and influence others until it happens. These must be willing, however, to remain steadfast to the call without wavering.


As the student generation commences with the year 2006, my prayer is that this would be the year that true breakthrough takes place regarding a renewed widespread vision and focus on the often neglected, but thoroughly Biblical priority, of the call of God to take the gospel to the ends of the earth with urgency.

Where low spirituality has given us tunnel vision, focusing only on our holy huddles, may our spiritual eyes be lifted; where materialism and greed have hindered our capacity to give outrageously to the work of global harvest.

May we combat it with lavish generosity; where we have justified ourselves because the global work seems so hard, may we be freshly reminded of the cost to Jesus to purchase these beloved ones with His blood; where a concern and fear of what others on campus might say prevails.

May we respond with boldness to influence as many as possible to catch God’s vision of reaching all nations and peoples with His glorious gift of redemption from the slavery of sin.

May we look back, in future years, on 2006 as the year that “Everything Changed” in the re-building of the corporate student mission movement that God is longing for in our generation across organizational, denominational, and campus lines.

*The term Message Bearer is an alternative, more relevant, term for missionary among the emerging generation.

He/she is a person who commits themselves to abandoned devotion to Jesus, personal involvement in the global proclamation of the gospel, and spreading the vision of the student mission movement among their peers while still in college.

[i] Pierson, Paul, Lecture Notes – Historical Development of the Christian Movement

(Fuller Theological Seminary – IDL), p. 60.

[ii] Norton, Wilbert, To Stir The Church (Madison, WI:1986), p. 2.

[iii] Ibid

[iv] Howard, David, Student Power In World Evangelism (Downers Grove, IL: Inter-Varsity

Press, 1970), p. 77.

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