“Lord my God, You have done many things – Your wonderous works and Your plans for us, none can compare with You. If I were to report and speak of them, they are more than can be told”
– Psalm 40:5
The moment I walked through the doors of Hughes I broke. I simply couldn’t stop the flow of joyful, awestruck tears. Eleven years had passed since I stepped foot inside that chapel auditorium on the campus of my alma mater, Asbury University. When I heard what was happening there, I recalled many mornings in that building as a college student, standing ready with a hymnal and heart open, wanting to hear from God, and other times when I barely made it, deliberately skipped, or sat with my arms crossed, stiff-necked, restless, self-absorbed, indifferent, and forgetting that life wasn’t about me, but rather Him. Many mornings there I was immature and unreceptive. Other times I was maturing in faith, soft, open, and vulnerable as God broke through and pricked my heart, sowing seeds that wouldn’t return void, one day to blossom.
When I heard an ordinary chapel service spontaneously lasted for a few days, nonstop, and was growing exponentially, my heart warmed. I listened to the words spoken that day. It wasn’t a special guest speaker or a particularly eloquent message, but simple, well-articulated, and direct, just as I imagine Jesus. God’s love was the theme, the importance of experiencing it for ourselves, and the sincere acknowledgment that we are inadequate without Him. A few students stayed to pray with each other. A few joined them, and then a few more. Some started to sing worship songs, and little by little, others returned to the chapel until the place was packed with students, the town, surrounding area, other colleges and universities, and then the world… until even I was standing there in the auditorium over a week later. No one could have planned that. Nothing could have coordinated or engineered it.
A little Backstory
Leading up to that moment, my heart was stirring for days as I watched this outpouring unfold across social media. There was no explanation. Over a week passed and the worship hadn’t ceased. Friday morning, my mother texted me the following:
“I can’t help but to ponder on the story lately…” she wrote, recalling my college experience at Asbury. “Everyone seemed to have already applied and most accepted into a college by the time you took the road trip (in early 2007) with Jess and Kevin for alumni weekend at Asbury. We all were starting to feel anxious as time was ticking away and you had not decided. We were waiting eagerly back home to hear what you thought. Then I received your call. I was excited to hear what you had to say and asked, ‘So, buddy, what do you think?’ ‘Yes, mom, this is where I will go to college.’ There was a lack of enthusiasm in your voice. I said to you, ‘You don’t sound sure… do you like it?’ ‘No, mom. I don’t really like it at all, but I know this is where God wants me to be.’ Wow! What 18-year-old says that, especially moving 650 miles from family and the city he loves. As any mom, I was a little apprehensive but as time went on and I prepared for you to leave, God gave me peace that only He can give. And when it was time to drop you off, I knew you were in good hands. His hands. And we all know that by being obedient to the will of God we will encounter blessing upon blessing!”
She was right. For me, the decision to attend Asbury was not mine, it came from outside myself, my will, my natural choice, but was rather a step of obedient faith. I remembered it distinctly; it was pivotal moment in my walk of faith. There was nothing that drew or appealed to me, other than a surpassing peace and assurance from God, (which is not something you can easily explain). He still had a lot of work to do in my heart, and Asbury would be a big part of that work. Week one I met my lifelong best friends. The professors, mission trips, experiences, and mornings in Hughes Chapel formed me. By the start of my second year, I began to realize that this journey had little to do with my wants, ambitions and career, and everything to do with what truly mattered in life: relationships, adventures, and what the Lord had for me. Little by little, and with such tremendous patience and grace, He was emptying me of myself, my wants, my plans, and giving me something much, much better: His.
So how could I not go? I was biting at the bit, but I still needed God to remind me that this wasn’t about my schedule or what was convenient for me. I kept trying to work around my plans to see what time would work best for me to get in the car and drive back to my old stomping grounds. I should have known, of course, that is not how God would have it. His power can break through at any moment, and we should live in a constant state of expectancy and leave room for Him to come in as He decides. Oswald Chambers wrote to give God ‘elbow room’ to come in as He chooses. “Would we be surprised if God came into our meeting or into our preaching in a way we had never looked for Him to come?” he wrote. “Do not look for God to come in any particular way but look for Him. Expect Him to come, but do not expect Him only in a certain way. However much we may know about God, the great lesson is to learn that at any minute He may break in. Always be in a state of expectancy and see that you leave room for God to come in as He likes.” Just like God’s outpouring upon Asbury, He would break through and ‘inconvenience’ me. Certainly, He came in as He pleased and inconvenienced Asbury, the town of Wilmore, the state of Kentucky, and the lives of countless people across the country and the world, for His name, His glory, and for our good. How does something like this happen? What is the draw? How does an ordinary college prayer service organically become a viral phenomenon in the middle of the digital age, drawing Christians and seekers from all over to come join the worship? I didn’t have an answer, only that I too, was magnetically going to be a part of the wellspring and had very little say in the matter… much like my initial decision to go to college at Asbury. How does one explain this, other than the Holy Spirit?
Change of (My) Plans
Soon after I got the text from my mom, she offered me her spacious Tahoe if I wanted to fill it with friends and make the drive to Kentucky. A few minutes later I got another text from a friend at Maryland Bible College where I have been taking classes. A group was gathered and a van was heading to Asbury that night! My heart gushed. There was no more waiting around or trying to fit it into my schedule, I knew God was giving me the nudge I needed. I told the group I would fill a car and meet them there the next day.
My friend Atul was the first person I texted to see if he was interested, and at that very moment he happened to be on the phone with a pastor friend in Lexington, 20 minutes from Asbury, who offered us a place to stay. “Oh, I’m in for sure,” Atul said. The next to join the convoy was his fiancé, Mary, and then Giovanni. A few hours earlier, G and I had been praying together at our church’s 6:00 a.m. Friday prayer meeting. We were both stirred about what was happening in Kentucky. By the end of the day, spontaneously, like the revival itself, our plans had been tossed out, and God was leading the charge. He was breaking in as He’d have it.
“So, wait, this is happening?” Giovanni asked. “We’re really doing this, right? Yes, I’m in. I start a new job on Monday, but yes, I’m in.”
By 5:00 p.m. that night I joined our church’s Zoom prayer call and told the group to pray for us. Julie, our renowned church mother was on the call when I half-jokingly said, “I heard Julie might be joining us.” She just laughed and smiled but after the call she texted: “I’m in.”
That night, I packed a small bag, cozied into bed, and booked a car on the Turo car-share app. By 10 p.m. the car had fallen through, there was nothing available that could seat us comfortably. Rental car places were closed. My mother still offered her Tahoe, except I would have to drive an hour to pick it up in Elkton. I prayed for strength, threw on a random pair of oversized pants and a sweatshirt, bustled out the door and drove with Giovanni up to my parents’ house to drop off my car and pick up the Tahoe.
“Weren’t we just in Florida like last weekend?” Giovanni asked. We couldn’t help but laugh. This was our unpredictable life following God.
Two hours later, when we got back to my flat in Baltimore I was hit with a wave of dread and regret. I foolishly left my keys at my parents. The night was ticking away, and we were set to hit the road at 5:00 a.m. There was no way inside. I was so disappointed in myself, yet at the same time I kept hearing a subtle voice saying, “Let nothing move you! Remember when you spoke on that the other weekend? I will redeem this, too… just power through, endure, don’t let this hinder you, and don’t beat yourself up…”
I wrote down the things I would need to purchase the next day at Wal-Mart. We drove over to Atul’s house, barely slept a few hours, and then our group hit the road to Kentucky. As my contact lenses dried up against my eyes because nowhere was open for me to buy saline, I self-loathed, but heard the voice again drowning mine out… “This is for My glory that you are going and are pressing on. I will make up for this. I will turn around your mistakes. Rest.” To all who are tired, He says, ‘Come.’ Come and you will find what is a delight to your soul.
Our convoy made light of it, cracked jokes, built me up, encouraged me, made it all seem like it was no big deal, and left me in good spirits. We were off, with a car we didn’t have to rent, gas we didn’t have to pay for, and a free place to stay once we got there. It was looking like God’s plan was better than ours anyway. Everything was a gift of grace. I was living out of a Wal-Mart bag, but that is how God wanted it, and I had so much joy and contentment in my heart. There were no complaints, all praises, our car ride conversations so spirit-filled and enriching, I couldn’t get enough. By the time we arrived on my tiny college campus, I never saw anything like it.
Throngs of people, a line that wrapped around the school all the way to the athletic building on the outskirts. No chaos, no ruckus, just peace, tranquility, and such an orderly, relaxed atmosphere. Somehow, even among thousands of people, we parked quickly and easily on a side street, walked five minutes onto the lawn, and by divine decree, arrived exactly the same time as our group from the Bible College. Literally only a few minutes later, Jacob, one of my best friends who went to school with me at Asbury, arrived. He drove from Indianapolis and brought his parents. Somehow, we all descended on the town within minutes of each other and parked with ease. We came with no expectation other than to be with the Body of Christ and worship, and just show up. With the gigantic line and thousands of people we did not realistically think we would get inside Hughes Chapel, but several other chapels were open, livestreaming. People were praying, laughing, worshipping, and talking about what God was doing in their lives. We ended up in a student line and about an hour later we were inside. You could enter with your group or as an individual. I chose the latter. This was between me and God.
I walked in a completely different person than I was 11 years prior. Back then I had so much yet to learn, I was still so proud and arrogant. I thought I knew it all. This time I walked into that chapel humbled, ready to receive, with a renewed heart, new eyes, broken, stripped of everything but the clothes that didn’t fit I had on from the day before from being locked out of my flat, possessing nothing but having everything: rich as rich as can be in Christ. This time, I brought nothing but my heart, and that was enough. As a college student I remembered walking into that auditorium and how it always seemed so stiff and rigid, prim, and proper, almost too much, sometimes irritating me. This time from the second I walked in I saw something completely different – I’ll call it, the order of the Holy Spirit. I caught glimpses of this kind of thing before at certain retreats or events like Creation Festival, but nothing quite like this – an unplanned move of the Spirit that could not be contained or organized or orchestrated, and yet was the furthest possible thing from chaos or disorder. It was pure, it was holy. There was a lightness in Hughes I never experienced, and I didn’t want to leave. I let my guard down, worshipped with arms outstretched, tears flowing, surrounded by young men and women in the same posture. Tears, joy, and reverence. I lifted my hands wearing my puffy blue jacket to ‘Your love never fails, it never gives up, it never runs out on me’ and I remembered wearing the same jacket in 2017, standing beneath a waterfall in Iceland, singing the same song in my heart. Even when I was not abiding as I could have been or was distracted by the world or not thinking with God or pursuing Him with all my heart and mind I was still very much in love with Jesus. I was still captivated and won by Him, and He has been so patient, long-suffering, gentle, and protective of me. In my seat, which was somewhere near where I was assigned to sit during my sophomore or junior year, I confessed my arrogance and how I took Asbury for granted, and I asked God for forgiveness. Through my tears I apologized for holding on to my life when I was a student at Asbury instead of allowing myself to be continuously converted, laying down my rights, dying to myself… for falling asleep in the Garden. He had my attention. I was awake now. He reminded me that He was giving it all back to me, restoring the years by providing me with the Bible College I am in now, and by graciously planting me in the incredibly rich church community He led me to in Baltimore: an entire life of revival.
“I am making up for it,” I could hear Him. “I’m not allowing anything to go to waste.”
I thanked Him for humbling me, for so gently, patiently, and lovingly taking care of me. Once I finally went over the edge of the fence with God, He gave me all and then some, and continues to just lavish it on me, deepen me, and stir my heart to see Him as the ultimate treasure.
A Glimpse of Heaven
In the room I saw past, present and perhaps future. I saw Jacob, his handicapped father right at the front of the altar, despite the thousands of people on campus. I saw professors I recognized and classmates from Maryland Bible College and my church scattered throughout. Even though they were not there (that I know of) in my heart, I could see friends I met on my first mission trip to Kenya, and others from Ghana. I saw the men I have the privilege of studying the Bible with at the Helping Up Mission in Baltimore, I saw Kevin and Jess Scott, who first introduced me to Asbury, I saw Pastor Isaac and his wife Diamond from where I used to live in New Jersey, I saw the Miazga’s, the Platt’s, the Sullivan’s, the Worrell’s, friends from Faith Community Church, Coastal Christian Ocean City, Shore Christian, Calvary Chapel Delaware County, Old Bridge, Grace Bible Fellowship, Sailors Union, Greater Grace. I saw my parents, my cousins, my sister, her husband, and a woman I dearly love. I saw healing, deliverance, brokenness, radical humility, confession, guards dropped, and such a genuine hunger for God. It was as if I could hear a little voice whisper, “This is just a little glimpse of what it will be like.”
Meekness and Might
Such peace, such indiscernible unity, such serene simplicity, and reverent wonder. Was this happening? Two weeks ago, I would have never imagined any of this. And there I was, back at Asbury! It was as if the pillar of fire in the wilderness touched down over us. It wasn’t physically visible but spiritually there was no denying it. The temple is within, as He has made His beloved His dwelling place, but His pillar of fire just decided to break in when and where and as it pleased Him, and He garnered the attention of the world by means of nondescript Asbury, in nondescript Wilmore, in little Bethlehem… He does this on purpose to bewilder the wise. By the end of the weekend, the state police would have to enforce local traffic only, as the town reached capacity. Not one national speaker, not one professional recording artist, not one big name news anchor, not one recognizable celebrity. There was no “show.” No “main attraction.” Just little old Wilmore, two stop lights, a college, a seminary, and a Subway restaurant. Nothing to attract worldwide masses in the most peaceful, relaxed, calm, respectful way imaginable. There wasn’t an explanation by natural means other than a supernatural move of God. This wasn’t Harvard or New York City, it was Asbury and Wilmore. This is how He likes to show up. He chose Bethlehem instead of Rome, a manger instead of a palace, and through such meek means His might is displayed to the whole world, agitating the pharisee, baffling the ‘wise’ and learned, the reasonable, the realist, the logical. For years believers prayed, “Send us a revival.” And then when it came so did the list of concerns, critiques, and cautions. The pharisees did this and they missed the Messiah. For spectators on the outside looking in, judging from their various places in the world, it just wasn’t happening the way they wanted or expected. Nevertheless, God’s character was on display, breaking in globally and personally, boldly, and humbly.
Rich Manieri, an Asbury journalism professor wrote about how people came and ended up putting their trust in Jesus. He asked the question: “Did they experience a revival, an awakening, or something else? The better question is: Who opens the eyes of the blind and raises the dead? Because that’s what happened to all of us who have been saved by grace. We’ve gone from darkness to light, from death to life. This is the work of God, a God who runs out to meet the Prodigal, a God who sent His Son to save us.” He continued, “In a culture obsessed with labeling events and people in order to place them into categories for rejection or acceptance, participants, pundits, and bystanders are working overtime to figure out what to call what is happening on Asbury’s campus.”
Paul wrote that the Christ-like fragrance rising to God is perceived differently by those who are being saved and those who are perishing. Surely God can’t be put in a corporate box, category, or label. Manieri wrote that the thousands who came in anticipation and desperation to experience the hope found only in Jesus didn’t care what label was put on what’s happened at Asbury. They were not preoccupied trying to describe what’s happened, only that they had an encounter with Jesus, and that’s all that matters.
I watched as students took the mic with quivering hands to share testimonies. One girl spoke about how she knew everything academically and strived to learn and know it all for herself but had not made the heart connection. She reminded me of Saul before he became Paul. Another girl said she was hoping to receive prayer for some physical healing and instead, someone she didn’t know kindly prayed over her to be delivered from jealousy in her heart. She was so convicted because she found herself even jealous of the one praying for her. Through sobs she confessed she had been freed. It was as if demons were repulsed by the entire area as children of God simply adored and beheld Him. Another student heard about the revival on social media, drove down from Pittsburgh out of nothing but curiosity, and left having given her life to Christ. The humble were exalted! God was putting His finest clothes and jewels on so many ‘nobodies’ who had squandered their lives, in whom I saw myself, and He was crowning them, toasting them, preparing a feast before them, and giving them a standing ovation, and they were laying their crowns at the King’s feet, all the glory to Him, so no one could boast. I thought about all the confusion and obstacles from the night before trying to thwart and discourage me and how they proved they couldn’t stand, that they were worth enduring for the gift of following through, and they disappeared into nothingness. The night before God was trying to slow me down and quiet me, but I was operating in a flurry, and with a flurry comes confusion and mishaps. Still, He cleaned up and redeemed them all.
The singers on stage sang from behind the piano. His love was so tangibly on display. It felt like a warm blanket draped over us. Like the bronze serpent in the wilderness, Jesus was lifted up. He was center stage; He was the main attraction, drawing all to Himself. All our ‘snake bites’ were being healed as we gazed upon Him. He reminded me who I am in Him and how much He loves me, that He would lead me there, to Asbury, and back again… what a return! A week ago, I never thought I’d be experiencing one of the most monumental and deeply personal points in my walk of faith. Everyone was being fed by the Spirit, provided for, and somehow, even with the massive crowds, able to spend time in the chapel. The staff simply reminded everyone on occasion to consider others who would like a seat, but also advised everyone to stay as long as they felt led. The Spirit was in charge, and truly did all the work. Everything was so orderly, and it sincerely seemed that not one was left unaccounted for. For a moment I think I caught a glimpse of what it might have been like with the feeding of the 5,000. It didn’t logically add up how it was all happening, but somehow it was happening. Time seemed like it stood still yet was moving along unnoticed to accommodate all. Everyone was getting in and leaving when they felt led, and everyone was being filled to the brim, bubbling over.
For Such a Time as This
Outside, tables were set up to take free water, free snacks, a truck gave out free chick-fil-a sandwiches. There was no promotion, no media, nothing to buy. Asbury’s staff handled this with such meticulous gentleness and care, making sure not to intrude upon what God was doing but rather accommodating it, safeguarding it, and not trying to legislate it. You could tell that God had equipped them specifically for this precise time, to be the ones to handle His unexpected breakthrough, as they worked tirelessly and yet full of visible bliss, making sure no media, celebrities, or agendas came in to disturb what God was doing in the hearts of people. What I witnessed was pure, holy, undefiled; the most authentic display of Christ-like attitudes.
In the Old Testament, the high priest’s job was to continuously stoke the fire with wood. As Jesus, our permanent High Priest sits enthroned now in our hearts, He doesn’t want us to be cold or lukewarm. If we let Him, He will continually provide the never-ending source to keep the fire burning. He prepares a table before us and all we have to do is quiet ourselves and take our seat at it. All the work is done, it is finished! And it won’t be taken from us.
The purity of the whole trip, each divine interwoven piece of a tapestry that He pulled back to give us a glimpse was remarkable. Surely it was reviving. The source of what filled Hughes Chapel is something I will never miss out on because it lives in me.
That night I slept so well.
The next morning our extended group went to a church service at First Alliance in Lexington. A young Asbury college student briefly shared her testimony. She struggled with a stutter, but when she prayed over us there was not a trace of it. In less than 40 hours I saw so vividly God dwelling in contrite hearts, people broken before Him, allowing Him to move, and receiving what He had. What was starting there in the heart was being taken home, into the church, and out to the world. The pastor spoke on Romans 11:33-36, 12:1-2
Oh, the depths of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable His judgements, and His paths beyond tracing out! Who has known the mind of the Lord? Or who has been His counselor? Who has ever given to God, that God should repay them? For from Him and through Him and for Him are all things. To Him be the glory forever! Amen. Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God – this is your true and proper worship. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is – His good, pleasing, and perfect will.
In a world system that wants to squeeze us into its mold and doesn’t want us to acknowledge the One who sovereignly made it all; a system that wants us to put ourselves at the center, it is the heart of reverence, those who hunger and thirst for a right relationship with God, who have hearts of desperation and know in their own strength they can do nothing, that are filled.
This heart can be taken from the mountaintop to the ordinary, unspectacular flow of the everyday valley of life, into friendships, relationships, workplaces, to relate to people as He relates to us. When Jesus, and not myself, is at the center, it is I who become fully alive. I looked back at how far I came in 11 years and prayed for so many people that they would be spared the years it took me to be continually humbled.
On the drive home I thanked God for sending me to Asbury (in 2007 and 2023), that He had his way, both times. That it was never about location or career or status or achievement or success or me, but it was all about Him. Like the revival itself, He cannot be contained, He wants us to plan but allow Him room to come into that plan and perhaps completely change it, for our good and His glory.
“Jesus did many other things as well. If every one of them were written down, I suppose that even the whole world would not have room for the books that would be written” – John 21:25