An Unlikely Spark for Revival Taps Synergy For the Ages

With God, the unlikliest spark can begin a nationwide revival.
With God, the unlikliest spark can begin a nationwide revival. (Lightstock)

Some fires begin with only a spark. In the mid-1940s, in Waco, Texas, one such spark ignited a movement out of the Baylor University campus and its effect can still be seen on the spiritual landscape in Waco today.

Seventy years later, on Palm Sunday, 2015, The Gathering Waco was held at Baylor University's McLane Stadium, bringing together more than 30,000 people and over 200 participating churches. At the heart of The Gathering was a two-fold purpose: to unite the body of Christ and awaken a great movement into the community.

This dual objective—revival and evangelism—is the passion of my own ministry and the reason why I was so honored and excited to be asked to participate as the opening speaker for The Gathering. Although our ministry is based in Houston, my personal connection to Waco was also a big part of why I was drawn to this event.

Waco is a city with a deep desire to be known as a place of God's presence, and to be famous for the impact their faith makes upon the spiritual landscape around them. I have no doubt that part of what birthed this city's passion is the revivals that occurred 70 years ago.

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In 1945, at prayer services held at Baylor University before classes began, a group of student leaders cried out to God for a spiritual revival on Baylor's campus. During their times of prayer, the Holy Spirit laid it on their hearts to begin holding revival meetings. The meetings caught fire.

A group of university students—unproven in ministry and unproven in life—may seem an unlikely bunch to begin a revival movement, but that's just what happened. These "unlikely" revivalists carried a passion to share the good news of Jesus Christ and because of their commitment to be bold and not shrink back, God used them to ignite a fire, the effect of which can still be seen today.

I was privileged to know one of these "unlikely" heroes of the faith—perhaps the most unlikely of them all. Reiji (Ray) Hoshizaki was a student at Baylor University in the mid-1940s, preparing for seminary. At a time when many Japanese Americans were being interned at camps across the nation, Ray chose to be bold in his faith.

Soon, the movement was spreading throughout Texas and spread across the South during the 1940s and 50s. Many of these student leaders from Waco, including Ray, were asked to come to other cities across Texas and in neighboring states to lead more revival meetings. At time of great uncertainty in our nation, especially for those of Japanese descent, Ray did not shrink back.

Hebrews 10:38-39, the final verses leading into the great Heroes of the Faith chapter (Hebrews 11), describe my friend Ray very well:

"But my righteous one will live by faith. And I take no pleasure in the one who shrinks back." But we do not belong to those who shrink back and are destroyed, but to those who have faith and are saved.

Ray and his fellow students at Baylor didn't let anything hold them back. And like the believers of old whose stories we find in Hebrew 11, Ray's story became one for the history books. Some of the Baptist historical writings, such as "Riding the Wind of God: A Personal History of the Youth Revival Movement," tell about Ray and the other Baylor revivalists and the impact they made.

My own mother and stepfather settled in Waco after my stepfather retired from the military. Ray and his wife, Alice, had also settled back in Waco after serving many years as a post-war missionary in Japan. The Japanese-American population is a close-knit community and being in a small college town, it was not unlikely that Ray's wife, Alice Hoshizaki, and my mother, Ann Ayako Boman, would meet. Alice and my mother became friends after Alice invited Mom to a Bible study they hosted. This was how I came to know the Hoshizakis. I met Ray on one of my visits to see my mother.

Sharing a common heritage, we became friends, and I did my best to visit Ray whenever my travels to Waco would allow. I was drawn to Ray by his humble spirit. To speak with him, you might not ever know the impact he had both at home and abroad. He had been the first missionary sent out by the Baptist Missions Board to serve in Japan after the War. He and Alice served there for many years. He also served as an overseer at many Japanese Christian churches here in Texas.

During my visits with Ray and Alice, I gleaned and learned from him as much as I could. I would have never known the significance of his life, or the depth and width of how God used him during and after World War II, if I hadn't probed during our conversations. I had to draw it out of him because of his deep humility.

One meeting with Ray will stand out in my mind forever. Following a Texas Asian Youth Camp at Baylor University that I was speaking, Ray and I met at a local Chinese restaurant. We both chuckled because here we were, two Japanese Americans eating Chinese food together. I also invited my friend, Ramiro Pena, pastor of Christ the King Baptist Church in Waco to join us. Ramiro also serves on the Board of Regents at Baylor University.

At one point during our meal, Hoshizaki-san looked at me, grabbed my hands and said, "I need to pray for you." With tears in his eyes, he prayed to Jesus and shared a word with me. "I believe the Lord wants to use you to minister to the leaders of Japan and the royal family because as they are touched, the nation will follow." This word had a profound impact on me, because for many years I had longed and prayed for the nation of my birth and land of my mother. But I looked at him and said, "But Hoshizaki-san, I don't even speak Japanese. How am I going to do that?" He simply looked at me with a smile and said, "In Christ all things are possible."

Ray Hoshizaki's word over my life began to come to pass in 2011. In the aftermath of the Japanese earthquake and tsunami, Somebody Cares International was heavily involved in relief efforts. As a result of our work there, I found myself before leaders of the Japanese DIET (equivalent of our Congress), business leaders, and other prefectural leaders from various parts of Japan. At one point while I was speaking with, praying for, and ministering to them, I remembered Hoshizaki-san's prayer. It was a humbling moment.

Pastor Ramiro remembers the Chinese restaurant encounter as well. He recently told one of our ministry staff about it: "I had read about Ray in the writings about the Baylor Revival and was grateful for the opportunity to meet him. When he shared that word with Doug, and then prayed for us, it felt like a very holy moment. I also felt reinvigorated to believe that God would one day again, do something significant that would come out of Baylor University and other youth revivals."

We have no way of knowing what effect the recent event at Baylor will have in the coming weeks and years. But we can be sure that the prayers that we pray and the impact of those who refuse to shrink back are perpetual—no matter how "unlikely" we may feel in being equipped to share the gospel.

I believe God is looking for a new generation of student leaders across the nation, who will respond to the call of the Holy Spirit and usher in a new revival movement. I believe there are hundreds of Ray Hoshizakis at campuses across the U.S., who will not shrink back from the challenges they face—be it because of their race, or economic status, or whatever the case may be.

Just as in the mid-1940s, our nation faces uncertain times. This provides a ripe harvest field for the gospel of Jesus Christ. So many are searching for answers, for peace, for hope. These are found only in one place—the Cross of Christ.

As we think upon the sacrifice of Jesus during this Passover/Easter season, as we remember how He conquered death and brought new life to all who believe in Him, let us be those who will live by faith, refusing to shrink back.

And let's begin a new revival movement for the history books.

Doug Stringer is an internationally known conference speaker, the founder of Somebody Cares and Turning Point Ministries International, and the author of several books, including Somebody Cares: A Guide to Living Out Your Faith.

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