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Chapter 14 - The Word Of God Grew And Multiplied

            As witnessed by the national press, Billy Graham, the Lutheran Evangelistic Movement, and countless other Christian groups and individuals, the mid-century year 1950 was a remarkable year of heaven-sent revival across the United States.  Even more importantly, it proved to be a door opened wide by God into a new and flourishing era of evangelism during which scores of large crusades were conducted by Billy Graham and numerous others in America’s most populated cities.  “A few years ago we heard it said again and again that mass evangelism is a thing of the past . . . [that] it would not work in our day,” said LEM director Evald J. Conrad in 1951.1  But now, “the [country] has been challenged and stirred by the nation-wide evangelistic efforts of Billy Graham, Mervin Rosell and others.”  “Never has the door been so open for evangelism in America as in our day.”2 

 

This fact was being noticed not merely by hopeful religious leaders but even by the secular press.  The Minneapolis Sunday Tribune for February 4, 1951, carried a feature article on evangelism which quoted Rev. Conrad extensively.3

            “The talk of the Protestant world these days is the rebirth of interest in evangelism - the soul-saving, not the head-counting kind.”

            “Evangelism has never been dead. But the decades of the ’20s and ’30s with their attempts to sugar-coat the old fundamentalist doctrine of ‘sin leads to hell’ had given the program a severe sedative.

            “Since the end of World War II, a Minneapolis evangelist said Saturday, the new interest in evangelism has amazed men who have stumped the country for years trying to stem the tide toward modernism.

            “’It is only a few years ago,’ the Rev. Evald J. Conrad, director of the Lutheran Evangelistic Movement, said, ‘we used to go out for a series of meetings and the local church would ask us to keep the word evangelism out of the advertisements - we used “more respectable” terms.’

            “’Today,’ he continued, ‘congregations insist we advertise our meetings as evangelism.’”

 

            The Lutheran church in particular was becoming especially evangelistically minded.  From January 23 through 27 of 1952, the directors of evangelism of the various synods of the National Lutheran Council sponsored a conference in Minneapolis at which nearly 2,500 pastors and laymen gathered to consider the urgent need of a vital evangelistic program.  “In a sense,” observed Conrad, “the Lutheran church has spoken officially in favor of evangelistic meetings.”  “No pastor or church need fear ridicule and persecution because of sponsoring a series of evangelistic services.”  This gives the Lutheran Evangelistic Movement “the greatest opportunity for evangelism we have ever had.”4

           

            Of even more cause for joy to the LEM than the simple fact of special meetings, however, was the widespread and eager receptivity to the preaching of the gospel.  What the leaders of the LEM frequently saw in this regard during the first half of the 1950’s was perhaps most succinctly summarized by an evangelist for the Hauge Lutheran Innermission Federation in a note written specifically to the readers of Evangelize.5 

            “One of the most encouraging signs of our times is the good response to the preaching of the Word . . . There is a sense of fear and perplexity among people that is resulting in a hunger for the Word of God . . . existing world conditions are causing men to search for an answer to their unrest.”

Writing in mid 1954, the evangelist continued.

            “It has been during these past few months, particularly, that I have sensed a moving of the Spirit wherever the Word has been proclaimed.  At nearly every series of meetings souls have turned from the power of Satan to the living Christ . . . We hear the sound [of the breeze of revival] when we bend our knees with those who are troubled and listen as they call upon the name of the Lord.”

            “ . . . The majority of those who accept Christ are young in years . . . Quite a number of young married couples have surrendered to God . . . .”

Surely, God was answering the many prayers for revival which had been uttered during the spiritually darker days before and during World War II.

 

 

Proliferation of the LEM’s Ministry

 

            With the whole Christian community preoccupied with the cause of evangelism, the Midwest organization whose middle name was “Evangelistic” saw its ministry proliferate greatly during the early 1950’s.  The initial cause for which the Lutheran Evangelistic Movement had been formed and which it had been actively promoting for nearly a decade and a half had now become the concern of the whole Lutheran church.  Doors for evangelistic meetings as well as for deeper life preaching were now open wider than they had been in two generations.  To ever-increasing degrees, people were hungry for and receptive to spiritual truth.  From a human perspective, it would appear that victory had finally graced the LEM’s mission.  But in actuality, the cause behind the true spiritual advances of the early 1950’s was, as it always had been since the days of the early church, that “the word of God grew and multiplied.” (Acts 12:24 NKJV)  This was God’s chosen time to speak His Word in power to this generation, and the multiplication of the LEM’s ministry was merely a byproduct of the multiplication of His Word.

 

            Evidences of surging interest in evangelism abounded throughout every aspect of the LEM’s work.  In 1951, the Midwinter Evangelistic Conference was expanded from four to six days.6  In 1952, when the theme was “How Shall We Escape if We Neglect So Great a Salvation?” and messages included “Contemporary Lessons from God’s Judgments of the Past” (“On the Individual, On God’s People, On the Nation, and On the World“) and “So Great a Salvation” (“Present Experience, Future Hope, Universal Remedy, and Divine Provision”),7 the attendance built steadily throughout the week and culminated in overflow crowds on the final Saturday and Sunday.8  Though some had feared that the National Lutheran Council’s conference on evangelism the previous week might lower the Midwinter attendance, it instead dramatically increased it.  At the closing Sunday evening service, 1,800 people filled the church’s main and lower auditoriums while overflow crowds were turned away.  As on Saturday evening, several hundred remained after the service to sing and testify.  Attendance swelled even further the following year when the theme was “Rightly Dividing the Word of Truth” and messages included a series on “Proper Use of Law and Gospel” (“The Law Must Awaken and Slay, Drives to Repentance, The Gospel for the Penitent, and Christian Growth”) and a “Lecture Series on Prophetic Themes” given by the well-known Dr. Wilbur M. Smith of Fuller Theological Seminary.9  Highlights of that 1953 Midwinter Conference were “a very large daytime attendance,” “the lively interest of people attending,” and the “thrilling” after meetings “when testimonies were freely shared and many seeking souls [at least two dozen on both Saturday and Sunday evenings] were counseled with and helped.”10  The larger church procured for four of the weekend sessions proved a necessity for accommodating the audiences of 2,100 to 2,400 people. 

 

            The annual number of Midwinter attendees seeking counsel for salvation or assurance was at least able to be gauged somewhat based on the response during after meetings.  But there was no way to measure how many Christians were being revived or how great were the resulting changes in their lives.  The following testimony from one Christian may very well be representative of several hundred others from each year’s conference.

“I praise the Lord for the recent LEM Midwinter Conference . . . It was wonderful to see and hear the results of the use of the Word as souls were saved and Christians were brought to the end of themselves.  I was one of the latter.  It was not any particular message or verse that God used, but simply His Holy Spirit convicting of sin, righteousness and judgment.  Self was made so loathsome and sin was made exceeding sinful, but . . . the Lord was made more real to me.  Now He has given new light and a closer walk.”11 

 

            In no ministry did the LEM experience greater multiplication during the early 1950’s than that of Bible Conferences.  In an annual report delivered early in 1951, Director Conrad stated that so many Bible Conference invitations had been received that not all had been able to be accepted.12  Eight Bible Conferences were conducted during May and June of that year alone; and on one June Sunday, three different Bible Conferences were in session simultaneously.13  The format for these conferences, eight days Sunday through Sunday, was still generally the same although it is evident that two-speaker, three to four hour-a-day endeavors, formerly called Evangelistic Missions, were now being counted as Bible Conferences as well as the traditional three-speaker, five to seven hour-a-day conferences.  The numbers of Bible Conferences conducted by the LEM during the years 1951-1954, including Midwinter and Deeper Life, were 32, 37, 41, and 38 respectively.14  In this work, the LEM staff was assisted by about 25 to 30 other pastors, evangelists, and laymen annually.  In addition to Bible Conferences, numbers of sets of evangelistic meetings preached by LEM personnel during those same four years were 39, 40, 26, and 33 respectively. 

 

A comprehensive list of Bible Conferences, many of them annual events, for the years 1952-1954 reveals that the LEM’s main region of influence was, more than ever, the upper Midwest.

Minnesota - Balaton, Clearbrook, Donaldson, Faribault, Farmington, Fertile, Fosston,

French Lake, Hendricks, Hendrum, Jasper, Kennedy, Lake Crystal, McIntosh, Minneapolis, Northfield, Roseau, Shelly, Virginia

North Dakota - Bottineau, Minot, Sheyenne

South Dakota - Newell, Platte, Rapid City, Sioux Falls

Iowa - Eagle Grove, Estherville, Forest City, Madrid, Sioux City, Thompson, Wallingford

Wisconsin - Eau Claire, Lodi, Osseo, Racine, Sand Creek

Illinois - Chicago, Dekalb, Lisbon, Newark

Nebraska - Newman Grove

Kansas - Garfield

Washington - Bellingham, Burlington, Cathlamet, Everett, Longview, Seattle

California - Los Angeles

Arizona - Tuscon

Massachusetts - Quincy

New Jersey - Elizabeth

Saskatchewan, Canada - Hawarden, Young

Vastly more important to the LEM than numbers of conference locations were the abiding spiritual fruits.  “At virtually every conference several souls have been saved,” reported Conrad.  “Others have been nurtured and strengthened in their Christian lives.  Some have caught a vision of God’s purpose and call for them.”15  “Again and again we have seen how communities have become strong spiritual centers because of these conferences.  In some areas, the impact of the conferences has been so great that the whole community has changed.”16 

 

            The increasing demand for Bible Conferences and evangelistic meetings naturally brought with it the need for more full-time speakers.  To help meet that need, the National Board voted unanimously during the summer of 1951 to call Rev. Arnold E. Windahl as the LEM’s second full-time evangelist and conference speaker17; and Windahl accepted that call six months later.18  Windahl was no stranger to the LEM, having been involved in its work since the beginning and having spoken at numbers of its conferences.19  Nor was he unfamiliar with revival, having himself been converted in one which had broken out years earlier during a Good Friday Bible School choral concert in Newfolden, Minnesota.20  Three years after Windahl‘s call, during the summer of 1954, Mr. Nels Pedersen accepted the National Board’s call to be the LEM’s third full-time evangelist and conference speaker.21  Pedersen’s call was deemed an especially “forward-moving step” for the LEM since he became the first layman to serve them in that capacity.22  Having been saved during a summer Bible camp in 1938, Pedersen had soon found himself with increasing urges and opportunities to preach over the next several years.23  Counsel from Revs. Conrad and Force had convinced him that this was indeed the Spirit’s leading and that he should attend the Lutheran Bible Institute for training.  Until one year after his graduation from LBI, he had served as the lay pastor of a church.  Unsure of what to do next, he had begun accepting a few invitations to hold evangelistic meetings.  Soon these invitations had multiplied into six years of full-time freelance evangelistic work.  Then came the LEM’s call.  Pedersen was a perfect fit with the LEM.  His sermons were as bold as his definition of evangelism: “the winning of people to Christ” which “can be accomplished only by . . . straightforward preaching of sin and repentance so that men cry out, ‘What must I do to be saved?’”  “I have met people,” he said in introducing himself to the readers of Evangelize, “who have been led to a so-called faith in Christ without going through the narrow door of repentance.  They have never experienced anguish of soul over sin, have never seen themselves as lost, undone sinners . . . .”  “May God give us a program of evangelism in which people will be caused to cry out, ‘What must I do to be saved?’ and then be led to the blessed assurance of salvation . . . .”

 

            As the LEM’s preaching ministries flourished, their two forms of media naturally did so as well.  By January of 1951 the half-hour “The Voice of Lutheran Evangelism” was being broadcast each Sunday afternoon over five radio stations: KTIS of Minneapolis, Minnesota; KJAN of Atlantic, Iowa; KJSK of Columbus, Nebraska; KFGO of Fargo, North Dakota; and WEVE of Eveleth, Minnesota.24  Station KWOA of Worthington, Minnesota, was added one month later.25  Eveleth was dropped in favor of WDSM, Duluth, Minnesota, in April26; and Atlantic was dropped in favor of KFGQ, Boone, Iowa, in July.27  That fall and winter Duluth was dropped entirely, but three new stations were added which brought the total to eight and dramatically increased the LEM’s coverage: Moody station WMBI of Chicago28 (until the following fall29); KGCX of Sidney, Montana, and Williston, North Dakota30 (until the summer of 195331); and missionary-sponsored, international, short wave station HCJB of Quito, Ecuador, which reached several continents.32  During mid 1952, coverage began in Michigan with WSOO of Sault Ste. Marie,33 the LEM replacing this Michigan outlet with WATT out of Cadillac in early 1953.34  Station KNWS of Waterloo, Iowa, came on board in April 1953.35  To how many people did the LEM minister by means of these various radio stations?  When several sessions of the Deeper Life Conference were broadcast over just KTIS, Minneapolis, and KNWS, Waterloo, in 1954, it was “estimated that 200,000 people were reached daily.”36  But perhaps the most people reached by the LEM at any one time were those who heard Rev. Conrad preach and the radio choir sing during four special Saturday broadcasts aired by the ABC national radio network late in 1951, these programs having been arranged through the National Association of Evangelicals as part of a series entitled “Faith for the Future.”37 

 

While the LEM’s radio coverage was on the increase, the circulation of their monthly magazine Evangelize was growing as well with numbers of 6,388 in 1950, 6,865 in 1951, and 7,122 in 1952.38  Christmas gift subscriptions, which evidently did not cover an entire twelve months, raised these numbers to 7,500 and 7,850 early in 1951 and 1952 respectively.  To Conrad, the large percentage of gift subscriptions in itself indicated the high respect which readers had for Evangelize, not to mention the many letters received monthly from readers who had been blessed.  Regular circulation for 1952 demonstrates again that the LEM’s strongest area of influence by far was the upper Midwest - over 2,700 copies to Minnesota, slightly over 600 apiece to North Dakota and Iowa, around 500 to Illinois, over 400 to Wisconsin, and nearly 200 to Canada, with the remaining 2,100 or so copies going to 38 other states and 147 foreign countries.

 

 

Revivals Both Regional and Local

 

            It was also in the upper Midwest that the LEM witnessed some of the mightiest movements of God’s Spirit during the first half of the 1950’s.  For Conrad to say that whole communities had been changed into strong spiritual centers in part through the LEM’s ministry was certainly no exaggeration.  In fact in several instances, so many communities experienced awakening and revival that they combined to form entire regions.

 

            One such region was northwestern Minnesota, about which Conrad commented in 1952, “For a long time we have felt that this is a time of special visitation from the Lord in north[west]ern Minnesota.  Tent meetings, Bible conferences and evangelistic efforts are conducted in many places.”39  “I have heard several pastors and evangelists say that there are few places in which there is such an intensified work of evangelism as in this section of the country”40 or “where there is such a good response to [these] evangelistic meetings.”41  Let’s take a brief clockwise tour through some of these northwestern Minnesota communities and observe along with the LEM how God was working.  

 

About 140 miles southeast of the northwest corner of Minnesota, the LEM had been hosting an annual Bible Conference in the town of Clearbrook since 1945.  Souls had been saved every year, and the fall of 1952 was reported to be no exception to that fact.42  Studies in Hebrews 12, Romans 8, and selected Psalms drew people from at least ten surrounding communities; and on the closing Sunday the crowd was so large that there was difficulty seating everyone.  Twelve miles south of Clearbrook in the town of Bagley, the Bible Conference in early 1951 saw an encouraging increase in attendees over the previous year, a large percentage of these being youths.43  At the November 1952 Bible Conference in Fosston, eighteen miles west-northwest of Bagley, immense interest nearly filled the church every evening.44  Several became Christians and many others rededicated themselves to Christ.  One of the local sponsoring pastors reported afterwards, “Wherever I go about town and out in the rural areas, I hear nothing but the highest praise for the meetings we had.  The conference has made a profound impact on our congregation as well as on our entire community.”  The following year the Fosston attendance increased even further, drawing from about twenty outlying communities.45   Eight miles northwest of Fosston in the town of McIntosh, the LEM speakers were told during the June 1952 Bible Conference that “revival has continued for some time in this area as, one by one, souls have sought spiritual help and have found release from the many burdens of sin.”46  Three years later, spiritual hunger in McIntosh was so great that local leaders requested a Bible Conference of twelve days instead of the usual eight.47  Attendance not only began strong but increased continually with representations coming from virtually every neighboring community.  Rev. J.O. Gisselquist could report that not only were souls saved during the conference but also that many other recent converts testified of “a new-found joy in their lives and of peace with God.”  “God is working in this whole area . . . [and] in mercy has visited these communities.  Laymen’s work has been revived.” 

 

At the 1951 Fertile Conference roughly 25 miles west-southwest of McIntosh, people from 14 other towns, some of them long distances away, were regularly in attendance as were twelve pastors from nearby Lutheran parishes.48  The following year’s Fertile Conference began with an unusual number of lay testimonies and concluded with “the church packed to capacity,” numbers coming to Christ for salvation.49  A little over 40 miles southwest of Fertile, the Bible Conference in Hendrum during late 1953 was marked by an ever-increasing attendance and rejoicing new Christians who had been converted during recent awakenings in the host congregation.50  One of those awakenings had broken out earlier that spring during special meetings preached by LEM Executive Committee member Rev. Maynard G. Halvorson at which “Christians were renewed,” “sinners were converted,” and “young married couples surrender[ed] to Jesus.”51  One hundred miles north of Hendrum, the town Kennedy was already reportedly becoming “a strong spiritual center for [the] area” by the time of its second annual Bible Conference in June 1952.52  And 50 miles east-northeast of Kennedy, being about 100 miles north-northwest of our tour’s starting point in Clearbrook, evangelistic services preached by Nels Pedersen in October 1955 were extended from eight days to twelve as “many came to find Christ as their Saviour.”53  Shortly afterward the local pastor reported, “Events since have shown that still others were awakened, and more decisions are expected.”  Such was the moving of the Spirit in northwestern Minnesota.

 

            Another region of LEM ministry no less noteworthy for revival was north central Iowa and south central Minnesota.  About 65 miles south of the state border’s midpoint was the LEM’s second oldest and third largest conference, the Eagle Grove Bible Conference held near the beginning of each September.  “There are few areas of Lutheranism in our country where there are so many confessing Christians as in the 50-mile radius area of Eagle Grove,” asserted Rev. Conrad.54  During the 1951 conference a “spirit of unity and fellowship” reigned, even as 800 people filled accommodations to overflowing both Sundays.55  Two years later, Sunday crowds overflowed the tents and listened to services over loudspeakers.56  Another longstanding LEM Bible Conference was that in Estherville, Iowa, about 90 miles northwest of Eagle Grove.  Here revival broke out in April 1951.57  In spite of it being the time for spring field work, attendance increased every evening for eight days.  On three of these evenings, after meetings were held “at which time,” said a local supporting pastor, “we knelt at the altar and prayed with some over twenty souls.”  Some of these were under conviction of sin while others were seeking assurance of salvation or were burdened with personal problems.  Both new and revived Christians displayed “increased joy in the Lord.”  Following the conference, the same local pastor reported that his congregation’s Bible studies and prayer meetings had been relocated from the chapel to the larger church auditorium since “over one hundred, young and old” were now gathering weekly.  One year later, Rev. Conrad rejoiced that not one of the Estherville converts had drifted away and that several of the revived youth had begun studying at LBI in preparation for Christian service.58  About 55 miles east of Estherville and roughly that same distance north of Eagle Grove, the town of Thompson was noted as “becoming a strong spiritual center and power in this part of Iowa” during the October 1951 Bible Conference at which eleven other Iowan and five Minnesotan towns were represented.59  Two years later the Thompson attendance was larger than ever, particularly on the closing Sunday when the church was filled for three sessions and new converts testified openly.60  “Christians were greatly blessed, quickened and consecrated,” and several backsliders were restored.  Fourteen miles southeast in Forest City, Iowa, a well-publicized Bible Conference held in the Civic Auditorium was attempted in April 1954 with remarkable success, attendance being drawn from towns as far away as 100 miles and increasing nightly until the 2,000-seat auditorium was virtually filled on the closing Sunday.61  Undoubtedly some of those in attendance were from Osage, Iowa, over 40 miles east, where just the previous year a growing spiritual hunger during the first two evenings of evangelistic meetings with Rev. Arnold Windahl had resulted in “times of refreshing from the presence of the Lord” the next three evenings as many souls had found peace in Jesus and others had consecrated their lives to God.62 

 

On the Minnesota side of the state border, a little over 20 miles northwest of Estherville, many gathered for the 1954 Jackson Bible Conference in the midst of busy corn planting season.63  “Souls were saved and strengthened, and many hearts were deeply searched,” particularly by Nels Pedersen’s message about the five foolish virgins who had the appearance of being Christians but who were ultimately shut out from the Lord’s presence.  Thirty miles east of Jackson in Fairmont, Minnesota, Rev. Conrad found himself busy counseling troubled and seeking souls nearly every afternoon during six days of evangelistic meetings in early 1954.64  A little over 40 miles north-northeast in Lake Crystal, December 1951 Bible Conference messages on the seven letters to the churches caused Christians to confess “lukewarmness, indifference and self-living” and yield themselves anew to Jesus.65  Others were saved, and the local pastor declared that the conference had made a difference in both midweek congregational prayer meetings and his parish work in general.  Little could the LEM Executive Committee have imagined such stirrings of the Spirit in south central Minnesota and north central Iowa when they had planned their first Bible Conference in Eagle Grove in 1938.

 

            According to reports printed in Evangelize, a third region which seemed frequently visited by God in power during the early 1950’s was southeastern South Dakota.  During the Sioux Falls Bible Conference in February 1951, frigid weather and icy roads could not keep people away, particularly the “seeking souls [who] sought personal help from the leaders.”66  On the last Sunday, the church was filled to capacity three times and extra chairs were needed for the closing service.  A number of Christians declared “that it was the most blessed week in their lives,”  and the host pastor wrote two months later that he was still receiving reports “of the many who were especially blessed during the conference and have as a result become more interested in the Church and the work of God’s kingdom.”  About 120 miles west during the Platte Bible Conference in June of that same year, God powerfully convicted believers of their own need and of their neglected responsibility to their fellowmen.67  “Christians manifested a spirit of repentance” and “many were revived.”  Once again, the host church was crowded for three sessions on the closing Sunday.  Lake Madison Lutheran Church, roughly 50 miles northwest of Sioux Falls, was stirred by God at least several times during the early 1950‘s.  At the close of the last service of a week of special meetings in December 1953, the guest evangelist asked any seeking assurance to stay behind for counsel.68  Those who responded were “enough to fill the altar rail twice,” some of them “hav[ing] been prayed for for years.”  Two years later, two more sets of evangelistic meetings at Lake Madison six weeks apart became “a time of liberation” for many who wanted to make sure of their salvation.69  The local pastor rejoiced that both attendance and prayer participation at midweek Bible studies had increased and that “babes in Christ” were becoming quite eager to witness for Jesus. 

 

In the town of Oldham approximately 25 miles northwest of Madison, revival broke out in the spring of 1952 during special meetings which were consequently extended another week.70  Visiting evangelist Nels Pedersen reported,

“Souls were saved from the first service, and each evening there were souls that stayed after to be prayed with . . . There was old-fashioned Holy Spirit conviction so that men and women came asking how to be saved.  Several people had even left the church for their cars, but had to return to the church to be saved . . . At the close of the meetings, there were over forty who we believe found peace with God.”

At the closing service, an older church member stood to publicly praise God for having answered the prayers which saints had prayed for so many years.  In May 1955, another revival broke out fifteen miles east of Oldham in Sinai, South Dakota.71  After the fourth of eight evenings of evangelistic meetings, Christians gathered around the altar “to pour out their hearts in confession” and to seek cleansing and filling from the Holy Spirit.  During the remaining four days, about 30 people sought counsel for salvation or assurance and four young men answered God’s call to full-time Christian service.  The local pastor reported that the chapel was now filled for midweek Bible studies.

 

            The southeastern area of South Dakota was not the only place in the state where God’s Spirit was moving.  The previously mentioned Hauge evangelist observed in mid 1954,

“These past few years there has been a mighty work of God in the western parts of South Dakota.  In many of these western towns, where a living Christian was not known a few years back, there are now many saved souls.  They have thriving prayer and testimony meetings at which they speak of the miracle of salvation in their lives.”72 

This report certainly seems borne up by some of the LEM’s experiences in that region.  The pastor of the Lutheran church in Newell, over 50 miles north of Rapid City, declared that his parish had “never . . . had such a visitation” from God as it did during the November 1953 LEM Bible Conference.73  First, Christians were moved to repentance of sin and worldliness and were given a burden for the lost.  Then a stirring began among the unsaved.  Some who had thought themselves to be Christians discovered that they had possessed false assurance and were actually living in sin.  Many were saved and found true peace in Christ.  Even the smaller afternoon studies on prayer and on Nehemiah drew troubled souls seeking counsel.  New converts testified publicly.  On the closing Sunday evening, so many were in attendance that some had to be seated in the choir loft and additional chairs were set up in the back of the church.  “People attending from other churches said that this was the finest awakening that they had ever experienced.”  Seven months later, the new converts were found to still be full of “warmth and zeal for the Lord.”74  Exactly one year after the Newell movement, another one began in Vale eight miles south during evangelistic meetings sponsored by the LEM.75  Nearly every evening, the church was full, the audience including visitors “from far and near” as well as youth and children who were eager to testify.  Once again Christians dealt with their sins, often coming to pastors after the services to make confessions which were sometimes humiliating.  On each of the last five nights, souls were counseled for salvation or assurance and both “young and old accepted Christ as personal Saviour.” 

 

            In addition to regions of revival in which the LEM ministered during the first half of the 1950’s, localized revivals were frequently witnessed by its leaders as well.  These occurred primarily, of course, in the upper Midwest but also on both East and West Coasts.  The following is a sampling of reports.  When Nels Pedersen preached evangelistic meetings at a country church outside Fairdale, North Dakota, in October 1951, at least nine people were prayed with for salvation and the pastor declared, “[This] will be a different church as a result of these meetings.”76  Less than a year later, Pedersen returned to the same church for another three weeks of meetings during which twenty more souls came to Christ.77  At the LEM Bible Conference in Sheyenne, North Dakota, in May 1952, people attended from a 60 miles radius and the packed high school auditorium at the closing service was believed to be “the largest [attendance] at any religious service in the history of Sheyenne.”78  “After six annual [Sheyenne] conferences,” said Conrad, “we see the tremendous impact these weeks have made in this whole area.”  Signs of a tremendous revival among children were seen at the Bible Conference in French Lake, Minnesota, in September 1952.79  Children not only equaled adults in attendance but also displayed extreme attentiveness to the preaching and eagerly shared during testimony times.  For eight nights the church was so crowded with children and their parents that a tent was pitched outside for the book tables to make as much room as possible inside the church for people.  During the Eau Claire, Wisconsin, Bible Conference in March 1951, attendees came daily from a radius of 40 miles, and “virtually every evening people stayed after the meeting to pray and receive spiritual help.”80  Hunger for the Word was a mark of the September 1954 Bible Conference in Newman Grove, Nebraska, at which souls were prayed with each of the last four evenings.81  One of the speakers reported, “There were some releases which only eternity can evaluate.” 

 

Out on the East Coast, the September 1953 greater Boston Bible Conference began with conviction of sin and confession among Christians and was followed several days later by an unforgettable after meeting to which 40 people came seeking spiritual help.82  Over on the West Coast, the February 1954 Bible Conference in Bellingham, Washington, was an especial blessing to the many people both young and old who had been converted three months earlier when revival had broken out in the church during two weeks of evangelistic meetings with Rev. H.O. Egertson.83  More than a dozen people nightly had sought peace with God,84 including twenty or so young married couples.  As late as midnight, Rev. Egertson had been called to homes to give spiritual help.  On the other end of the West Coast in Hawthorne, California, Rev. Conrad noted “a spirit of revival” during six evenings of evangelistic meetings which he preached in March 1952.85  “Every evening people stayed after to get help - as many as fifty in one evening,” and the local pastor reported that revival was still ongoing in his church two months later.  Many other similar reports of localized revivals could be cited from the pages of Evangelize, but neither space nor redundancy of details would justify doing so.

 

 

Deeper Life: A Work of God

 

            At no LEM Bible Conference were signs of revival more regularly abundant during the early 1950’s than at the annual Deeper Life Conference at Mission Farms on Medicine Lake just outside Minneapolis.  After thirteen years of watching God grow and multiply His Word through this ever-burgeoning conference, the LEM’s two longest-standing leaders paused to reflect on its origins and its most blessed attributes.  When the name “Deeper Life Conference” was first suggested in 1939, said Rev. Evald Conrad, “it struck a ready response in the hearts of our whole committee.”86  During its early years however, added Rev. J.O. Gisselquist, the Deeper Life Conference also “met with considerable opposition from Christian people” who saw its name as indicative of spiritual pride and even “warned against it.”87  But in the years since then, continued Conrad, it has overwhelmingly “found a responsive chord in thousands of hearts [of Christians] throughout the land” who “are tired of the sham, shallowness and superficiality of things today” and long “to go deeper in their spiritual life” by “look[ing] to the Holy Spirit to teach [them] and reveal to [them] the deep things of God.”  Gisselquist then enumerated some of Deeper Life’s most prominent characteristics and most frequently heard comments.

“With its clear-cut preaching of law and gospel, its emphasis on missions, and its definite premillennial prophetic teaching, [the] Deeper Life Conference offers a strong diet.  Many have confessed that they could hardly take it the first days.  But when the week was over, they were reluctant to leave those hallowed grounds.  ‘It is easy to live as a Christian here’ is heard again and again . . . there is much joy in the Christian fellowship and in victories gained over sins and carnal habits which have hindered some from sweet communion with God.”

Gisselquist was always especially impressed with the Christian fellowship at Deeper Life, referring to it as “a standard of God raised against the enemy.”88  A WMPL missionary on furlough echoed similar sentiments on behalf of herself and many others when she declared, “Deeper Life is a must for every child of God.”89 

 

            What was it that attracted so many people to Deeper Life?  Quite obviously, the One who was multiplying His Word was also multiplying the attendance.  “We are very limited when it comes to promotional agencies, so we feel it was the Lord who moved people to come,” stated Conrad regarding the 1951 conference.90  Registration that year was 1,333 over two weeks, and numbers of meals served by Mission Farms indicated that unregistered attendance by people lodging offsite had increased considerably.  The 2,000-seat Tabernacle was nearly full for every evening service as well as for each of three sessions on Sundays.  Under that year’s conference theme, “It is Time to Awake,” two sub-topics particularly indicative of the LEM’s ministry to Christians were, “The Illumination of the Gospel of the Glory of Christ” and “Ready Unto Every Good Work” (“Local Church, Christian Fellowship, Spiritual Gifts, Prayer, Home, Soul-Winning, Community, Witnessing, Money, Reading, and Hospitality”).  After nearly every evening service some stayed behind for spiritual help, among these an especially large number of boys and young men.  Other special conference blessings were the “spiritual conversations and prayer groups . . . common at any time and anywhere,” the “hearty response to the general testimony meeting . . . conducted at 7:00 p.m. on several evenings” (called the Fellowship Hour in future years), and “the early Sunday morning Communion service” for which Rev. Gisselquist had pushed so that Christians might “experience how very blessed Communion can be when God’s people come together to share in common the body and blood of Christ.”91 

 

            In 1952 when the conference theme was “I Have Set Thee a Watchman,” registered attendance for the two weeks dropped slightly to about 1,200 but unregistered attendance swelled even further.92  “Many souls were prayed with.  Especially in the high school department there was a fine group that surrendered to Christ.”  In light of fifteen years of tremendous physical and spiritual growth at Deeper Life and the ongoing development of Deeper Life as a family-oriented conference in spite of limited family accommodations at Mission Farms, the LEM National Board decided to schedule Deeper Life for three weeks in 1953.93  According to Mission Farms superintendent Dr. W.E. Paul, this would make Deeper Life one of the largest Bible Conferences in the nation.94 

 

            In reality, what happened was that about 1,200 people once again registered for Deeper Life in 1953, but numbers of them stayed for two or even the entire three weeks.95  That, combined with the massive unregistered attendance, effectually made this Deeper Life the largest ever.  Bearing the theme “Living by the Gospel,”96 the 1953 conference began without the overcrowded bustle so typical for opening day, more people having registered for the second and third weeks.97  Yet the 2,000-seat Tabernacle was already two-thirds full by the second evening.  The highlight this year was revival in the high school conference.98  An intense conviction of sin which began among several youth at the beginning of the second week soon permeated the entire group until by week’s end “most of the young people had come to Christ” for salvation, restoration from backsliding, or consecration.  On Saturday night of the third week a large group of youth stayed after the evening service for spiritual help, and others earnestly sought counsel as late as 3:00 in the morning.  As the closing Sunday dawned, “There was unspeakable joy in the camp

. . . as many could now testify that they had found the Lord.”

 

            The theme for 1954’s three-week Deeper Life Conference was “We Would See Jesus” (“In His Word, In the True Church, In Our Daily Living, and In His Harvest”),99 and overall attendance was approximately the same as the year before.100  On the first weekend, crowds overflowed even the spacious Tabernacle and spilled onto the surrounding lawn to hear world-renowned industrialist and outspoken Christian R.G. LeTourneau.101  And once again there was revival among the high school conference.  Two girls who received Jesus as Savior following an evening service returned to the youth camp (Little Camp in the Hills which had been used by the LEM for this purpose since 1952102) and shared their testimonies.  Before the night was over, twelve more girls had received Jesus and a host of others had rededicated their lives to the Lord.103  “Most of the young people who came to camp without peace in their hearts found Christ and His peace” and testified openly.104 

 

            Accounts such as these raise an interesting question.  Can it be estimated how many souls came to Christ for salvation or how many Christians experienced reviving through the LEM’s ministry during the ten or so years post World War II?  Yes, such figures could probably be calculated with a certain degree of accuracy based on the information compiled in the foregoing chapters.  Those numbers, when considered along with the facts that the LEM was only one parachurch organization operating exclusively among Lutherans primarily in the upper Midwest, might prove quite helpful in beginning to quantify and qualify the now long-forgotten mid-century revival.  There is overwhelming evidence that God was also stirring within thousands of individual churches, among numerous denominations besides Lutheran, and across many more regions of the nation than just the upper Midwest.  But as I began to estimate totals within just the LEM’s ministry, the Holy Spirit strongly indicated to me that it would be irreverent to do so.  As the title of this book suggests, the focus of this long-forgotten story and the reason for which God has preserved it these many decades is that He might be glorified for His mighty works among our forefathers. 

 

And so it seems that a better way to close this account is to glorify God in the words of those who saw His mid-century works with their own eyes.  “I wish I could give you a taste,” said Rev. Conrad following the 1954 Deeper Life Conference,

“of the testimony meeting we had the last Sunday evening, when scores rose to their feet to tell what Deeper Life had meant to them.  God was given the glory as they told how their lives had been transformed through the Word.  Many felt it had been the greatest week of their lives.  Most of those who testified mentioned what the fellowship had meant to them.  They said it was a foretaste of heaven.”105

Based on the pages of Evangelize, that report could be multiplied a hundredfold as representative of numerous other LEM Bible Conferences.  “Deeper Life is a work of God,” declared LEM secretary Orloue Gisselquist, “the most clearly so of any work many of us have had contact with.  We give God glory for His gracious moving in our midst.”106  And we, who so many decades later have the privilege of hearing these stories about God’s gracious moving, join with our Christian brothers and sisters of the past in a mighty chorus of praise to God for His wonderful works towards His people.  To God be the glory!


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