The Haystack Revival
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WILLIAMSTOWN, Massachusetts - Nestled in the beautiful Berkshire Hills of northwest Massachusetts is the village of Williamstown, the home of Williams College. The New England school is the birthplace of the American foreign missions movement. "…where God woke us up to some part of our mission in the world," said Rev. Rick Spalding, Williams College chaplain. Rev. Pete Daniels of Williamstown's First Baptist Church said, "It is an important event in history. A lot of people can trace their roots as far as their salvation -- their faith in Jesus Christ back to this day that happened here, 200 years ago." The year was 1806, during the Christian revival known as the Second Great Awakening. Five Williams College students were holding a prayer meeting in a meadow: James Richards, Francis Lebarron Robbins, Harvey Loomis, the group's leader Samuel John Mills, and Byrum Green. A summer storm blew in, forcing the students to take shelter under a haystack. Spalding said, "The hay was actually up on kind of a rack so that it stayed dry, and so they were able to sneak in underneath and then be inside to take shelter from the storm." And so it became known as the Haystack Prayer Meeting. It was here that the men felt the call of God to reach out to people around the globe with the Gospel of Jesus Christ. According to Spalding, Samuel Mills felt that instead of sending stuff like Bibles and other humanitarian goods to foreign nations, they should send themselves. Daniels said, "It's amazing when somebody has a vision, that vision comes from the Lord, and then that vision is cast and other people catch that vision, it's like a spark igniting a great fire." Out of this spiritual fire in the haystack, the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions was formed -- the first organization to send missionaries from America overseas. They first set sail for India. Nancy Burstein is the curator of the Williamstown House of Local History. Burstein said, "People are proud that it began here -- that the whole movement traces its origin to this area. It's pretty special." In 1867, the College's Society of Alumni put up a 12-foot monument to mark the site of the prayer meeting under the haystack. They also renamed the entire area Mission Park. "It just goes to show how many things can be born from a small seed," said Rev. Carrie Bail of the First Congregational Church in Williamstown. "But it has reached out into all parts of the world." Williams College sophomore Shawn Woo says that the haystack meeting has inspired him to reach his world for Jesus Christ, including those right on campus. He said, "That emboldens me to be able to speak to my friends and just tell them. And I know that if I have that conviction, have that boldness, reach out to them in the same way that these people did, that God will move and revival can start with me here." The monument reads, "The field is the world." Five students under a haystack caught the vision of a global mission field, and today, millions of people around the world are reaping the benefits.