So I suppose you could say I was feeling surprised when a few months back I found myself waiting in a sparsely furnished, poorly air-conditioned room at the tropical end of Australia. I knew there was some story about a white Anglican clergyman way back in the 19th century. Apparently he created a safe haven for countless Aboriginals, saving them from the merciless advance of the British as they attempted to take control of the vast country.
Almost a century and a half later, the legacy remains. Yarrabah Aboriginal Community is Australia's second-largest settlement for the country's indigenous people. Nearly 4,000 people inhabit a quiet corner of the coast, the location marked by its beauty as much as by its poverty.
What makes Yarrabah remarkable is not its location or even its ancient history, but more recent events that mark it out. Over the last couple of decades they have experienced the divinely dramatic on an unprecedented—and unpredictable—scale.
Now, I was in a hotel room, waiting to meet Mick Connolly, a man of many titles: Anglican, Aboriginal, teacher, Vietnam veteran and observer of one of the most remarkable moves of God in the last 50 years.
Twenty-four hours later I was on my way home. I had spoken for hours with Mick, his wife and his sister-in-law. But more than mosquito bites and damp clothes, I took away with me something profound: a sense that not only had I just spent a day of my life on the fringes of a genuine revival, but also that all my preconceived ideas about the mechanics of God's power had been shaken up completely.
"Revival?" replied Mick when I asked him for a definition on our first meeting. "It's like an Alka-Seltzer dropped in a glass of water. It fizzes for a while and attracts great interest. Then it seems to die off. Then, for no real reason, it starts to fizz again, bringing more people back to get close to it."
I think I understood. All my previous experiences of revival-type meetings were in churches filled with Christians. Mick's idea about the Alka-Seltzer was based on his experience of seeing predominantly non-Christians get the full force of the Holy Spirit during times of revival. In his experience the Spirit was there transforming lives, performing miracles for the unsaved. Mick and the rest of the believers were there to work hard to disciple those brought in.
It looked like it was working. I heard stories that astounded me. Stories like the one about how at one point so many people were going to church that the local bar experienced a dramatic drop in revenue. They tried giving alcohol away for free to tempt the locals back in, yet the appeal of what was going on in the church was irresistible. For a whole year Yarrabah Community was the only one of its kind—an Aboriginal settlement without a bar.
Then there was the one about the police station, infamous for the almost weekly occurrence of suicide among those held overnight. Yarrabah's blend of poverty, drug and alcohol abuse and long-term unemployment meant that the station was busy and its cell well used. Yet it was only when the Christians stepped in that the place was transformed; their deliverance service on the site marked the end of the suicides.
There were other stories too, plenty of them. But what struck me was not so much the mighty acts of God's power. It was the attitude of the workers. Revival is not seen as some kind of reward earned by sufficient and sustained praying. For the Christians of Yarrabah God's increases in power are His divine prerogative, to be given and taken away as appropriate.
The times of revival are "mountaintop" experiences, and all are aware that life is lived down in the valley. It is there that you will find Mick and the others, surrounding themselves with the last, the least, the lost, refusing to make monuments to the experiences, no matter how powerful they are.
Something else struck me about them too: The Aboriginals are at the wrong end of the social spectrum in Australia—the object of prejudice and misunderstanding on a daily basis. What's more, this ragtag collection of charismatic Anglicans who use their ancient cultural dances at the altar as their worship to God, these guys have little of the history, education or gravitas of their Caucasian colleagues. But, as we see throughout the Bible, God's use of the "wrong" people is at the very heart of His plan.
Coming in to land, things became even clearer. I had been up close to something remarkable, yet I'd seen nobody shake, fall over or prophesy. What I used to take as the signifiers of revival were there, but they seemed less significant. What impressed me most was what I saw among the people at the heart of the church. Compassionate, prayerful, dedicated individuals.
They gave their time without question to those who asked for it, put aside dreams of wealth in favor of serving those with none. They served and taught and helped and wept. This was a revival all right, the evidence was plain to see.
And so I arrived home with a challenge in front of me. Would I change my attitude to revival and those who chase after it? Would I begin the hunt for signs of renewal, for the evidence of things improving? Finally, would my search begin not on the other end of a flight to some distant country, but right here, in me? Would my life show the signs?