Riding the Wind of God
A Personal History of the Youth Revival Movement
by Bruce McIver
A response by Dwight A. Moody
I bought this book second-hand off the Amazon site and read it straight through when it arrived a few days later. I did so because my friend Bill Jones recommended it in his weekly summary of news and commentary in the world of Baptists.
It was written by the long-time pastor of Wilshire Baptist Church of Dallas, Texas, Bruce McIver (1925-2001). McIver was a student at Baylor University in Waco, Texas, and a participant in the events he narrates. In fact, he was one of the leaders in the student revival movement that spanned the post-war years of 1946-1950 and beyond.
The basic story is this: a group of students—all were young white males—planned and carried out a tent-revival in downtown Waco in the year 1946. It was so successful (in the sense of people attending and decisions made), leaders in other cities like Houston and Dallas called for the young men to come to their town and hold similar revivals. Then, leaders of the Southern Baptist Convention brought the young men to Ridgecrest Conference Center in North Carolina where their testimonies captivated hundreds from across the Baptist southland. The energy, enthusiasm, and inspiration were thus transplanted to states and schools a long way from Texas.
Students involved in the movement include those who became household names in Southern Baptist life: Cecil Sherman, Jimmy Allen, Charles Wellborn, Ralph Langley, Buckner Fanning, Bill O’Brian, Bill Tanner, and Keith Parks, to name a few. Another one lesser known outside of Texas was Howard Butts, Jr. heir of what is now called HEB supermarket chain. He maintained his lay status among all the young preachers and later launched the H. E. Butts Foundation and the well-known retreat center in the hill country of Texas, Laity Lodge.
But my attention was drawn to two other men at the center of things because of their connection to Kentucky, a state rarely mentioned in this narrative. The first is Jack Robinson. He became a preacher and pastor (First Baptist, Augusta), but he started out as an All-American basketball player at Baylor. Although only six foot tall, he was exceptionally skilled and led his team to a rare upset of the team from the University of Texas, to the championship of their conference, and to the NCAA championship game; later he was granted a spot on the U. S. Olympic team in 1948.
All that is recounted in this book, but here is the rest of that story.
Yes, Baylor made it to the title game of the NCAA tournament. They lost that game by a score of 58-42 to the Wildcats of the University of Kentucky, coached by the soon-to-be-famous Adolph Rupp. It was Kentucky’s first appearance in the title game, the first of three titles over a four-year period, and the first for what was to become the most dominate team in NCAA basketball history.
And that Olympic team? Yes, Jack Robinson of Baylor was on that team but so were six players from Kentucky, including Alex Groza who had been the MVP of the NCAA tournament and who was the high scorer of the Olympic games. The assistant coach for the US? Adolph Rupp.
That is the first connection between this story in Texas and the state of Kentucky, and here is the second: Jess Moody.
I wish I knew whether he was kin to me the same way I wish I knew whether Dwight L. Moody is my relative. Some day I will do the genealogical research, and that will tell me also whether any of us is related to the famous, influential, and exceedingly wealthy Moody family of Galveston, Texas. Think Moody Gardens and Moody Memorial United Methodist Church, both of Galveston, and Moody Library at Baylor University, and as least seven buildings on the campus of Texas A&M.
But I do know this. Jess Moody graduated from Baylor and came to Kentucky to study at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He came to Owensboro, Kentucky in 1958 to pastor First Baptist Church. Thirty-three years later, I would make that same move, from Pittsburgh, to pastor Third Baptist Church in Owensboro.
Jess Moody moved to Palm Beach, Florida, where he founded what is now Palm Beach Atlantic University. Years later, my sister Debbie Moody came to that same university to lead the signature program founded by Jess himself, called Workship. And in 1993, my son Allan moved from Owensboro, Kentucky, to play basketball for the Palm Beach Atlantic University dolphins!
But the Jess Moody event that needs to be told is one much earlier. In 1949, as the student revival movement was spreading its way across the South, young Jess Moody came to Georgetown, Kentucky, to preach in the new John L. Hill Chapel on the campus of Georgetown College. He brought with him all the anticipation associated with the revivals in Texas. People were not disappointed. Hundreds of students gathered day after day to hear the dynamic young preacher. Fully half of the student body walked the aisle to register some decision for Christ. The student newspaper of the college is full of pictures, stories, and testimonies of this unusual event.
I am aware of all this because in 1997 I became the second dean of the chapel in the history of Georgetown College—the first was a young Presbyterian preacher John Killinger, a native of Somerset, Kentucky. During my oversight of a renovation of the chapel I read about that first revival in 1949.
My research leads me to think the Jess Moody revival in 1949 is one of the three most significant religious events in the last one hundred years of Georgetown College. Another was the spontaneous spiritual awakening that took place on campus in February of 1970, sparked by the famous revival on the campus of Asbury College (now University), 30 miles south of Georgetown. I was a student at Georgetown at the time and attended the Asbury event with fraternity brother Phil Roberts.
The third of these three events was the decade of vocational decision-making that ran from 1998 to 2008. What set it in motion was the dynamic duo of Georgetown alums and SBC missionaries Ken and Beth Perkins; they came to Georgetown College for a two-year stint as missionaries-in-residence. Their impact on students was powerful and, as it turned out, persistent; it prepared the way for eight years of impact through the Lilly Endowment program for the “theological exploration of vocation”.
That financial largess occurred during my tenure at Georgetown as dean of the chapel and also the tenures of, first, Sharon Felton and, then, Cynthia Insko as campus minsters. Scores of students—especially women—answered the call into gospel work, and today they are distributed across the country doing what those students did so long ago in Waco, Texas: praying and preaching, listening and leading, teaching the Bible and touching lives of thousands with the good word of the gospel.
Thinking about all these things is what reading this good book did for me.
So, thank you Bruce McIver for researching and writing this memoir of your time on the campus of Baylor; and thank you Bill Jones (whose parents studied with me in Jerusalem in 1973 when I was a young minister) for promoting this book and prompting me to order it off the Amazon web site.
This has been one of the good things that has come out of the great sabbath shutdown of the year of our Lord two thousand twenty. Thanks be to God.