Mobilising, training and equipping Christians for prayer

The Welsh revival (1904) was not the beginning of the decade of revival (1900 to 1910). The beginning of this revival must be traced back to small prayer groups that developed spontaneously all over the world, and which formed without knowledge of one another. The prayer awakening actually started in approximately 1897.

A remarkable revival started amongst the Boers (Afrikaners) in South Africa during the Second Anglo-Boer War, 1899-1902, and onwards. Many thousands of Boers were sent by the British to prisoner-of-war camps in places, such as Bermuda, St Helena, Ceylon (Sri Lanka), India and Egypt. James Edwin Orr’s said his research on the ‘decade of revival’, 1900-1910, proves that the worldwide revival was set in motion by revival in the Boer concentration camps. Strangely enough, revival broke out simultaneously in the camps, tens of thousands of miles apart, despite there not being any contact between the camps. The same occurrences were happening in all the camps in different nations and islands where the Boer prisoners of war were being held.

The Boers asked why it had to happen, but God had a bigger plan in the midst of their suffering. There was much nominalism amongst the Boers, and many were unsaved. In Ceylon, for example, Rev. G. Murry preached one evening from Zephaniah 3:19, warning the prisoners of war that God had sent them away to a place where He could deal with their sin, and he preached on their need for forgiveness. A great many came to the Lord.


The church became the most important place in the concentration camps.


Boers who went to the camps as prisoners of war unsaved returned as true born-again Christians, filled with the Holy Spirit. God worked powerfully in these camps. During their time of isolation, trauma, loneliness and horrific conditions (illness, fever, death), multitudes turned to God. Some, for the first time but others, renewed their faith. The church became the most important place in the concentration camps.

Diyatalawa in Ceylon
In the Diyatalawa-camp (Ceylon) 5,000 prisoners suffered extreme physical and emotional conditions and had to endure receiving bad news from home as well. One historian wrote, “Many realised: the way through the hospital to the grave can also be the road that I will take, but am I saved from my sins?” There was consistent and uncompromising preaching on the necessity of salvation and confession of sin. In this specific camp, there were two men who were very bitter towards each other. One day, they came together in the middle of the camp, reconciled and started a small prayer group. Within a few weeks, thousands attended the prayer meeting, and many came to the Lord. General Roux (the camp Dominee (Pastor) from the Senekal DRC) recounted that he usually only preached once a week, but at one time, he was asked to preach 20 times in three weeks, and the meeting places were packed!

St. Helena Island
At the concentration camp on St. Helena Island, some pastors, including Rev. A.F. Louw, went to work voluntarily amongst the prisoners. Nearly every evening, special meetings were held. Louw was a serious man, and he insisted that people needed to repent. Many came to the Lord. Rev. Louw wrote, “The repentance from sin to God is not imagination. It results in a true change of heart.” In one of his sermons, he said, “You are sitting here locked in behind sixteen wires, surrounded by many soldiers as well as sea water all around us. God will not let you go out to freedom before you will take the freedom that there is for you through accepting Jesus as Saviour.” In one meeting, a man from Heilbron stood up and told his fellow prisoners about the time when he had sent Jacob, one of his black farm workers, to get water for him whilst the battle raged on. Jacob was wounded, and as he lay dying he said, “Master, I am going to die. You know about the blood of Jesus, but you never told me about it.” This account resulted in deep repentance amongst the prisoners regarding their neglect to share the gospel with Africans, as well as other local groups, such as Indians and Sri Lankans in South Africa.

Initially, there was strong resistance in the church towards any form of mission work. After the war, however, at least 175 soldiers became missionaries!

Fort Ahmednagar in India
DRC Dominee (Pastor) D.J. Viljoen accompanied the prisoners as chaplain on the ship which brought them to the concentration camp in India. On board ship, worship services had been held. On arrival, he commenced immediately with a series of special meetings, preaching on sin and the need for salvation. Initially, not many prisoners attended the meetings, but soon numbers began to increase. The breakthrough, as in other camps, only came after much prayer, however, and many prisoners of war were brought to the Lord. The converts often sang late into the night, and prayers of intercession could be heard right through the night, as well cries from those seeking forgiveness for their sins.

Three factors led to revival in the concentration camps

  1. The spiritual receptiveness of the prisoners of war due to their desperate situation added to by the terrible news they were receiving from home regarding what the British were doing to their women and children, and the destruction of their land through the scorched earth strategy of war.
  2. The remarkable work and dedication of pastors who came to the camps, and their focus on repentance and confession of sin.
  3. Much prayer.

The same occurrences were happening in camp after camp. Pastors preached the message of repentance from sin and salvation. Often, groups of prisoners were praying for God to do something in their camp, even before there was an outpouring of the Holy Spirit. In every concentration camp where revival broke out, pastors worked very hard, but without exception, they attributed the results to the extraordinary work of the Holy Spirit.

Although a significant number of prisoners were men in their twenties and thirties, many men had experienced revival during 1860-1862 and the subsequent outpourings of the Holy Spirit in the 1870s, 1880’s and 1890s. The seed that was sown during these times of revival and awakening, and the prayers offered in those years, were still bearing fruit.

Soldiers on the Home Front
The revival was not limited to prisoner of war camps, though. During the war, God poured out His Spirit on Afrikaner soldiers still engaged in battle. Many people had been praying for the war to end, and for God’s will to be done in the midst of tragedy. The quiet work of the Holy Spirit behind the scenes due to these prayers resulted in a mighty avalanche of evangelism and mission work at the conclusion of the war.

During the war, Boer soldiers held prayer meetings and received daily spiritual exhortation. Many later became missionaries, preachers, or trained for the ministry, coming directly from the frontlines, having been converted during hostilities. General Beyers, for instance, was accompanied by some deeply devoted Christian leaders, including Rev. A. Kriel, whilst on commando in the Lowveld near Nelspruit. They preached nightly to the troops and pressed on them the claims of the Lord Jesus Christ. As a result, many Boer soldiers became Christians and started Bible studies and prayer meetings. When they happened upon a mission situated between Waterberg and Lydenburg, they built a mission station and assisted with the mission work.

Reverends Naude, Retief and Kriel were concerned that foreigners seemed to have more compassion and concern for Africans, and Indians and Sri Lankans in South Africa than South Africans themselves had. They felt that Afrikaners were too focused on their own needs, troubles and aspirations. These spiritual leaders met with residents of Pietersburg (Polokwane) on 28 September 1900 to discuss this matter. People were asked to volunteer to take the gospel to the unreached. Men stood up by the score to dedicate themselves to evangelise the unsaved. More than 100 volunteers were sent to missions in Transvaal, Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe), and elsewhere straight after the war. This all happened at the same time Boer prisoners were experiencing revival in concentration camps abroad.

Revival also touched some British soldiers. Evangelism amongst the British forces resulted in prayer meetings in places, such as Mafeking, Ladysmith and Kimberley, even as the siege continued, although hostilities generally ceased on Sundays for church services and prayer meetings to be held. One result of this spiritual activity was that more than 100 British soldiers, who had fought in the Boer War, returned to South Africa after the war as ‘missionaries’ in 1905.

Article taken from South African Revivals: 1786 – 2015 written by Bennie Mostert
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