(Religion Unplugged) — Over the span of two weeks, Asbury University, a small evangelical college in Wilmore, Kentucky has been the center of a revival attracting thousands of believers from across the country for two straight weeks of 24-hour prayer and worship.
What began as a regular chapel service on Wednesday, Feb. 8, with an attendance of 1,600 students extended beyond the allotted time and began spreading via social media with more than 77 million views on TikTok alone. News of the continual prayer and worship amassed a great following on social media, leading to approximately 50,000 people from neighboring states descending on the campus for the revival. The event is wrapping up at Asbury this week but perhaps moving to other venues.
For an insider’s look into the far-reaching impact of the revival and what the event at Asbury means for Generation Z Christians, Deborah Laker of ReligionUnplugged.com spoke to two Asbury students. One student is Deborah’s sister, Dorcus Lara, who is a freshman from Uganda pursuing a double-major in exercise science-kinesiology and psychology. Illinios-native Hannah Wall is a junior studying marketing and graphic design.
This conversation has been edited for clarity.
Deborah Laker: How would you describe the revival taking place at Asbury University?
Dorcus Lara: I would describe it as a moment of healing, unity and restoration. This revival has allowed us students to actually feel like we’re seen and we’re not dealing with our struggles by ourselves. We are actually more connected than we are different. The revival has allowed for the Holy Spirit to move in this community and reignited the flames of our love for Christ.
Hannah Wall: The revival has been very eye-opening and awakening. I’ve seen healing and prophecy. It’s all just the spectacular move of the Holy Spirit.
Laker: What moments stood out to you on the Wednesday chapel service when the revival began?
Lara: I’m a member of the gospel choir at Asbury University, so Wednesday was actually the day that I was leading chapel worship. Going into the service I decided that I did not want this to just be another regular chapel service where people stand and barely sing a couple songs, clap their hands and move on. I wanted to actually be able to sing with joy in my heart and show that you can be moved by worship. So I got up there and I sang with my whole heart, with a big smile on my face. Then after, Rev. Zach Meerkreebs preached a sermon about becoming love in action, which I resonated with a lot. When we went up to lead worship again I just felt God asking me to stay in that moment. I opened up my heart to him and continue to worship sincerely. I remember staying there for an hour after chapel was supposed to end, but then I had to go to my work shift in the IT department. But in that moment of pure genuine worship with no schedule with no plan or time limit, it just felt so natural. It’s been beautiful to see how the revival has grown since then.
Wall: I actually didn’t go to chapel that day. I decided to skip it. But I do remember being in one of my classes three hours after some other students came in from chapel saying, “You have to go. Revival is starting to break out!” My professor said, “I’m going.” So we all went to the extended service.
Laker: Given your upbringing and faith journey, how has this encounter impacted how you view God?
Lara: This encounter with God has reminded me of Uganda because worship back at home is almost more organic than I’ve experienced here at the revival. There is not usually a PowerPoint up telling you what songs to sing or a strict time constraint. It’s just you and the worship leader being filled with the power of God. Chapel during my first semester at Asbury felt overly structured. This experience broke down those walls and allowed the presence of God to just move. It’s shown me that no matter where I go the presence of God can still move.
Wall: I felt like God was pursuing me — not that he hasn’t pursued me before, but I come from a Pentecostal background, so I’m used to the Holy Spirit and speaking in tongues. But this time I experienced his overwhelming peace and guidance.
Laker: In what ways has God moved in your life over the course of this revival?
Lara: The Holy Spirit has brought healing in my heart from past trauma where I had put up a wall and didn’t want to address. But throughout the prayers, God has helped me open those wounds. Throughout the time of revival, multiple people have approached me to pray over me, and they would remind me that I am worthy and loved by God. Those words seem simple, and you would think that every Christian would know that, but sometimes because of the hurt you experience and sins you’ve committed you forget that you are still loved by God and you are worthy of being his child.
Wall: I struggle a lot with anxiety, and one day this older woman prayed over me. She started praying in tongues and speaking healing over me. At that moment, I just felt the Holy Spirit come over me, and I haven’t had any anxious thoughts since then.
Laker: How did the news of the revival spread beyond the student body?
Lara: It initially was just individuals sharing it with their loved ones rather than news outlets broadcasting it. I think it’s mostly spreading through personally sharing the information with friends by putting up a video on Instagram Reels. For instance, there is a man who flew all the way from Korea because he saw a Facebook video of the revival.
Wall: Some of it is word of mouth because I’ve had several people call or text me personally asking about the revival. However, a lot of people are coming here from seeing the revival on social media because people are posting about it.
Laker: What have been some challenges that have arisen as a result of an influx of worshippers on your campus?
Lara: Asbury is a small campus where, to some extent, you practically know every face here on campus. So going from that to seeing thousands of strangers on your campus is overwhelming. A couple weeks ago, I would have had no problem walking all the way across campus at 11 p.m. to pick up a textbook from a friend, but now I have to be cautious about doing that because there’s a bunch of strangers. The revival has also disrupted the class schedule, so a lot of us are behind in classes and stressed out in different ways.
Wall: Security has been a challenge because with having so many people on campus, people can come into buildings unnoticed. So we’ve had to improve security measures. Parking has also been an issue. It’s been kind of overwhelming for the town because Wilmore isn’t used to 50,000 people coming in, and we’re a very small town.
Laker: On Feb. 3, 1970, a revival took place at Asbury University. What are some key differences between these moves of God? What are some of the main themes being addressed during the time of prayer?
Lara: I think it just goes to show how amazing God is to repeat it once again in our generation at a time when people don’t think we are religious. I’m not fully aware of the structural differences, but I do know that in the 1970s they had a service every day, whereas now it is a full-day worship service where you can go into the chapel at whatever time of day. One of the recurring themes in the revival that we have addressed is the diversity in the kingdom of God. We should be a replication of what heaven is like, and heaven is not just for White people singing CCM music. Heaven is for different languages, races and ethnicities coming together to worship God. We need to not be so close minded in the majority but also be willing to allow minorities to shine and be a part of the experience.
Wall: Although my understanding of the 1970s revival is limited, I can discuss some differences. The prior revival lasted only seven days, whereas ours has lasted two weeks. We’ve also had more people show up, partially because of the pull from social media. I believe this revival is giving us hope and showing people God has not forsaken us. We are the body of Christ. While Asbury is stopping public services, we are continuing to have services for people between the ages of 16 to 25. We’re mainly focusing on college students and also sending college students out to places of worship. This is exactly what the result of a revival should be, which is spreading the Word to the ends of the earth.
Laker: Gen Z is often criticized for being irreligious. What would you tell older generations about the faith of your generation?
Lara: I would tell them that just because our lives have different experiences doesn’t mean that God has changed from your generation to mine. God remains the same. Regardless of me being Gen Z, I can still experience God. We are not a fallen generation. We are not hopeless. So as much as times have ,God hasn’t changed.
Wall: We’re hungry for the Spirit. We have seen the older generations gradually fall away and seen what that’s done to them as well as to us. We’re tired of it, so I’m just seeing a generation that is hungry for God and what he has to offer. We’re coming at it in a natural, child-like way.
Laker: What words of encouragement would you give other young people who are yearning to encounter God?
Lara: You are a daughter and a son of God. You may have been told otherwise by people you may have looked up to, or you may have done things that could hurt you and make you question whether you are God’s child. But know that he still wants you, and he would leave the 99 just come for you. I feel like we get so distracted by so many things in our lives today that we don’t take time to even spend just two minutes in God’s presence, so I would just encourage you to be willing to yearn for God, and he will show up.
Wall: God can encounter you wherever you are — you just have to seek him. That doesn’t necessarily mean you have to drive 13 hours to the college campus. The Holy Spirit is omnipresent, so he can counter you in your bedroom or at your workplace. You just have to be willing to seek him out.
Asbury’s president, Dr. Kevin J. Brown, recently announced the end of the nonstop revival services that have been open to the public. The university will continue to livestream certain chapel services.
Deborah Laker is a freelance writer for ReligionUnplugged.com based in Uganda. She graduated with degrees in journalism and political science from Oral Roberts University.