Revival in the Islands

The year is 1949.  The congregation in the village of Barvas on the Isle of Lewis is in a poor state.  Not a single young person  attended church.  Two old women, one of them 84, the other 82 and blind, were greatly concerned, and made this a matter of special prayer.

A verse gripped them: “I will pour water on him that is thirsty and floods upon the dry ground.”  They were so burdened that both of them decided to spend time in prayer twice a week. On Tuesday they got on their knees at 10 o’clock in the evening and remained on their knees until 3 or 4 o’clock in the morning.  Two old women in a very humble cottage.

One night, one of the sisters had a vision, and in the vision she saw the church crowded with young people.  Packed to the doors, and a strange minister standing in the pulpit.

They called the minister, and one of the sisters said to him, “You must do something about it.  And I would suggest that you call your office bearers together and that you spend with us at least two nights in prayer in the week. [Think about that, elders!]”

So every Tuesday and Friday night, they gathered together in a barn, the sisters, the minister and the office bearers, and prayed. And they did this for about a month and a half.

Then one night, they were kneeling there in the barn, pleading this promise: “I will pour water on him that is thirsty and floods upon the dry ground” when one young man, a deacon of the church, got up and read Psalm 24.  “Who shall ascend the hill of God?  Who shall stand in His holy place? He that has clean hands and a pure heart who has not lifted up his soul unto vanity or sworn deceitfully.  He shall receive the blessing (not a blessing, but the blessing) of the Lord.” And then he closed his Bible, and looking at the minister and the other office-bearers he said this:  “It seems to me to be so much humbug to be praying as we are praying, to be waiting as we are waiting, if we ourselves are not rightly related to God.” And then he lifted his two hands and prayed, “God, are my hands clean? Is my heart pure?”

But he got no further. Immediately he fell to his knees and then fell into a trance and is now lying on the floor of the barn. At that moment, both the minister and his other office bearers were gripped by the conviction that a God-sent revival must be related to holiness. Are my hands clean? Is my heart pure?

When that happened in the barn, the power of God swept into the parish. And an awareness of God gripped the community such as hadn’t been known for over 100 years.

On the following day, little work was done on the farms or at the weaving looms, as men and women gave themselves to thinking on eternal things gripped by eternal realities.


And so began the Hebridean Revival of 1949.


The Revd. Duncan Campbell, whose notes I have quoted from in this story, was invited to the island from Edinburgh.

He replied that he could not come until the following year.

God intervened and changed Campbell’s plans and commitments. Within 10 days he was on the island of Lewis.


Although he had been travelling all day, the minister asked Campbell if he wouldn’t mind addressing a meeting at 9pm in the church.  “It will be a short meeting and then we will make for the manse and you will get your supper and your bed and rest until tomorrow evening.” Campbell never got that supper.

They got to the church at around a quarter to nine and found about 300 people gathered.  He gave his address.  Nothing really happened during the service.  There was a sense of God, a conciousness, he says, of the Spirit moving, but nothing beyond that.  So he pronounced the benediction and made to leave at around a quarter to eleven.

As he’s walking down the aisle, the deacon who had read the Psalm back in the barn, suddenly calls out to God, “God, You can’t fail us. God, You can’t fail us.”  He is soon on his knees praying in the aisle and he falls into a trance again.

Just then the door of the church opens and in comes the local blacksmith.  “”Mr. Campbell, something wonderful has happened. Oh, we were praying that God would pour water on the thirsty and floods upon the dry ground and listen, He’s done it! He’s done it!”

Outside the door of the church there is now a congregation of 600.  Nobody had invited them, there had been no publicity, but the Holy Spirit had drawn them there.  In the parish hall, there had been 100 young people at a dance, not a thought of God in their minds, when suddenly the Spirit came, and they fled from the hall, Campbell says, “as a man fleeing from a plague” and they made for the church.


And the blacksmith says “I think we should sing a psalm”.  And they sang and sang.  And prayed.  And the meeting went on until 4 o’clock in the morning.


Even then he was unable to go home to bed. As he was leaving the church a messenger told him, “Mr. Campbell, people are gathered at the police station, from the other end of the parish; they are in great spiritual distress. Can anyone here come along and pray with them?” Campbell went and what a sight met him. Under the still starlit sky he found men and women on the road, others by the side of a cottage, and some behind a peat stack — all crying to God for mercy. The revival had come. Duncan Campbell states:

“That went on for five weeks with services from early morning until late at night — or into the early hours of the morning. Then it spread to the neighboring parishes. What had happened in Barvas was repeated over and over again. His sacred presence was everywhere.”

That move of God in answer to prevailing prayer continued in the area into the fifties and peaked again on the previously resistant island of North Uist in 1957.


I wanted to share that story of revival in the Hebrides with you, because it seems so often we worship at Pentecost and remember the day the Spirit came to those early disciples.  As if it were a nice piece of history.


And yet the Spirit still comes in surprising and powerful ways, as we have heard happened in Lewis 65 years ago.  And has happened on many other occasions as well.

The Spirit comes in two ways.  Firstly, the Holy Spirit lives within each one of us here who are Christians.  For, as we heard from our reading in 1 Corinthians: “No one can say ‘Jesus is Lord’ except by the Holy Spirit.”

But secondly he comes in power.  And it is chaotic and it cuts to the heart.  What was it like in that room at the day of Pentecost?  Not nice and orderly like we like our services to be, and like the Jews would have liked in their worship.  But chaotic, and powerful and challenging.  People were being drawn to God.

And what was it like in that chapel in Barvas?  Once again, you get the impression of a church that liked its order, but which was being turned upside down, chaotically, by the moving of the Spirit.


Now, before I finish, I would like to talk very quickly about tongues – about people speaking in a strange language.  God used this powerfully on the day of Pentecost, as the believers were able to speak to visitors to Jerusalem in their own languages, even though they did not know them.  The Bible goes on to tell how tongues can also be used by God to bring prophecy – when accompanied by an interpretation – and how it is also used as a prayer language.

I was struck by a story told by a friend of mine when I was a teenager.  Her mother often used to pray in tongues; in a language she was given by God.  Many people who do this remark that this is an incredibly releasing way to pray, as they do not need to know what they are praying or find the words to say, but can simply focus on God and allow the Holy Spirit to guide the prayers.  It is something that people usually do in private.

Anyway, one day, my friend’s mother was watching the evening news on the TV when there was a report from an Arabic country.  And in the background, there was somebody speaking.  And the mother suddenly exclaims – I’ve heard that language before: it’s my prayer language.

So we see that tongues is used in a number of different ways.

Let’s not get hung up on this though, and let’s not fall for the argument made by some that tongues is a necessary manifestation of the coming of the Spirit.  In Lewis, for example, Duncan Campbell reported that they ” never heard anybody speaking in tongues–in a strange language” during that time.  As he says, “it wasn’t God’s plan or purpose that we should be visited in that way and we weren’t.”

Paul sums it up very nicely in verses 8 to 11 of our reading from 1 Corinthians:

To one is given through the Spirit the utterance of wisdom, and to another the utterance of knowledge according to the same Spirit, 9to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, 10to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another the discernment of spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues.  All these are activated by one and the same Spirit, who allots to each one individually just as the Spirit chooses.

And why does this happen.  Well back in verse 7 we get the reason:

 To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.


So, as we pray today “Come, Holy Spirit”, we pray that he will come and dwell within us, so that we can say “Jesus is Lord”.

And we pray that he will manifest himself through the gifts of the Spirit, as He chooses, for the common good.

But we also pray that he will come powerfully and chaotically, turning our church upside down and bringing revival to this town.


Much of the story of the revival in Barvas is taken from Duncan Campbells own account of the events.  The full account can be found at

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