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What Really Happened At Asbury?

What Really Happened At Asbury?

It’s been a month since the outpouring at Asbury University closed down. Campus is back to normal. The tens of thousands of visitors have gone home, and the faces around the small town of Wilmore, Kentucky, are all familiar once again.

It’s hard to believe one of the biggest spiritual movements of the decade just took place in Asbury’s chapel.

On the morning of February 8, in Asbury University’s Hughes Auditorium, roughly a dozen students stayed after the standard chapel service to pray and worship a little longer. What started out as a few extra minutes of chapel with a handful of students turned into a non-stop, nearly three week long service that brought in thousands upon thousands of visitors from all around the world.

Thanks in no small part to social media, word spread quickly about this phenomenon taking place in small town Kentucky. Families, college students, pastors and worship leaders traveled to Asbury to witness it themselves. By administrators best guesses, nearly 50,000 people visited Asbury throughout the outpouring.

“We’re all still trying to wrap our heads around it and figure out how this happened,” said Zach Meerkreebs, the guest speaker who preached during the chapel service on February 8.

Meerkreebs is still shocked by what he witnessed during those two weeks. He wasn’t prepared at all for what was going to happen. He had just returned from a 14-day mission trip that left him exhausted when he got on stage that Wednesday morning. Throughout his sermon on Romans 12, he admitted later he felt a bit off and frazzled. He made it through the sermon and immediately texted his wife.

“‘It was a total bomb. Be home soon,’” he wrote to his wife.

“And then I didn’t get home until 5 in the morning.”

Radical Humility

Meerkreebs is under no illusion that his sermon sparked the outpouring. He’s too humble to even consider that as a possibility. In fact, “radical humility” was something everyone on Asbury’s campus was experiencing those weeks.

“I think radical humility is what’s attracting the generation here on campus,” Meerkreebs said. “Students want an authentic faith, and that’s it. They’re not looking for anything else.”

Students and faculty alike intentionally chose to practice humility throughout the outpouring. In between classes, students passed out food and water to visitors waiting in line to enter the chapel. Professors and administrators stayed late to clean up after the campus, assisting janitorial crew who were feeling overwhelmed. Everyone was committed to keeping a humble mindset about what was happening on campus.

“We were just trying to stay low,” Meerkreebs explained. “We don’t even want to call it a revival, because we don’t want to make it this ‘thing,’ this ‘idol’ of sorts. We are just trying to be part of this movement, whatever that looks like.”

Those two weeks were a whirlwind of emotions for everyone on campus. Lexie Presta, a senior at Asbury, shared that the outpouring was overwhelming for her, for better or for worse.

Presta had attended the chapel service on February 8, but left soon after to head to class. She was about to enter the classroom when she felt like she needed to walk by the chapel again.

“I do really believe that I did feel the Holy Spirit tug on my heart and tell me to go back into the chapel,” Presta said. “I went in and I looked around and I saw the 19 students that were there. They were praying, kneeling and worshiping wholeheartedly. At first I was just taking it in, and then I was there until two in the morning.

For nearly two weeks, thousands of visitors stood in line to enter Hughes Chapel on Asbury University’s campus.

“I just remember more and more of us coming back, because I’d left for lunch, and I came back and then I didn’t leave again. None of us wanted to. I’m never gonna forget that — how amazing it was to be one of the first people to witness that Holy Spirit outpouring,” she continued.

Within 24 hours, the entire 1,600-person campus was crammed into Hughes Auditorium (the actual capacity is 1,489 people). Students crammed together in the pews, worshiping alongside each other, praying over one another, confessing anything and everything to friends and peers.

“There was a lot of confessing happening in those first few days, just when it was just our students,” said Abby Laub, Asbury’s director of strategic communications. “I mean, pornography, suicide attempts, anxiety, depression, promiscuity, drugs — just confession, left and right, You could almost just see the chains falling off these kids, and then their classmates would just come around them… It was so powerful, so powerful.”

Soon, word spread throughout town that something was happening on campus. Residents from around town started visiting, then word got to Lexington, just 30 minutes away. On the first Saturday, Laub estimated there were roughly 1,500 visitors were on campus. The following Saturday, there were close to 15,000.

“Everything moved quickly in those first few days, and there was no doubt in any of our minds that God was moving,” Laub said. “You could just feel it. It was like a tangible presence. I’ve never experienced it before in my life.”

The service continued for two weeks, with students leading their peers in worship and prayer. It was a simple service, often just one or two guitars, maybe some drums, and a few voices sharing testimonies and messages.

Laub said the students intentionally kept the service soft and simple.

“There was no flash, no lights or screens. We’ve lived in this highly produced mega-church world for so long now that we just assume that’s what kids want, but they don’t. These students just want authenticity. They want prayer and love. They’re on screens all day, they don’t need something in their face that is flashy. And I just think that’s what’s so beautiful and unique about this; it’s all about authenticity.”

Winding Things Down

As visitors from around the world started trickling in, campus administrators worked quickly to find a solution and keep things moving safe and sound. Lines were established into the chapel (and additional chapels and additional lines were set up in the coming days) with students manning stations to keep things flowing smoothly. In the courtyard at the front of campus, food trucks from Lexington drove in to provide meals to visitors.

Laub said there had been a few prominent worship leaders and pastors who offered to lend a hand and take over for a bit so that students could have a break, but Asbury turned them away.

“Maybe there will be a time and place where that will come and that would be really cool, but this wasn’t it,” she said.

Asbury University students led worship and prayer for nearly two weeks straight on campus.

The whole campus agreed that what started with students should stay with students. Instead of having older generations come in and lead, students stepped up to serve and practice radical humility.

Students were passing out pizza, praying with peers, completing coursework all while having major spiritual transformations. Not to mention, all services were student-led. Worship students rotated sets throughout the day, and any testimonies or speaking engagements during those two weeks were all done by students. 

Despite the quick adjustments, however, the campus was simply overwhelmed. Asbury University’s 65 acres were not built to be overrun by thousands of visitors in a short period of time. People were waiting for hours to enter the chapel, meaning there were loiterers all over campus. University officials were working with local law enforcement to ensure everyone’s safety, and logistically the town was overwhelmed with thousands of visitors. 

It became a stress point for students living on campus.

“Spiritually and physically, I was exhausted after just a few days,” Presta admitted. 

In between her regular class schedule and her own visits to the outpouring services, Presta and her fellow students were working overtime to be good stewards to all the visitors on campus. They wanted to be a part of all of it, especially since they were the ones to start it. But it didn’t take long for burnout to creep in. 

“We recognize what God is doing is so amazing, and we’re literally in awe, but it has been really, really hard, too,” Presta said. “We do feel like our home has been invaded because there are people everywhere, and that’s just an honest reality.”

Presta shared that while she was excited to witness firsthand what God was doing through her campus, it was a lot to process in a short amount of time. And she wasn’t the only one feeling that way. Numerous student leaders expressed to faculty and staff that they’d experienced an exhaustion like never before. 

Eventually, it became so much that students were running on fumes, trying to serve with a radical humility while trying to process the major changes they were going through. 

Students and visitors spent time worshipping, praying and speaking over one another.

Canaan Yan, a sophomore at Asbury, shared that many students on campus were feeling especially convicted while trying to balance their personal exhaustion with the excitement they were witnessing.

“Many of us were feeling a little overwhelmed,” Yan said. “We have to juggle academics as well as the revival going on, and other possible things that college students are usually juggling with already. I think it’s going to take a long time for us to process or debrief what has happened here.

“But I do very much see the value in doing this,” he continued. “This event has been so impactful to a point where our inconvenience can sometimes be neglected or just not as important as what is happening here. I keep reminding myself: if there’s one person who’s been saved through this event, then all our hard work will be worth it. And from what we already know, it’s been much more than that.”

Next Steps

Just as the outpouring was gaining momentum and reaching national headlines, it stopped.

Asbury University officials announced February 23 would be the final day of the outpouring. Any further services would happen off campus and would not be associated with the university.

The announcement shocked everyone. Why would anyone try to stop a move of God? Who did Asbury think they were?

It felt like Asbury didn’t know the blessing that had been dropped into their laps. But the truth, Asbury knew exactly what they were doing.

As the students were struggling to balance their workload with their new responsibilities, school administrators recognized their students were in a difficult place. No one wanted to cut the outpouring short, but it couldn’t last forever on their campus.

Regardless of their reasons, critics immediately came out online to call out Asbury for trying to “stop the Holy Spirit.”

“People were asking like, ‘Why would you wanna stop this?’” Presta said. “But we’re not. We want to expand it, but it just isn’t sustainable for our university to keep hosting. We don’t want to hoard it, because the Holy Spirit’s not limited to a huge auditorium. The Holy Spirit’s everywhere we go, and you can have a revival right in your living room.

“This all started because we just wanted Jesus,” she continued. “This is not about us, and it’s not about Asbury. We don’t want people to remember us, and we don’t want people to remember Asbury. We just want people to remember Jesus. We want you here, but also we want you to go back and share exactly what you’ve experienced.”

In the weeks since the outpouring closed down at Asbury, dozens of schools across the country have reported similar outbreaks of revival on their campuses. It’s too soon to tell what the lasting impact of the Asbury Outpouring will be, but it’s clear that something that started in a small town certainly didn’t stay there.

“I don’t believe God ever meant for Asbury to hold this,” she said. “I don’t believe it would be a true revival if He meant for it to just stay here in our little town. The Bible says to go to the whole world and share the gospel and make disciples. It didn’t say to stay put and keep it in your town.

“I like to picture it like a candle,” she continued. “The Holy Spirit starts our flame on a candle, and then the next church or the next school that comes to visit, they’ve tipped their candle and they’re taking their flame… They’re tipping their candle and they’re just passing the flame.”

© 2023 RELEVANT Media Group, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

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