Above, Abergavenny, Wales, as it was in the early 1900s around the time of the Welsh Revival
April 2020 – The week before Christmas, I served alongside others in my local church as we went to Abergavenny, Wales. The ministry we did wasn’t door-to-door evangelism or building homes for the homeless. Instead, we sang Christmas carols about our Lord’s birth.
Before the trip, I considered Christmas music an interruption from everyday tunes as it flooded radios, homes, and shopping centers from October to January. But while in Wales, the Lord opened my eyes to how powerful He is to use small things such as Christmas carols to magnify Himself and the birth of His Son.
Singing in the rain
Throughout the week, the team and I spent two to five hours a day in cold rain on the cobblestone streets, singing traditional carols. Many of us learned the meaning of a “water-resistant” raincoat, how to handle sniffles in the rain, and what it felt like to be hoarse from countless hours of singing. But the town was fascinated with the idea of Americans giving up family time before Christmas to come and sing for them.
As we sang, local Cornerstone Church members handed out flyers inviting the community to a carol service at the end of the week. But it wasn’t until Babs Owen, a Cornerstone member, said, “It’s raining blessings because we are following the Lord’s will,” that my eyes opened to see how the Lord was using our group of 18 choir members to fulfill His will.
Over 300 people filled the venue for the carol service. My favorite memory is a man becoming so emotional due to the songs of Christ’s birth that he left the room. I know it wasn’t because we were spectacular; instead, that man received a blessing and realized the power of the Savior’s birth, possibly changing his life, as it did mine.
During our trip, we had the opportunity to stay in the homes of church members. My cousin Mary Kate and I, were blessed to see into the life of our host family, Peter and Anthea Price. In their 70s and 80s, this couple taught us how important it is to follow Christ no matter what season of life we are in. Even in their later years, they are still changing and being used by the Lord to change others.
Opening the book
“You know, when you retire, you have time for yourself,” Peter said with a grin.
“You never retire in God’s work!” responded Anthea.
The Prices practice the principle that growing old shouldn’t diminish one’s walk with the Lord. They follow the Lord’s call and use their retirement as an opportunity to reach children with the gospel.
For the past seven years, the Prices and other retired members of Cornerstone have been active in making the community their mission field. Other than working in their church children’s ministry, these faithful followers go into surrounding schools and present the gospel through skits based on Bible stories.
The retirees, ages 68-83, participate in Open the Book ministry based on The Lion Storyteller Bible, a Bible storybook written by Bob Hartman. Through this ministry, they prepare, share, and present the gospel in skits in public schools.
“A good 50% of what we do is preparation,” Peter said. “We get such a thrill when we come together and plan while we pray diligently. It’s very rewarding. We have a prayer time that keeps us focused on what we should be doing.”
After they heard of the program, the Prices believed it would be a great ministry. Anthea said, “There was a lady in our church who had heard of Open the Book. We thought it would be a good idea to start it as a ministry in our church. But unfortunately, some of us were still working, so it could only come together when we all retired from our work as a daytime activity.”
Changing young lives
Seven years later, after retiring from their day jobs, the seven church members refused to retire from the Lord’s work. Each Monday, they go into assemblies and perform for students ages 4-11. Anthea said the students are eager to see what the gang has in store.
The group is equipped with costumes, props, and scripts that help them tell the story in a way that is acceptable in the public school system. Due to Welsh laws, no overt evangelism is allowed in schools, but Anthea said 90% of assemblies are based on Christian values.
“So, we go to two schools every Monday, which covers just over 500 children,” she explained.
Open the Book discusses Bible truths through stories, and the Prices present the skits while the children see Jesus. Because of the laws, the group does not read the Bible aloud, but instead acts out a Bible story, reads a conclusion, and prays.
“I pray and then they all say amen,” Anthea said. “Usually, it’s a moral type of prayer, it can’t be evangelistic. But sometimes, when the conclusion of the story points toward evangelism, it gives you a license to say something.”
The group portrays everything from Canaan spies and angels to well-known biblical characters. Peter, also the prop guy, likes the set to look superb, so in his 80s, he crafts each of the props.
Peter also voices God’s part in skits. He was once shocked to overhear a child talking to his mother in a neighborhood retail store.
“I just saw God in the Tesco’s store!” the child excitedly proclaimed.
No, it isn’t the 1904 Welsh revival, but the gospel proclaimed by these retirees is changing young lives in Wales today. Peter and Anthea believe that no matter their age, they are to spend their time serving Jesus and others around them. Because, after all, a Christian is never old enough to retire from God’s work.
What a difference a century makes
“Christian influence … is now on the periphery of Welsh culture,” wrote Kevin Adams and Emyr Jones in 2004 in A Pictorial History of Revival: The Outbreak of the 1904 Welsh Awakening.
Indeed, in 1904, Wales experienced extraordinary revival. Welsh ministers returned from visiting the States with a passion to see their countrymen come to faith. Welshmen were known as harsh coal miners, and young children often left school to go into the mines. After the revival, even the hardened miners gave evidence of lives transformed by Christ.
Evan Roberts, one prominent minister of the period, started his career in the coal mines, taking the gospel to his coworkers. One day after work, he told his mother, “I am willing to work for my Savior until my dying day.”
After becoming a missionary to India, he returned to Wales’s and became a well-known leader in Wales’s Great Awakening.
Revival meetings were so successful that even politicians canceled their meetings so they could join the revival. Altogether, it was the catalyst for over 85,000 changed lives – new converts coming to faith.
Adams and Jones’s book is available at online booksellers.