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Saturday, April 17
Youngstown, Ohio

A deeper passion for God
I cross the border into Ohio and meet Pastor Dave Thomas, 48, and his wife, Kathie, of Victory Assembly of God. The Thomases were saved during the Jesus Movement and came to pastor in Youngstown 21 years ago. There were 46 in attendance on their first Sunday. Today they average more than 1,500.

"Jesus says, 'I will build My church and the gates of hell will not prevail against it,'" Dave says as we pass through dilapidated neighborhoods. "And we felt if we could cooperate with the Lord that He would build the church. We decided to keep it simple — love God and love people. We believed if people could see that Jesus was in the house that they would come. People have come. It's certainly not our location that draws them. It's God. We learned a long time ago not to touch God's glory."

"Were there discouraging times in those early days, times you wanted to leave?" I ask.

"Yes. The building was a mess. There was a hay field in front with a hand-painted sign. I had all but decided to go into real estate. But the Lord spoke to me to stay when a friend quoted a verse from Isaiah: 'No weapon that is formed against thee shall prosper; and every tongue that shall rise against thee in judgment thou shalt condemn. This is the heritage of the servants of the Lord, and their righteousness is of me, saith the Lord'" (Isaiah 54:17).

We arrive at the church, located across the street from a strip bar. In the past three years, the Thomases have seen the Spirit do a fresh work. It began one Sunday, Kathie says, as she was praying at the altar. Suddenly she felt like she was standing in an ocean with waves hitting her. "I heard this great rushing water coming," she says, "and I heard the Lord say to me, 'The river is coming.' I'm ultraconservative, reserved. I hadn't heard anything about the river. Nevertheless, with excitement I testified to the congregation that the river was coming."

Dave continues: "About seven months later it broke loose. I had been fasting for five days and the Lord told me I knew nothing about revival. So I humbled myself before God and the congregation and said, 'God, You do whatever You want, however You want, with whomever You want.' The next night people ran to the altar to repent, families were reunited, backsliders were weeping. People began to pray for others all over the sanctuary.

"Since then God has given all of us a deeper passion for Him, a new love for people, and a new love for God."

Standing at the altar listening to Dave and Kathie, I sense the powerful presence of the Holy Spirit, and we join hands in prayer. Though physically tired from two days of traveling, I feel a rekindled desperation for revival.

 

Saturday, April 17
Ontario, California

Washing for Jesus
On a warm Saturday morning in Ontario, California, two dozen people have turned the parking lot of Jesucristo es La Verdad Assembly of God into a car wash. The church, a cream-colored stucco building flanked by palm trees, sits on a busy thoroughfare, and soon people are pulling in for hot dogs, sodas and a wash.

"Let's get the tracts," says one of the workers, and they begin sharing the Lord with drivers as others scrub hubcaps and hose off windows. Their work is thorough — they have done this before.

"We share the gospel with [the drivers]," Pastor Jaime Saravia tells me. "If they don't want to hear it, we just wash the car."

Saravia, 35, quiet and watchful, is the El Salvadoran man who founded this congregation. He works as a circulation manager at the Los Angeles Times, but this church is the focus of his life. The congregation moved here in November 1998 and has begun to grow significantly. Saravia tells me many youth are receiving the baptism in the Holy Spirit.

"Joel, when we started praying, the church started growing," says Saravia, who began studying English in earnest two years ago so not to lose touch with the younger generation. "Before, we could bring clowns or show Christian films and nothing happened. Now people come because they feel the Holy Spirit on this church. That's the whole point."

A women's prayer group is meeting today as they have for two years. Other prayer groups meet throughout the week.

A man with a tattoo on his stomach gets out of a blue low-rider Cadillac. "You guys washing cars this morning, or what?" he asks. The lady with him is smoking a cigarette. They grab sodas from the barrel full of ice and watch the kids soap up the car. Another man pulls up in a red semi truck cab. Out come the ladders. Kids swarm the vehicle and Jaime starts a conversation with the driver, telling him about Jesus.

Car washes like this have helped the church draw people from the community who normally close the door on their faces.

"Do you see those kids walking by?" Saravia says, pointing to a group of pre-teen boys walking down the street. "We are going to reach them before the gangs do."

The driver of the blue Cadillac wishes the people well and drives away. The truck driver honks in appreciation and pulls out of the parking lot. I check my watch: 12:30 p.m. Though the car wash is in full swing, I have to head to Las Vegas for the evening. Before leaving, Saravia and I step into his office to get directions. But as we close our eyes for a moment of prayer, God begins to move unexpectedly. We stand in silence and awe, not daring to interrupt as waves of His presence seem to crash onto our hearts. Many minutes go by; tears course down our cheeks. Then Saravia begins to speak prophetically, English and Spanish intersecting one another.

"Great revival is coming," he says. "The Lord wants it for all His churches." His voice is pinched, his head held low. "He's coming soon, Joel," he says, pronouncing my name "Ho-el" as in Spanish. "He's coming soon."

Climbing into my rental car I am amazed at what just happened. I pull out of the Los Angeles area with great anticipation that the Holy Spirit is directing my itinerary.

Saturday, April 17
Las Vegas, Nevada

Revival ignites in 'Sin City'
Driving across the high desert toward Nevada, I am treated to stark white hills and odd-looking cactus plants shimmering in near-100 temperatures. The historic luster of Route 66 is gone. This famous freeway is now populated mostly by neon-sign motels.

I arrive in Las Vegas at dusk to have dinner with Paul Goulet, pastor of the International Church of Las Vegas (Assemblies of God), a church that was powerfully impacted by revival in 1995. Our waitress, overhearing our conversation, says she and her husband are new to the area and are looking for a church. Goulet, 41, hands her a card and invites them to Sunday morning service. "This is not a coincidence," he says.

At the church a prayer meeting is in progress, and walking in we immediately feel a Holy Spirit charge in the air. Revival has not slowed down here, and the people are hungry for the presence of God. Paul's wife, Denise, leads the meeting. "We welcome You, Holy Spirit," she says.

Paul and I make our way to the front and a few minutes later, as the congregation sings praises, the presence of God seems to saturate the sanctuary. People come forward spontaneously and lie on their faces, voices raw with emotion as they pray for unsaved friends and relatives. Music plays, and I fall to my knees as Paul lies on the platform, crying and praying. The experience is like being submerged in deep waters, yet with a soul-searing intensity.

"The river is here, folks. Press in; be militant," Paul exhorts. "We need to do battle right now. There are hindrances to revival in Las Vegas that need to fall."

As the prayer meeting draws to a close, people walk the aisles to pray. The church has seen people dramatically converted from sinful lifestyles, and has grown from several hundred to 2,500 in attendance. Like other churches in Las Vegas, the International Church is experiencing God's blessing.

 

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