By John T. Maempa
After driving blocks on leaf-strewn residential streets, passing
run-down brick buildings of defunct businesses, bumping over an
old bridge and railroad tracks, and climbing a steep hill, I begin
to doubt the accuracy of directions Ive been given to Victory
Assembly of God on the east edge of Youngstown, Ohio.
an intersection listed in a memo wedged into the dashboard comes
into view. A quick right turn and a short distance more, and there
looms a beautiful building before a thick stand of trees. Not the
location I expect for a congregation of 1,500 that has been experiencing
revival and growth since January 1997.
Steel mills on the citys east side that once pumped dollars
into the local economy have shut down, leaving the immediate vicinity
economically depressed. Yet people come to Victory, from near and
far averaging 25-30 visiting families every Sunday. Obviously,
the Holy Spirit isnt limited by the real estate maxim: "Location,
Though I am 45 minutes early for Victorys Friday night service,
Emma Byler, secretary and assistant to Pastor Dave Thomas, directs
me to the old sanctuary. A new, larger 900-seat one is adjacent
and is used on Sundays. Two services are needed to accommodate the
Worship is under way as we enter. Musicians are playing; people
are at the altar interceding.
Emma informs me that many of those present are not members of Victory
Assembly. Instead they represent as many as 30-35 churches
Methodist, Presbyterian, Catholic, Church of God, independent and
more. Forged into one body by the Holy Spirit, worship is united
and free. Labels are gone.
After nearly an hour and a half of worship and a message from Pastor
Thomas, we pray. Like spokes in a wheel, people line up in the aisles
from the altar to the rear of the fan-shaped sanctuary. As Pastor
Dave and Kathie Thomas and prayer leaders pray, many fall under
the power of the Spirit.
Near midnight we exit the church.
The Friday night service grew out of a burden on Pastor Thomas
heart. "When God spoke to me about starting a Friday night
service, I looked at my schedule and thought there was no way,"
Thomas says. "There were wedding rehearsals, football games
and other activities. So I started a Saturday night prayer meeting
God blessed the Saturday prayer meetings. But after the revival
broke out in January, Thomas repented before God and the congregation.
He says, "I told the people that God never instructed me to
start a Saturday night prayer meeting, but a Friday night service.
So, since February 1997, we have been having those services."
From the beginning, the lower level of the sanctuary has always
been comfortably filled.
Thomas tells the worshipers that its not about them leaving
their churches and joining Victory. "I tell them their tithe
does not belong with us, but with their local churches," he
The Friday night services have been uniquely blessed by Gods
presence, a presence that is spilling over into the Sunday services.
Though Victory Assembly had experienced waves of revival prior
to January 1997, a major turnaround was signaled to Kathie Thomas
about a month before the revival broke.
"[Before revival broke], people were spending a lot of time
at the altar repenting," says Kathie. "One Wednesday night
I was going to pray for a lady at the altar when God told me to
stay where I was and seek Him. When I did, the power of God came
Kathie, who describes herself as "ultra-conservative,"
felt waves of Gods power roll over her. "All the while
I was thinking, Kathie, get a grip! Youre in church."
At that point, Dave quietly dismissed the service.
"Afterward a couple sitting next to me said they had felt
a force knock them over sideways. The husband, who is a teacher
and also conservative, said he was lying on the floor unable to
get up under his own strength.
"We left that evening knowing God had done something special,"
"Every January we set aside the first week for fasting and
prayer," says Pastor Thomas. "On the Saturday night [before
revival broke] I was on my face before the Lord. He spoke to my
heart and said, Son, you dont know anything about revival.
I replied, OK, Lord, I dont know anything about revival.
Im not going to argue with You. You do whatever You want to
do, however You want to do it, and through whomever You want to
use. I will get out of the way. "
What happened on Sunday night, January 5, is something no one who
was present will ever forget. Pastor Thomas and Joe Thomas, minister
of music (no relation), tell what they saw.
"It seemed like a regular service," Joe says. "We
had just finished praise and worship and Pastor Thomas said, I
feel like someone has something they need to share tonight.
"A person shared, but nothing happened. Then a lady, whom
we didnt even know then, stood up and said, Pastor,
please pray for my mother. She is demon-possessed. She had
a picture of her mother who lives in Morocco, North Africa. It was
a sad picture. Her mother was very skinny. Flies were all over her.
She was eating only bread and water.
"When Pastor Thomas looked at the picture, it was like someone
punched him in the stomach. At the same moment everyone in the congregation
responded in the same way. Immediately a spirit of intercession
"Then Gods Spirit came upon our womens pastor,
Carol Hutchins," Pastor Thomas says. "Normally, Carol
is very shy, but she began to call people to the altar. She was
trembling like a leaf. Families ran, weeping and repenting. It was
Kathie says, "God spoke to me and said, I want you to
stand back in awe, even as a mother stands back in awe of her newborn
child. Then using an analogy only a mother can fully understand,
He said, The water is breaking. That seed I planted in your
spirit is giving birth tonight in your church. "
From that time on, nothing has been the same at Victory Assembly.
Kathie tells of visiting the childrens church. "I talked
a little bit about David and how he was anointed in his young age,"
she says. "Then I asked, Would any of you like to be
"As God began to move, children began to go down.
"Afterward, one mother came to me and said, I have four
children. Three of them love God, but my 10-year-old has been very
stubborn and cold toward God. All he wants to do is sit at home
and watch TV. When he came out of the room, I knew God had touched
him. He came running with tears in his eyes. He said, "Mom,
I felt Gods presence today! And when I was on the floor I
wanted to pray for myself, but God wouldnt let me. I prayed
for people who dont know Jesus all over the world. God told
me Im going to be a missionary." Then he asked, "Mom,
where is Ukraine?"
"When we got home, he said, "I dont want
to watch TV. I just want to listen to worship music." I knew
his life had been changed. "
Before they came to Victory, Dave and Mary Ann Weber would have
described themselves as "comfortable Christians."
"But after we came and saw what God was doing, it was scary,"
says Mary Ann. "I didnt understand it all, but, then,
who does? All I know is that we are two totally different people
"People would have thought of us as a couple they could go
to for prayer and a listening ear," says Dave. "But when
I look back on where we were then, by comparison its almost
as if we were backslidden. A fire is burning in us now. The things
of this world have really paled. Neither of us cares a thing about
TV. Wherever there can be a ministry, thats where we want
to be. And God has raised up in me a desire to pray. I dont
remember saying at any time, Im going to pray more.
God has raised this up."
Sherri Rossi, a professional photographer from a mainline denomination,
was reasonably content with her church, but was searching. Then
her mother died unexpectedly.
She says, "I got really angry. I would lose my temper and
throw things. As I got worse, people began to worry. I was losing
Through her business Sherri met a member of Victory Assembly who
also had recently lost a parent. They became friends; and as they
prayed, God took away her anger.
What is revival to Sherri? "I have no idea what it is supposed
to be," she says, "but to me its God found me, a
broken, beat-up, angry, hurting person, and He has changed me and
is healing me."
Bill and Mary Ellen DiPaola attended Victory three years ago to
"get lost." There had been some strife in a congregation
they were part of, so they thought they would find a big church,
sit in the back and not get to know anyone.
"Well, that didnt work," says Mary Ellen. "Pastor
Fred Baer, who heads Victorys pastoral care and visitation,
asked our name and introduced himself. Every time we came, he remembered
"Wed sit in a different place every service, hoping
no one would be able to track us down," Mary Ellen says. "But
the Lord put a special love for us in Pastor Thomas heart.
He would try to spot us in the congregation. One time he said, You
keep moving around, and I can never keep track of you. That
was the plan."
"One time Pastor Thomas came to us and said that God had given
him a word for us," says Bill, a retired fireman. "It
was based on Proverbs 3:5,6 Trust in the Lord with
all your heart and dont lean on your own understanding.
God was telling us to watch, listen and learn, and that everything
would be OK."
"We were really enjoying sitting back and being part of all
that was happening," Mary Ellen adds. "Then one service
the Lord gave a word through Kathie Thomas that some of us could
not keep on going with God until we got sin out of our lives. That
word shot like an arrow through my heart.
"I went home crying and broken. Thats when God started
taking out all the stuff the love of things, the things of
this world and spending time with TV. After about a week of spiritual
battle, I finally felt a release from all those things."
"We gave our TVs away," says Bill. "I even gave
up golf. I used to play every day. We live on a golf course where
I can watch people play, but I dont miss it. When God takes
something away, you dont miss it."
"Our joy now is to chase Him," Mary Ellen adds, smiling.
Both are now intercessors who pray during service times. They also
serve as altar workers.
Carl and Stephanie Petrus were struggling financially. They felt
led to tithe on their debt, and shortly afterward Carl was promoted
to manager of the masonry plant where he works. Since then, not
only have they worked their way out of debt, but the whole atmosphere
of the plant has turned from worldliness to employees openly praying
and talking about the Lord. Breaking all production records, the
164-employee plant is prospering.
Deepening in their relationship with God, Carl and Stephanie have
allowed Him to wash away the things that dont belong.
"We used to just watch TV," Stephanie says. "Now
its totally different. We hardly ever watch; instead we listen
to Christian radio or worship CDs. Its a constant state of
"Were learning to minister to the Lord," Carl adds.
"Before it was the gimme syndrome. When I had devotions
it was like saying to God, Arent You lucky to have me
here this morning. Now its about building relationship."
"People would sometimes tell me they are having problems with
their children," Stephanie says. "Before, I was timid
and afraid to step out there. Now I say, Can I pray with you
about that? Thats the difference in dealing with people.
Theres a boldness."
Returning from Youngstown, I realize again that revival is about
getting into God deep into Him about never being the
same and not wanting to be ever again. It is letting Gods
presence so thoroughly wash away all the stuff that encrusts and
insulates until all thats left is a raw-nerve sensitivity
to Him; where a whisper from Him elicits a response to move. A gentle
prod guides to this person or that one in need of Christs
love and compassion.
That kind of revival can change not only individuals; it can change
the world. It is changing the world around Victory Assembly of God,
in a location not at all obscure to the Holy Spirit whose wind blows
where it will.
John T. Maempa is special assistant to