The 1955 Revival by Edwin Lenzmann
Plagued by guilt, overwhelmed by their own sin, and fearing the judgment to come, many Mennonites living in Russia and then in North America in the second half of the nineteenth century and into the twentieth century, experienced a life-changing adult conversion and were thereupon baptized and received into the Mennonite Brethren Church. In the United States, services designed specifically to call people to repentance and faith were already common among evangelicals, and 'mass evangelism', as it became known, was adopted wholeheartedly by the Mennonite Brethren newcomers. Perhaps best remembered among the many Mennonite Brethren evangelists are Peter H. Wedel (later missionary to Africa), Franz J. Wiens ( a missionary to China), and David M. Hofer. (Hofer was with the Krimmer Mennonite Brethren denomination, which later joined the Mennonite Brethren.) All three also traveled to Russia and introduced this form of evangelism to the Mennonites of that country. (Peter P. Neufeldt was converted under the preaching of Wiens in Yarrow in 1929 or 1930. Windows to a Village, 242, incorrectly identifies Wiens as a missionary to Japan.)
The adult 'crisis conversions', as they became known, were hard to replicate with the children and young people who, so to speak, had been born Mennonite Brethren. Many were converted (or 'saved' as it was often stated) at an early age, only to become 'unsaved' again as they grew up in the months and years that followed. (The Mennonite Brethren Church believed and taught that, in principle, if one was not living a Christian life — however defined — one was not [or might not be] a Christian.) One fellow, then of junior high age, later said that had he died before getting saved again in 1958, 'I would have gone straight down', i.e., to hell. Serious business! Another young fellow, after yet another conversion, told the pastor something like this: 'I've been saved five times now. You saved me the second and fourth times.' Not in the slightest nonplused, the pastor asked, 'And how many times has the Lord Jesus saved you?' A.J. Neufeld, a student at MBBC during this period, has recalled that on one occasion some of the students asked instructor A.H. Unruh about the practice of multiple conversions. Probably wary of going there, Unruh, with characteristic wit, responded, 'Better to be saved many times than not at all.'
Many Mennonite Brethren Churches had a week or so of nightly evangelistic services each year. In Yarrow, the practice was to hold these services sometime in January, following the week of prayer that began the new year. Each year, children and young people probably made up the bulk of those who were being saved, or saved again. But 1955 was different. The number of conversions was much higher that year, and among them were many adults.
The evangelist was P.R. (Peter Reginald) Toews, then pastor in Hepburn, SK. He had the gift of evangelism — a natural ability to speak to people in a direct and somber, yet winsome manner, together with a willingness to use that gift in the service of God's kingdom. (Likely he should have been the M.B. Conference-wide evangelist at some point.) Years later he recalled that as the week continued he sensed that his preaching was no longer necessary. He need only have given the invitation, and the aisles would have been full, to the piano accompaniment of Pass Me Not, Oh Gentle Saviour. Aside from the giftedness of the evangelist, one can only acknowledge the sovereignty of God who chose to bring this 'revival' (as it was called) to Yarrow.
The Yarrow church was overwhelmed by this overwhelming response. Since many of the new converts were in mixed marriages (i.e., one partner was not of Mennonite heritage and did not speak German) the new Christians at first attended the Alliance church in Chilliwack and then in 1959 they brought the Alliance to Yarrow. Though the M.B. Church was somewhat wary of this development, the new church maintained a cordial relationship with the M.B. church, where many of its members had their roots and where they had experienced a life-changing, adult conversion.
(References to the 1955 revival are found in Windows to a Village, 137ff and 229ff. In the latter selection, the spiritual renewal referred to occurred in 1955, not 1959. 1959 was the year the Alliance Church began in Yarrow.)
The speakers for the Yarrow January evangelistic meetings after 1955 were John G. Baerg (brother of G.G. Baerg, 1956), Henry H. Epp (1957), Wm. Falk (1958), and J.H. Quiring (1959). The Brunk revival was held in a Greendale field in 1958 (followed by further series of meetings in Abbotsford and then Vancouver). Rudy Boschman, together with the Messengers Quartet, was Canadian M.B. Conference evangelist in the early - mid 1970's.
Articles from the Progress dealing with the Brunk revival are found on this website under Yarrow Settlers, 1956 - 1966.
Bender, Harold S. and Sam Steiner. "Brunk Brothers Revival Campaign." Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. 2009. Web. 03 February 2011. http://www.gameo.org/encyclopedia/contents/B78720.html.