On 6 August 1806 an event happened in a Massachusetts (USA) field that would change history. In the lee of a large haystack, five Williams’ College students prayed that the people of Asia would hear and respond to the gospel of Jesus Christ. This prayer gathering came to be known as The Haystack Prayer Meeting. Church and parachurch organizations look back to that gathering as the beginning of their mission emphasis.
With the approach of the two hundredth anniversary of the Haystack Prayer Meeting, individuals and organizations are taking a fresh look at what God wrought through five people and those who came after them. In addition, a movement is developing to use the original prayer meeting as a catalyst for many small groups around the world to pray for the fulfillment of the Great Commission in our lifetime.
The five students—Francis LeBarron Robbins, Samuel Mills, Byran Green, James Richards and Harvey Loomis—gathered in a field to pray, compelled by their studies of Asia and the East India Company. Mills shared his vision that the gospel was to be carried to the people of Asia. As they prepared to pray, a thunderstorm developed and they took refuge in the lee of what must have been a large haystack. In the days, weeks, months and years to come, word spread of this gathering.
Witness how God can use you and many others
around the world to work mightily in this generation!
The students followed through on their prayer commitment in various ways. Loomis was focused on home missions, working as a missionary in Maine (USA). Robbins did missionary work in New Hampshire (USA) and then became a pastor in Connecticut (USA). Green was a preacher for a brief time before entering government service. Nine years after the Haystack Prayer Meeting Richards went to India, where he served as a missionary until he died in 1822. Mills became a great mission leader—both by example and administration. He served as a missionary in the Ohio and Mississippi river valleys, in New Orleans and the southwestern part of the United States. He played a key role in establishing both the American Bible Society and the United Bible Society. He went on short-term mission trips, including one to Africa. He died during the return from that mission trip.
God would also answer the prayers of these faithful students by bringing about the establishment of the first mission board in the early Republic of the United States—the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions. Formed in 1810, the ABCFM sent its first missionaries to modern-day Sri Lanka and India in 1812. One of those first missionaries began missions in Burma. His name was Adoniram Judson.
While the American board was primarily congregational in its organization and members, it did include Presbyterians and Dutch Reformers as well. Once overseas, the board servants preached the gospel, translated the Bible and ministered to people in various places through education, medicine and social concern. Churches were formed and some indigenous believers became evangelists and pastors. Over time other churches and denominations sent missionaries of their own.
In 1906 a large commemoration of the Haystack Prayer Meeting was held at Memorial Park at Williams College. Since then, several organizations have traced their mission lineage to the Haystack Prayer Meeting. Denominations that do so include the United Church of Christ, the National Association of Congregational Christian Churches and the Conservative Congregational Christian Conference. SVM-2 (Student Volunteer Movement Two) is working with Christian colleges around the United States to encourage prayer in the area of fulfilling the Great Commission.
The best known parachurch organization to look back to the Haystack Prayer Meeting is Inter Varsity Christian Fellowship (IVCF). IVCF is sponsor of the haystack06.org website. The goal of this website, which provides a blog and other resources, is twofold: to commemorate the 1806 website and to motivate people to pray for the fulfillment of the Great Commission in our lifetime.
In Matthew 24:14 Jesus says, “And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.” The Haystack06 website provides the opportunity to sign up to participate in a small prayer group to pray for the fulfillment of Matthew 24:14. Some individuals may sign up to be small group coordinators. You are encouraged to let your Christian networks—church, fellowships and parachurch organizations—know of this opportunity.
A Haystack gathering will occur in September in Madison, Wisconsin (USA). A haystack will also be the logo for Urbana 2006 as well. The Haystack Prayer Meeting and www.haystack06.org will be integral to Urbana 2006, where approximately twenty thousand people will consider God’s will for their lives in the area of missions.
Please check out the http://www.haystack06.org/ website and see how you can commemorate one historic event. Witness how God can use you and many others around the world to work mightily in this generation!
Mission Park online—http://wso.williams.edu/dchu/MissionPark/
Donald Philip Corr—1993 Fuller (unpublished) doctorate dissertation—“ ‘The Field is the World’: Proclaiming, Translating and Serving by the American Board of Commissions for Foreign Missions, 1810-40.”