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This Week in AG History -- June 19, 1948

How did revival come to the railroad town of Thayer, Missouri, in the early 1900s? It began with prayer and the Holy Spirit took over from there.
During the summer of 1909, a life-changing revival stirred the railroad community of Thayer, Missouri. Nearly 40 years later, Harry E. Bowley, one of the participants who went on to become pastor of the Thayer congregation, recounted the story in a two-part series in the June 12 and June 19, 1948, issues of the Pentecostal Evangel.

J.H. Duke, owner of the railroad hotel in Thayer, was converted in 1907 and became burdened for a revival of New Testament Christianity in his town. He shared this burden with “Mother Barnes,” the leader of a Holiness Faith Home in St. Louis. The members of the home prayed for a month until they felt that “the revival was born in their own hearts” and a party of five, including Barnes and Bowley, were chosen to go to Thayer.

Thayer was the division point on the railroad line between Springfield and Memphis, Tennessee, making it a layover point for travelers. Being near the Arkansas state line, it also served as a point of notorious refuge for those who were fleeing from Arkansas lawmen. These two factors led to a proliferation of illicit saloons and a transient atmosphere to the community.

Duke did not have much money, but he opened his hotel to the Barnes party for room and board. He procured a cloth tent and began to invite people to the meetings. For two weeks, there was little response other than mocking persecution of the “rag church.” But during one morning service, three sisters came to the altar. Each of them was delivered from tormenting evil spirits and were filled with the Holy Spirit, speaking in other tongues. That was the needed breakthrough and people “up and down the railroad, back in the hills and mountains, came in all kinds of trucks and wagons.” There was no need of advertising. When one person was saved or healed, he would go back and tell the news and someone else would come running for their own restoration of soul and body.

One of the hardest men in town was the cook at the hotel, Joe French. French was respected in town for the many battle scars on his body. Bowley was afraid to talk to him about his need for Christ for he “cut folk off like a snapping turtle.” During one prayer meeting at the tent, the news came that the old cook was dying. Bowley felt a deep concern that he had not talked to him about his soul. He ran to the hotel, but when he arrived, no sign of life was found in French. Bowley and another of the party, B.F. Lawrence, went to their room and began to pray as they felt such a heaviness for the gruff cook who had served them.

After a few hours spent in prayer, the news came: “Joe is alive!” Bowley and Lawrence rushed to his room where Joe told of being at the entrance to hell, but “a great Arm seemed to reach down, get hold of him, and lift him from that place of flames just as the door of hell was being opened.” As a result of this experience, French was saved, filled with the Spirit, and became a preacher of the gospel — giving his testimony to anyone who would listen.

Despite much opposition, including murder attempts on his own life, Bowley and the others formed a permanent church. A woman donated $100, which was used to buy a small tract of land that was nothing but rock. After the purchase of the land, there was 25¢ left to buy nails. When one of the men dug out the trench for the foundation, he said to Bowley, “Man, you can’t build a church on 25¢.” Bowley replied, “When these nails are gone, God will give us some more” and that is how the church at Thayer was built. They worked until they ran out of supplies and then prayed until God sent exactly what was needed for the work to continue.

Bowley writes, “During the revival, calls came in from communities all around Thayer, saying, ‘Come over and help us. We’re hungry for God.’” As a result, new churches sprung up in the Ozark mountains of Missouri and Arkansas. Many of these churches, including the mother church in Thayer, later came into the fledgling Assemblies of God fellowship.

Bowley served as pastor in Thayer and then as a missionary to Africa. He pastored other churches in the United States until his death in 1953, just five years after sharing his memories of the Thayer revival in the Pentecostal Evangel.

He concludes his words to the Evangel readers with this counsel, “We will never have the revivals and the supernatural working of God in our churches until we press into that place where we will let God have His way regardless of the cost. It is the day of God’s visitation. What are we going to do about it? Are we going to be careless and fail the Lord, or are we going to rise to the opportunity and press in until God can again pour out His Spirit and send miraculous signs and wonders to confirm His word?”

Read Harry Bowley’s accounts of the Thayer revival in the June 12 and June 19, 1948, issues of the Pentecostal Evangel.

Also featured in the June 19 issue:

• “Seeking Eternal Treasures in the Gold Coast,” by Floyd W. Thomas

• “The Disinfectant Psalm,” by Stanley H. Frodsham

And many more!

Click here to read the June 12 and June 19 issues now.

Pentecostal Evangel archived editions courtesy of the Flower Pentecostal Heritage Center.

Ruthie Edgerly Oberg

Ruthie Edgerly Oberg is an ordained Assemblies of God minister and fourth generation Pentecostal. She served in senior and associate pastoral roles for 25 years. Oberg speaks at national conferences and local churches.