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Pentecostals are closely involved in a sudden spiritual awakening across southern West Virginia that has produced hundreds of conversions, healings and baptisms in the Holy Spirit.
Billy Carrico of Bethel Temple Assembly in Nolan says the spiritual atmosphere in his region is so ripe doors are opening naturally.
"We walk into a restaurant and people are talking about God," says Carrico, whose church is located about five miles north of Williamson. The Williamson Field House has hosted a number of nightly meetings that have drawn upwards of 2,000 people in a county with only 27,000 residents.
"People who aren't necessarily going to church are talking about it," says Carrico, who has baptized several recent converts at Bethel Temple. "Every church is being affected."
Among the miracles he has observed in recent weeks is a person with poor vision whose eyesight improved after prayer and a woman who had been unable to bear children who is now pregnant. There is such excitement that Carrico says youth pastors have been gathering before revival meetings to plan ways to disciple the flock of converts.
Katie Endicott, the Prayer Club sponsor at Mingo Central High School, says the move originated with impromptu preaching by Logan High student Skyler Miller at his school in late March.
Then, on April 10, Pentecostal evangelist Matt Hartley preached at Regional Church of God (Cleveland, Tennessee) in Delbarton, prompting an invitation to speak to Mingo Central's Prayer Club.
Of the 400 students who attended, 150 responded to Hartley's invitation to receive Christ as Savior, Endicott says. She estimates more than 2,000 people have accepted Jesus as their Savior since late March.
And although Miller—who gave God the glory for his healing from leukemia—helped light the spark, the credit for this wave belongs to God, Endicott says. She says this awakening is larger than any one person, school, church or denomination and reflects decades of prayer and sowing seed.
"When Miller started preaching in the hallways it inspired students to rise up and be bold in their faith," Endicott says. "We had never seen that many souls come to the Lord in such a quick time," she says of the 150 who responded to Hartley's invitation.
"We knew there was something unique going on."
Social media has helped spread the word in rapid fashion, with students announcing preaching plans at their schools on Facebook, Twitter and other sites. Many are sharing praise reports and answers to prayer.
Youth pastor Jacob Robinette of Misfit Ministries says he has been in contact with personnel from six high schools in the region that want the gospel preached to students.
"During this movement of God, don't look at man," said Robinette on the Twitter site #JesusIsBetter. "Man didn't start this. (God's) breath blew over the region and awakened us." Among the many meetings that sprang up after Hartley's talk at Mingo Central was a rally at the school's football stadium in mid-April. The meeting ran for nearly four hours, concluding with a baptismal service in a portable tank.
A few days later, organizers moved meetings to the Williamson Field House to accommodate the crowds.
This move couldn't have come at a better time, says Carrico, who works at the Mingo County Day Report Center for probationers doing community service. Economic conditions are tough in the county, where unemployment is around 14 percent, nearly double West Virginia's rate and almost three times the national average.
"I see the effects economics has on drug use and crime," Carrico says. "But it's when I'm pressed and have turmoil in my life that I look and say, 'I need to focus on my prayer life, fasting and my relationship with God.' "
Not only are people who lack hope finding it through this revival, the youth pastor says attendees of Bethel Temple's youth group are excited to see the kind of activity that confirms their faith. "It lets them know that Jesus is Lord and He is who He says He is," Carrico says. "We're moving into a time when He's going to pour out His Spirit on all people. God's coming to show His power."