The Bario Revival was one of the most massive outpouring of the Holy Spirit upon a community in our nation’s history. But what happened in 1973 was only the beginning. Despite the ebb and flow of the waves, three more outpouring would come in 1975, 1979, and 1984, each with a different thrust. However, all of them would share certain commonalities.
Common Features of the Revival
The Bulans relate that the revival transformed the pattern of conducting Christian services. Instead of a dreary opening with an old hymn, the young people would pre-empt the service by arriving at the chapel first, singing zestful choruses while waiting for the rest of the congregation to arrive.
The pattern of prayers would transform as well. Instead of the usual pattern where someone would lead the prayer, everyone prayed loudly and simultaneously, and the prayers would extend to an hour or more. Instead of someone being appointed to lead off the prayers, there would be a person appointed to “end” the prayer session. When a voice rose above the others, the group would instinctively quieten down in expectation for the word that would be coming forth.
The people were enthusiastic about the meetings, turning up in droves, overcoming their shyness and voluntarily sharing their experiences, and often the meetings would extend into 2 or 3’o clock in the morning.
The Four Waves
Each outpouring of the Holy Spirit would have a different thrust, each of them reviving the Church at Bario.
The First Wave
The first wave occurred in 1973. Its prominent feature and emphasis was on repentance, reconciliation, and restoration. For many years, the Bulans recount, the Kelabits had been practicing a nominal form of Christianity, mistakenly believing that their salvation was assured because of their activities in churches, ‘But the Bible clearly teaches that God expects a total commitment to Himself. He requires a total separation from sin and the renewing of the mind. Salvation in Christ enjoins continual sanctification through repentance and forgiveness of sins.’
This first wave would be marked and remembered for the striking spontaneity of its arrival and for the radical change in the people’s fear of God and their holiness. One example would be the abstaining of any form of alcoholic beverages and cigarettes in a culture that formerly drank heavily. It was such that the provision shops would eventually have to get rid of those items because they were not moving off shelves. One visitor to the area related, “The atmosphere of the whole area was one of such holiness that I dared not do anything offensive in that place!”
The spontaneity would extend to worship as well. Whenever the people met, they would burst into spontaneous songs of worship. Prayer meetings were not didactic but flowed according to the leading of the Holy Spirit, and there was free flow of the Spirit.
Huge numbers of people gained the boldness to witness and preach, especially among the young despite their inexperience. God demonstrated Himself to be sovereign over their limitations, so that they could even admonish their elders with confidence and boldness whenever their elders did wrong, and many secret sins were exposed. Arising from these, there would also be mass reconciliation and healing and great hunger for the Word of God. All of these would set the atmosphere for fresh, new waves to come in the future despite the setback caused by imperfect Biblical knowledge among many.
The Second Wave
Despite the stagnancy among some of the people after the first wave, there would be a second wave of the Holy Spirit’s visitation, this time marked by the baptism of the Holy Spirit and a joyful Church. This second wave would be sparked off from a meeting conducted by Rev Yohanes Sakai. Many people came under the power of the Holy Spirit, breaking out in tongues until the whole hall was filled with the sound of a mighty wind.
In the days to come, much of the materialization of the Holy Spirit’s movement from the first wave would return again, even more intensely, and little children recounted that they saw visions. ‘It was like a coveted downpour after a long drought, it refreshed as many as came under its torrent,’ the Bulans write.
‘Unlike the First Wave where crying and wailing in remorse for sins was the distinct feature, this time at every meeting, people burst into songs of joy and praise’. The songs were of a completely different kind, this time conveying an unspeakable joy through deep passion for God, and filled with music from guitars and tambourines.
Lillian described a spiritual encounter in Pa’ Dalih. As the people of the village prayed in a spiritually heavy atmosphere, God broke the spirit of oppression upon the place. About an hour after the people were praying to God, darkness and heavy rain filled the sky and suddenly, hailstones fell from it. The hailstorm lasted for only 2-3 minutes, but as suddenly as the darkness had come, light overtook it, and the rain subsided. The people could sense that God had removed the spirit of oppression from that place.
The second wave would reach its peak in April 1976, at the annual Easter Convention in Bario Asal. During the convention, people would be so hungry for the word of God that meetings lasted for as long as six to seven hours at a time. Once again, the people would be revived and go boldly, preaching the word of God and reviving churches wherever they went.
The Third Wave
In time, economic changes would bring in the spirit of materialism. It was in such a time that those who were still faithful to God would come together to pray. As people started returning to God, a spirit of intercession was birthed and several prayer leaders were raised. The third wave would be defined by a praying Church.
God implanted a vision for a prayer mountain in the hearts of the people. During the days of the Bible, Jesus Himself had often gone into the mountains to pray. Initially, the people of Bario was skeptical. After all, the remote location of the area made it seemed nonsensical to find yet another ‘quiet place’. God showed them a specific mountain however, and people started to gather there at specific times on specific days, and the meetings would last overnight.
God did miraculous things among the intercessors during their journey up the mountain. They would feel a spirit of freshness fall upon them and many people would receive visions and prophetic words. The weather would improve as the people prayed and people reported supernatural lighting of paths as they walked through the jungle at night.
Very soon the enthusiastic responses gave rise to several other smaller hills as prayer locations. Ultimately, the Mount Murud Prayer Ministry would also be born.
The Fourth Wave
The Fourth Wave in 1984 would be defined by a Worshipping Church. During 1974-1976, various prophecies were released saying that great things would happen on the mountains surrounding Ba’Kelalan. In 1984, the call for prayer was intensified and there was a renewed fervor and zeal among the people to pray for the nations.
During the Fourth Wave, numerous miracles and signs were reported. Some like the sightings of fireballs in the night sky even made headlines in a national paper. The birth of the Mount Murud Prayer Ministry would grow, and a wooden shack would be erected on the slopes of the mountain as a prayer house.
Challenges and Impact
The Bulans explained in much detail in the closing chapters of the book about the challenges and impact of the revival. Because the revival was something completely new to the people of Bario, there was a zeal that was devoid of instruction and knowledge. The people were unprepared both experientially and theologically, and the young people’s zeal led to a situation where the elders were offended. They needed guidance and a strong foundation in the word of God.
Sometimes, they would also be problems such as factionalism and pride, and the misuse of spiritual gifts. Other problems surfaced such as a reactionary excessive caution over the “new practices”.
Despite these problems, however, the Bario Revival left a deep impact on the community, and it would be remembered for years. There was a prevailing missiological perspective and a consciousness of the importance of spreading the Gospel. It transformed the lives of the community and delivered them from animistic bondages, releasing them from the “soldiers’ culture” of drinking, smoking, and womanizing. Progress in social life would come through education and a blossoming of the Kelabits’ creative gifts.
The spiritual growth of the people birthed many prominent leaders, both in the community and spiritually. There was a deep, contagious, and widespread desire to pray and seek and worship God. It produced a self-governing and self-financing church structure and leadership in the SIB, and a heart for evangelism and church planting. Ultimately, the Bario Revival would also birth a remarkable church growth and empowerment unto servanthood in the Sidang Injil Borneo (SIB).
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– Jason Law
NOTE: All information gained through reading of Solomon Bulan and Lillian Bulan-Dorai’s book ‘The Bario Revival‘. Some pictures within the article courtesy of rurum.org.my with others kindly contributed by Leon Jala.