In 1898, a petition with over 15,000 signatures was sent to invite American evangelist D. L. Moody to come to Australia. But D. L. Moody was promoted to glory in 1899. Rueben A Torrey was sent in his place.
When R A Torrey arrived in 1902, 40,000 people were eagerly awaiting the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. The meetings were held in the Melbourne Town Hall and several theatres. At the same time, there were 50 mission centres with 50 local evangelists preaching in halls and 30 large tents. The meetings were packed. Eventually the numbers grew so big they had to move from the Town Hall to the Exhibition Hall. Weekly attendance across the city reached 250,000 . At that time, Melbourne had just 1.2 million people.
Nearly 9000 people became Christians. Whole families were brought to Christ. Many lives were completely changed. The police for sometime after in some areas had very little work to do. “The Big Revival has begun, glory be to God,” became how Christians greeted one another.
How did the revival begin?
Rewind to 1889, minister John McNeil of Scottish descent started a prayer meeting with four other ministers in Studley Park, for two hours each Saturday afternoon. The Band, as they were called, expanded to include ministers of other denominations. They began to pray for what they called “the big revival”. From then on the phrase “the big revival” was often on their lips and the longing for it deep in their hearts. They determined to pray for it no matter how long it took, sometimes spending whole nights in prayer.
By Oct the same year, John invited every Victorian minister to a day of prayer. 700 came. Then a convention was held in Geelong the following year – the forerunner of the current Belgrave Heights conventions.
John died before he saw the great revival. At the age of 41, he collapsed out of exhaustion. But God was faithful to complete what He started. John’s death fueled continued prayer for revival. And in 1898 the Australasian Evangelization Society sent the invitation to D. L. Moody.
This invite was prayed about in the Moody Bible Institute. The president of the Institute, R A Torrey was deeply moved by the call to Australia. In 1902 he arrived in Melbourne, heralding probably the greatest evangelistic campaign in Australia’s history prior to the 1959 Billy Graham Crusades.