Wales – land of song, of revivals, and of brave and courageous people. In many ways it could be compared to Israel – similar in size, preserving an ancient language against the odds, and with a great heritage of godly fervour.
This is a nation that has seen God move in wondrous ways, most notably in 1904/5 when 100,000 people were born again in a matter of just four months. But, also like Israel, they subsequently turned their backs on the Saviour and followed the ways of the world as the once-bulging chapels emptied and fell into ruin.
Yesterday, at the Bible College of Wales in Swansea, a memorial service was held to mark the 70th anniversary of the death of college founder Rees Howells, among the principality’s most outstanding sons. He was in America seeking his fortune when the 1904 revival broke out, but soon gave his life to Christ on hearing a Jewish man preach the gospel and returned to his homeland to help with the awakening.
He moved mountains with his faith and spent much of his life on his knees. It is widely believed that the college intercessions he led played a significant part in saving Britain from Nazi invasion and in ensuring the United Nations voted to recognise the new state of Israel.
Indeed, concern for Israel among Welsh Christians has been particularly noteworthy over the years. This weekend, in North Wales, Pastor Mike Fryer is taking on the challenge of preaching non-stop for 24 hours in aid of Holocaust survivors in Israel. He will be raising funds for Abundant Hope International, who are dedicated to providing both physical and material comfort to elderly folk still suffering from the trauma of their early years.
Mike leads the Father’s House Sabbath Congregation in Shotton, Deeside – not far from the scene of an appalling 8th century massacre of Christians.
Like their Jewish forbears of the early church, Christians in the British Isles continued to celebrate the biblical feasts until bishops from Rome – under orders from the emperors of the time – demanded they switch the Sabbath to Sunday and Passover to Easter, both in honour of pagan gods. But not everyone was happy with this new arrangement.
Things came to a head in 722 when Rome tried to enforce this new practice on believers in Wales, but were met with stiff resistance as the Welsh Christians refused to comply. This led to the slaughter of 1,200 believers in one day at the village of Bangor on the banks of the River Dee.
Mike, whose congregation celebrates all the Jewish feasts including Passover and Shabbat (the Sabbath), says the enforced changes were rooted in anti-Semitism and designed to distance Christians from their Hebraic roots, adding: “Every credible historian and theologian accepts there was a strong anti-Semitic motive behind these mass murders and it is agreed that these motives were also the seed of both the Inquisitions and the Holocaust.”
He said he had been inspired by the example of King Hezekiah who, by restoring true worship and the keeping of Passover, brought great blessing on Israel.
As I write, my wife Linda is making elaborate preparations for a lesson on the Passover feast at one of our local primary schools. Quite apart from its use in fulfilling curriculum requirements for understanding Judaism, it serves as a perfect opportunity for explaining how Jesus fulfilled the feast by becoming the Passover Lamb sacrificed for us all.
As Linda was teaching the eager children, I was engaging with two lady hairdressers…also about Passover! I was having my hair cut of course and somehow we got onto the subject of what Linda was doing. I have never felt such freedom in proclaiming the gospel; it was as if they couldn’t get enough of it, and they asked many questions – about Zionism, Israel’s amazing technology and much more. (It was a quiet period; hence the second hairdresser joining in the discussion).
I think we have been missing something in the church; the gospel is better introduced by an explanation of what happened at Passover. I could just see how it was all clicking into place for those two lovely ladies. They obviously wanted to go deeper, so I came back later with signed copies of my latest book, A Nation Reborn.
For another powerful portrayal of Welsh courage, just watch the 1964 film Zulu – telling the true story of how, in 1879, a small contingent of South Wales Borderers (some of them lying sick in a makeshift hospital) successfully held off 4,000 fierce warriors armed with spears as well as guns taken from an earlier massacre of British soldiers.
Eleven VCs were subsequently awarded, some posthumously, for the extreme valour displayed at what became known as the Battle of Rorke’s Drift. I was privileged to watch the movie being made near my home back in 1963, and more recently – at Brecon Cathedral – met the granddaughter of one of the Victoria Cross recipients. Tragically, the terrifying trauma of the battle eventually proved too much for him, and he took his own life.
But I conclude with another story of amazing courage, with a happier ending – how 15-year-old Mary Jones walked 26 miles barefoot over the rugged mountains of North Wales, with pocket money saved up over six years, in order to purchase a Bible in her own (Welsh) language.
Her extraordinary determination proved the spark for the founding of the Bible Society, which has since distributed the Word of God all over the world, translated into many different languages.
As a result, the gospel has come full circle since Jesus commanded his disciples to proclaim it to all nations. For the Society now has an office in Jerusalem, where it all started – thanks to a determined, courageous teenage girl from Wales!
There’s no limit to what can be achieved through anyone whose heart is fully committed to serving the Saviour!
Charles Gardner is author of Israel the Chosen, available from Amazon; Peace in Jerusalem, available from olivepresspublisher.com; and A Nation Reborn, available from Christian Publications International