BY SHAWN BRACE
The Advent movement was born among its granite hills and narrow valleys, but today the region holds the distinction of being one of the least religious areas of the United States. One hundred seventy years after the message of the second coming of Jesus swept through hundreds of town churches and urban sanctuaries, many of those congregations are small or dying.
Adventism itself has not been immune from the larger trend. The largest Seventh-day Adventist church in the region would be a midsized congregation almost anywhere else in the United States.
But the three states that comprise the church’s Northern New England Conference (NNEC)—Maine, New Hampshire, and Vermont—are experiencing a remarkable awakening in recent months. The NNEC prayer ministries, under the leadership of Kelly Veilleux, has launched a series of “Righteousness by Faith” rallies throughout the conference with the hopes of lifting up the message of “Christ our righteousness” and encouraging revival. Five months along, the response has been overwhelming.
Responding to a Need
Hundreds have attended and been blessed during the course of the two weekend rallies that have been held so far. Starting in Barre, Vermont, January 14 and15; and Portland, Maine, April 8 and 9; the rallies will continue through 2011 in strategic locations throughout the conference, including Concord, New Hampshire, and Bangor, Maine.
“There seems to be a real hunger for Jesus Christ among us,” says Rick Kuntz, who has served as conference evangelist for the past eight years and is one of the rally speakers. “It’s been exciting to see the response.”
One such excited responder was Joel Ongado Oyieke, who was one of the nearly 400 who attended the Portland rally while visiting from Kenya. “The presentations here today are something that I have never heard preached this way,” Oyieke offered. “I wish this could be done for our youth in Kenya,” he added, explaining that the youth in Kenya are becoming “disgruntled” over presentations of Adventism consisting mostly of “what to do and what not to do.”
Concerns of a similar kind prompted Veilleux, who identifies herself as a fifth-generation Seventh-day Adventist, to feel a burden to initiate these rallies. For many years, she says, knowing “how to act like an Adventist came easily,” but she came to realize she was only “playing church” and did not know Jesus as her Savior. Over the course of many years, as she began grasping the message of righteousness by faith, she felt an increasing desire to share it with others as a means of facilitating revival.
“As I have been studying this subject,” she explains, “God has given me a great passion to help others see the beauty of this message.”
With additional motivation provided by General Conference president Ted Wilson’s calls for revival and reformation, she approached the NNEC administrators and asked if she could pursue the planning of these rallies throughout the three states. When they eagerly gave their support, plans quickly took shape.
Veilleux soon recruited pastors who shared the same passion and were willing to team up with her. Thus far, six pastors—Brian Bilbrey, Shawn Brace, Greg Carter, Cliff Gleason, Rick Kuntz, and Arnet Mathers—have delivered messages over the two weekends. This collaboration, offers Kuntz, is one of the strengths of the rallies, saying that it is “exciting to see the message going through a team or body rather than being focused on an individual.”
Each weekend focuses on messages that strike a balance between the assurance of God’s love and forgiveness and the promise of victorious living. There is also extended time for prayer and, perhaps most heartwarming of all, a time of testimony at the end, often accompanied by many tears.
One individual who shed many tears while attending the Portland rally was Kimi Smith. “I just couldn’t figure out how to be good,” said Smith, who grew up in an Adventist home but drifted away from the church for many years because she didn’t sense the gospel message present. “I’ve tried very, very hard to be good, and I just can’t seem to do it. I get really frustrated with myself,” she shared. Now, however, in light of what she learned throughout the weekend, she says she is finally discovering both relief and joy.
Meanwhile, Herb Noyes, who also attended the Portland rally, couldn’t contain his excitement. “I’ve been waiting 50 years for this weekend!” he joyfully exclaimed.
Mike Ortel, president of the conference, also attended the rally and shared Noyes’s enthusiasm. “I sensed a bonding, a unity, and a mini revival throughout the congregation,” Ortel said. “God’s love was experienced and shared. Many heavy spiritual burdens and guilt were left at the Savior’s feet.”
Such testimonies have been continuously echoed as attendees have come to sense the depths of God’s love and the power of His grace. In an attempt to keep the revival fires burning brightly, these testimonies have been repeated on the weekly Thursday evening prayer line. “One woman said that when she finally understood righteousness by faith,” says Veilleux, “her depression was gone. Another woman said that she can now see the bigger picture of God’s amazing grace and His power to overcome sin.”
Testimonies like these motivate Veilleux and the rally presenters to press forward. They are already making plans to continue into 2012, perhaps adding other pastors and lay members in order to cover more territory. “We are on the borders of Canaan once again; let’s not turn back this time!” Veilleux says.
“I hope this will swell into a loud cry,” adds Kuntz, “and that Jesus will be seen in all His loveliness—not just in our words, but that Jesus can be abiding in us constantly, so that He can be lifted up in reality before the people.”
—for more information, or to listen to audio from the rallies, visit www.nnecprayer ministries.com. To join the Thursday evening righteousness by faith prayer line that convenes at 7:00 p.m. (Eastern), call 712-451-6100 and enter pin 3687072.
Shawn Brace pastors the Bangor and Dexter churches in Maine. He and his wife, Camille, have a beautiful son, Camden, and they just welcomed their daughter, Acadia, into the world on February 9. This article was published
March 26, 2011.