In 1806, there were five college students who had begun to pray twice a week for a mighty move of God to occur. The second Great Awakening had affected at least one of these five. College student Samuel Mills’s father had served as a pastor of a church that had been touched powerfully by this awakening.
These five students of Williams College in Williamstown, Massachusetts, had come together on a hot Saturday afternoon in August for their prayer meeting. They were going to discuss William Carey’s missionary manifesto, An Enquiry Into the Obligations of Christians To Use Means for the Conversion of the Heathens.
On the way to their prayer meeting, a major rainstorm began that was filled with wind, lightning, and thunder. They ran to seek shelter, and noticed a large haystack, which would provide them an opportunity to seek shelter underneath from the wind, rain, and lightning. It was in that setting after discussing Carey’s missionary manifesto they went before God in prayer.
Mills proposed they would go on mission to India. While three of the five agreed with Mills to focus on reaching Asia, it was Harvey Loomis who believed deeply they must focus on reaching America first.
From what is now known as the Haystack Prayer Meeting was the formulation of a group two years later in 1808 who became known as “The Brethren.” These five young men and others focused on praying and missions. In 1810, after they had graduated, they requested that a group send them to India as missionaries. The General Association of Massachusetts formed the first official missions organization in the United States in June of 1810. It was called The American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions.
By the way, Adoniram Judson and his wife, as well as Luther Rice, were some of the first missionaries commissioned and sent across the ocean by this new mission board. It was Judson who became known as the father of Baptist foreign missions.
After praying, these five young men sang a hymn together. It was then that Mills said loudly over the rain and the wind, “We can do this, if we will!” That moment changed those men forever. Many historians would tell you that all mission organizations in the US trace their history back to the Haystack Prayer Meeting in some way. Yes, these men turned the world upside down. And it all began in a prayer meeting under a haystack.
At the place where this meeting occurred, a monument stands today, commemorating this historic God moment. At the top of that monument is the phrase, THE FIELD IS THE WORLD. Underneath those words is the following statement: The Birthplace of American Foreign Missions. 1806. It all happened from a prayer meeting.
This reminds me of the words written in Acts 4:31: When they had prayed, the place where they were assembled was shaken, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak God’s message with boldness. Prayer, the power of God, evangelism, and missions all go together. We need to get ourselves back under the haystack!
Over the rain, wind, lightning, and claps of thunder when Samuel Mills declared to the other four young men, “We can do this, if we will!” he saw something before anyone else saw it. He saw that the field truly is the world.
Before the awakenings and great movements of God in the past, many times God’s people have prayed as long as a decade or more before God moved mightily among the people. Therefore, I call upon Southern Baptists to return to the haystack!
We need to stop being content doing ministry without moments under the haystack. We must return to the haystack, calling out to God extraordinarily, experiencing Him supernaturally, and exploding with a robust vision and commitment to advance the Gospel exponentially everywhere.
According to missiologists, we live in a nation where three out of four people do not have a personal relationship with Christ. We live in a world with 7.275 billion people. Of these 7.275 billion people, just over 3 billion are unreached. An additional 1.25 billion people are engaged only nominally. If we even come close to understanding the spiritual condition of our world and the need for the Gospel, we are facing a daunting challenge.
This is why we need to return to the haystack and come out from underneath it with a renewed belief and commitment to the power of God. Without His power, the task is overwhelming. Without His power, our insufficiency is exposed to the world.
It is time we emerge from underneath the haystack again and truly embrace the vision: THE FIELD IS THE WORLD. It is time we emerge from the haystack again with convictional, God-inspired leadership that declares as Samuel Mills did in 1806: “We can do this, if we will!”
With God’s power, we can reach America’s villages, towns, and cities. With God’s power, we can reach the world, penetrating the darkness of lostness globally. The field is the world. . . . We can do this, if we will!
Ronnie Floyd is senior pastor of Cross Church in Springdale, Arkansas, and serves as president of the SBC. This essay is excerpted from his presidential report to the SBC Executive Committee on September 21, 2015.