Monday, February 1, 2016

A Pre-WWII Great Awakening in Eastern Europe

While researching for my first novel set in Eastern Europe in 1939, I often wondered about the emotional and spiritual state of the general population in these countries. Did they expect such widespread devastation? Were they prepared for the suffering ahead? How did they feel about their chances of survival if a war broke out? Did they think about their spiritual welfare?
Eastern Europe was heavily impacted by WWII. Millions of civilians and soldiers lost their lives when Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union initially invaded and then reconquered these lands. Many were massacred, and hundreds of thousands were deported to either Germany or Siberia, where the deportees often died of starvation.
I’m so excited! I recently learned about a great spiritual awakening which took place across denominational lines in Eastern Europe in the 1930’s and continued into the war period. God, in his love and mercy, sent witnesses and opened the windows of heaven prior to the great calamities which followed.


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In 1934 a young evangelist from Scotland traveled to Riga, Latvia, a small northern country bordered by the Baltic Sea on the west and the Soviet Union to the east. Even though he didn’t personally know anyone in the country, James Stewart clearly felt God had called him to this land. He arrived near destitute, penniless, his clothing inadequate for the harsh winter weather. He found refuge in the home of Pastor Robert Fetler, and they conducted a revival campaign in Fetler’s church. Twelve hundred people attended the meetings nightly, and many times they lasted until three o’clock in the morning.

Fetler’s brother, William, pastored the Salvation Temple Revival Church which was holding a revival convention the week Stewart arrived in Latvia. The congregation had prayed for revival for many years and hundreds of believers participated in a 24-hour-a-day prayer circle for that purpose. Stewart preached in these services where over two thousand people gathered every day for weeks and months. The meetings continued sometimes all day and all night, and those attending attested to the “awful sense of the majesty and holiness of God.” The Russian, German, and Polish churches which met in the building were “touched by the power of God.”

Physically exhausted from ministering daily in Latvia, Stewart went north to the little country of Estonia to rest. It wasn’t long before he made contact with a pastor whose people had also been praying for revival. They began gospel meetings and soon had to move the services to the largest Protestant building in the capital city of Talinn. They ran out of space in that church and asked church members to stay home to make room for the visitors. Then it became necessary to rent the largest public hall in the city, seating thousands. Stewart arrived at the new location one night and found a crowd waiting outside. When he asked why they hadn’t been allowed inside, the people answered that the hall was crowded and there wasn’t any more room.

Stewart lost his voice and went to another town to rest. Once he could speak again, he conducted meetings entitled “Lectures on the Bible” and gave each attendee a New Testament. As he both taught and preached from the Scriptures, the listeners gave their hearts to Christ, including his interpreter, a university professor.

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In 1935, James Stewart left for Warsaw and met with the Russian Missionary Society for instructions on how to assist pastors ministering in the small towns and villages among the Russians of eastern Poland. He visited and encouraged these pastors, arranged for the systematic distribution of Scriptures in the villages, and conducted evangelistic meetings in rented public halls and theaters. Stewart was especially burdened for the large number of Jews he encountered and held special meetings for them. Both orthodox and liberal Jews attended, packing the buildings so tightly that the gas lamps went out for lack of sufficient oxygen.

The films of James Stewart, the actor, played in the same cities and towns where James Stewart, the missionary, led people to Christ. Some traveled to town to watch the movies, went to the wrong hall by mistake, listened to the messages, and gave their hearts to Christ. Ten-day campaigns were held in the larger towns of Rowne, Baronowicze, Vilna, Pruzana, and Lutsk, and the cinemas filled to overflowing.


(Map of Czechoslovakia and northern Austria, 1928-1938. Created by PANONIAN [public domain] via Wikimedia Commons)
Stewart returned to Warsaw, and an associate asked him where he planned to go next. “Czechoslovakia,” he said without a pause. His friend asked if Stewart knew anyone there. He didn’t. But that same day, Mr. Zdened Koukol, a chocolate manufacturer from a town near Prague, Czechoslovakia, walked into the associate’s office. He met Stewart and asked him when he planned to come to his country and hold revival meetings. Under Koukol’s sponsorship, Stewart traveled to Czechoslovakia and held meetings starting in October of 1936. But after two weeks of speaking to a cold and unresponsive congregation in Kutna Hora, James packed his bags and planned to move on. Koukol urged him to stay longer. James prayed and became convicted for his impatience.

Koukol encouraged the believers in the towns of Kutna Hora and Kolin to pray and believe that revival was possible, starting in their own hearts. Koukol rented a large public hall in Kolin, and young people flocked to the meetings. No one responded the first night. But very late that same night, a Christian woman who held an important position in the Kolin church appeared at Koukol’s home. She feared that sin in her life had prevented God’s blessing upon the meeting. Stewart counseled with her, and she left determined to make things right. A very different atmosphere was evident at the meetings in the days following, and many heard the gospel for the first time and accepted Christ as their personal Savior.
Today’s post is just the beginning of the story. Come back on the 1st of next month to continue the story!

Source: James Stewart Missionary, A Biography by Ruth Stewart (Revival Literature, 1977)

Cindy Stewart, a high school teacher, church pianist, and inspirational historical fiction author, was the historical category winner for ACFW’s 2014 First Impressions writing contest, a 2014 Bronze Medalist in My Book Therapy’s Frasier contest, and tied for second place in the 2015 South Carolina ACFW First Five Pages contest. Cindy is passionate about revealing God’s handiwork in history. She resides in North Georgia with her husband and college sweetheart of thirty-four years and has a married daughter, son-in-law, and three adorable grandchildren. She’s currently polishing her first novel, Abounding Hope, set in Eastern Europe at the start of WWII. 


  1. What a fascinating story, Cindy! I've written and spoken about American revivals, but this is new information for me. Thank you.

  2. Thank you for your kind words, Rebecca. I was so excited when I found this book and also located another book on the same topic published in 1942. Next month I'll share even more exciting info about the revival which spread to several more countries.