The Aftermath of Revival: Arcadia University

Everything began with an email, sent during her junior year of high school.

Leah McCaskey was considering Arcadia University, and she knew that she needed Christian community on campus. So she scoured the website, found a Christian group and then an email address for a guy named Greg Sovereign, who worked for something called the CCO. She fired off an email and received a long reply.

As she read about the numerous meetings and activities, Leah settled into a sense of peace about Arcadia. As a Christian student, she would not be alone. What she didn’t know was that God was about to take her on a journey that would reshape her understanding of Christian community—and remake her desires in the process.

During Leah’s first two years at college, a group of Christian students gathered in a room on campus every Thursday night for Arcadia Christian Fellowship (ACF). They prayed, sang, and studied the Scriptures. They supported one another as each sought to grow in faith. They left the room strengthened for whatever came next.

It was safe. It felt necessary. Arcadia University could be a hard place to follow Jesus. Inclusion and open-mindedness ruled, except when other students found out that you were “religious.” Then there was open teasing or subtle exclusion—Oh, you wouldn’t understand, other students would say. I wouldn’t want to offend someone like you.

So ACF became a haven, “a small tight-knit group that loved God and one another,” Leah says. But something was missing.

About this time, Greg was joined by another CCO staff person, Devon Bradford, and an InterVarsity staff worker named Ian Mulreany. As they met students who didn’t know Jesus, it became clear that the Christian students were missing out on a fundamental joy of the Gospel—the joy of inviting others into the Kingdom.

They began to pray. And they prayed for revival.

They asked God to raise up leaders excited for outreach and for opportunities to cast new vision. They asked church volunteers to join them in regular, specific prayers for Arcadia students.

One day, when Devon was prayerwalking on campus, she ran into a student alum who said, “I have no idea what’s going to happen, but I think that God is about to shake this place up.”

The next semester, the student leaders—including Leah—began openly reaching out to their classmates. As Devon, Greg, and Ian led them in a study of Luke 15, they examined Jesus' heart for the lost. Then, as a team, they thought about people in their circles.

There were those who had once attended ACF but didn’t anymore. There were those with no interest in a relationship with God. There were those who didn’t know anything about the Gospel.

And then they prayed.

Leah, then a junior, remembers one specific night at Greg’s house. “We sat around a campfire and prayed for people in our circles by name. We asked God to work in their lives. We asked God for boldness to invite them into ACF, Christian community, and a relationship with Jesus. And I think that Jesus probably shouted ‘Finally! I have been waiting to be invited in!’ From that point on, our ministry grew really quickly.”

Revival, like a breath of new life, came to Arcadia.

Weeks later, the Thursday night meeting grew to 40 students. Regular attendance among male students increased from two to eleven. Athletes invited their teammates, Greg re-launched a weekly outreach to men, and a few leaders began to pray specifically for international students.

“By the spring semester, there wasn’t a single Thursday night meeting without a new face in the crowd,” Greg says. “Even on the very last night, students were still bringing friends who had never come before.”

The new growth was exciting and encouraging. Each new person was an answer to prayer. But for the students who had been around from the beginning, there was something else—something they hadn’t expected.

Leah puts it this way: “ACF is still a holy place, but it no longer feels safe.”

With the influx of new students, the atmosphere and expectations of the group have changed. There are a lot of freshmen. There is more immaturity and silliness. Some members still struggle with sinful patterns. Relationships are complicated, and discipleship feels messy.

The aftermath of revival can be a lot of work.

So as she helps students adapt and lead, Devon has been meditating on the New Testament letters, and specifically the relationship between the Jewish believers and Gentile converts. What does it mean to be one in Christ, to bear with one another in love, and to grow in the fruit of the Spirit—love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control—as one Body of veteran believers and new converts, all in the same space?

Staff have stepped up to teach student leaders how to disciple others. One student, Abby Grace, stayed at Arcadia for a year after she graduated, specifically charged to work with freshman outreach and discipleship. And as they all choose to be uncomfortable for the sake of others, they are being formed in love.

“You come to expect that ACF isn’t just about getting your needs met,” Leah concludes. “It’s about looking toward other people’s needs. And that’s really hard, so it makes us really dependent on Jesus.”

This is, of course, where they’ve been the whole time—from the moment campus ministry staff, church members, and student leaders began to pray, they were wholly dependent on the movement of the Holy Spirit. And they still are.

Maybe this is why God only grants revival as the fruit of prayer—the same posture of dependence is necessary once revival comes.

See Paul's letters to the Galatians & Corinthians

This story first appeared in the spring 2020 issue of On Campus magazine.