In the year 1874, a little band of humble Christians was formed in Chicago, having for its one object the salvation of souls. Four of the number had been local preachers in England, others were lay-workers. But alike, their hearts burned within them to spread abroad the knowledge of redeeming love.
Among them were Charles Cooke, now gone to join the innumerable company around the throne; W.G. Hanmer, now a chairman of the Free Methodist Church in Wisconsin; Mrs. Sarah A. Cooke, still engaged in evangelistic work; Richard S. Martin, at present pastor of Grace Methodist Episcopal Church, Chicago; Thomas Fluck, now preaching on the Pacific coast; Samuel Gittins, now in California; David Andrews, from that time to this out in the great harvest-field; and a Brother and Sister Jones, now working in Chicago. James Bird, now in glory, Henry Huck, and others, were engaged in business, but were with the band more or less throughout the great awakening of which we will speak.
They labored for a time in Chicago; but in answer to earnest prayer for God’s blessing and guidance, they were led out into North-Western Indiana.
Their first Macedonian cry from outside the city was from Hessville, a small, neglected place, where the teacher of the day-school, a Mrs. Price, had been trying, amidst much opposition, to commence a Sabbath school. In such seemingly unfavorable surroundings the work broke out in great power. Other workers came to their aid, and soon the community was in a flame of revival. Great and glorious were the results. From Hessville the band were called to Gibson; and here, as before, the work spread in every direction.
They went from Gibson to Ross station, where we first saw them. At the latter place, the meetings were held in a school-house; but crowds flocked together from the country round. We were then unsaved, and the manifestations of God’s presence, and the working of His Spirit on hearts, were beyond anything we had previously witnessed, and were a great mystery to us. Such scenes cannot be described. It is enough to say, that sinners wept as if their hearts would break with sorrow for sin, and cried aloud for mercy, until their cries of penitence were changed to songs of praise for deliverance.
Of the experience of the workers, Sister Cooke writes us: “We journeyed from place to place, as surely guided as the children of Israel when led by the pillar of fire. How often as our every want was supplied would the Savior’s query come to our minds: ‘When I sent you forth without purse or scrip, lacked ye anything?’ and they said: "Nothing." Our God did supply all our needs. When a call came, we only asked: "Are we needed in that place? Is this God’s call?" These questions satisfactorily answered, we went forward, dwelling with unspeakable delight upon the promise: ‘Lo! I am with you alway.’
Merrillville was their fourth point. Here a tent was donated by a Brother Morgan, who had been wonderfully blessed in the meetings. It was afterwards successively pitched at Wood’s Mill, Blachley’s Corners, Hebron, and other places, and at each place thousands thronged to the services.
Under that tent, while it was located at Wood’s Mill, the prayers of our sainted mother, who died when we were but thirteen years old, were answered, and we were gloriously and marvelously converted to God; and since that day God has in His mercy given us thousands of souls.
In spite of opposition, the influence of the work was so great that it was felt in all that part of the state. In each place visited, the revival became the chief topic of conversation among all classes of society. In the very busiest seasons of the year, including the harvest-time, farmers might be seen all along the roads for miles, carrying loads of people to the meetings, and singing and praising God as they went. Truly those were days long to be remembered! In many cases people attended regularly, who lived eight or ten miles distant; and this interest continued, not only night after night, but week after week, and month after month. Sinners of every grade were saved, by scores and hundreds. Many of the converts were called to the ministry, and several labored with the band after their conversion; and many, to this day, are successful laborers in gospel fields.
But we have not space to follow the progress of the work definitely. Hobart, Wheeler, Crown Point, Porter Cross Roads, Valparaiso, North Judson, Knox, and other places, were, in their turn, visited by that little, humble, fire-anointed band. After the weather became too cold for the use of the tent, large halls were used; and in some cases, large tabernacles were built especially for their use. Everywhere the mighty power of God was revealed, and many were rescued from eternal death. No account was kept; but multitudes were numbered among the redeemed, as the direct result of that glorious work, and thousands more are already saved, as the indirect result of their labors.
But what was the secret of such abundant success? Most assuredly the work was not wrought by human might or wisdom, and no dependence was put in the arm of flesh.
But it was wrought by the power of the Spirit, and that power was revealed in answer to earnest, constant, humble, prevailing prayer. Well has one of the workers said: "The work was cradled in prayer.”
In every hour of need, prayer was their one recourse. Truly they lived at the foot of the cross, and so constantly manifested the mind of Christ. To our personal knowledge, it was their custom, before each service, to repair together to some secluded spot, and there together pour out their souls to God in pleading for His blessing, and a fresh outpouring of His Spirit. And when they entered the meeting, they were so anointed by the Holy Ghost that revival fires were kindled by their very presence. Most of their preaching was in the form of burning exhortation. There were no prepared sermons. Just before the service, the question was asked “Who has the message?” and the one who felt it laid upon his heart, read the Word, and commented as he was led by the Spirit. They were also eminently given to secret prayer, and everywhere they went were called “The Praying Band.”
The second secret of their success was perfect unity in heart. Though members of different denominations, they never allowed mere differences of opinion to result in prejudice. By prayer and humility they were always able to see eye to eye concerning the work; and all who saw them were compelled to exclaim “Behold, how these love one another!”
To this day, our heart burns within us as we think of what God there wrought through those faithful, humble souls and we exclaim with Sister Cooke: “I would go all around the world to see another work so glorious.”
Touching Incidents and Remarkable Answers to Prayer - 1893