The Great Columbus Revival of 1940

By Ben Stratton

Published: April 1, 2019

Columbus is a small town on the banks of the Mississippi River in far west Kentucky. Yet one of the greatest revivals in Kentucky took place in this Hickman County community.

Columbus Baptist Church was established in 1842, but by 1940 the congregation had reached a low point. Membership had dwindled to mostly women and children with very few men attending. The church was desperately needing help.

In spring 1940, pastor G.L. Stephens contacted Percy Ray and asked him to come to Columbus and preach a revival meeting. Ray was the pastor of the Myrtle Baptist Church in Myrtle, Miss., and an evangelist with the Southern Baptist Convention Home Missions Board, now the North American Mission Board.

There was a vacant lot near the church where Ray intended to set up a large tent. However, a wagon load of empty liquor bottles had to be picked up before the tent could be raised.

The meeting began at the end of April. Ray passionately preached on the judgment of God and salvation in Christ.

Although the tent was filled with more than 700 people, not a move was made the first two nights. Ray sent out dozens of telegrams and phone calls asking friends to pray for revival in Columbus. He and Stephens even went to the city cemetery to pray, asking God to send a storm to this sinful town if her people didn't get right with Him.

The third night revival broke. Several drunkards and gamblers in the town were gloriously saved. Some of their friends were angry and threatened Ray. But the next night a storm blew through Columbus damaging houses and destroying the local liquor store. The owner of the store had been one of the men who threatened Ray. He immediately sent for the preacher and told him he wanted to be saved, too!

The results of this great revival were published in the Hickman County Gazette on May 16, 1940, entitled "Thousands witness baptizing from bluff over river." The article reads, "the direct result (of the revival) was the closing of the stores in town during the Sunday School and church hours, the establishment of a men's Bible class of 40 or 50 men over twenty-five years of age and lastly, the baptizing of 42 converts who were received in the church.