Many Christians are well-aware of the names of high-profile believers like Corrie ten Boom or D. L. Moody or John Wesley. What is not well-known, at least on this side of Heaven, are the names of the numerous men and women who faithfully poured the Gospel into these Christian leaders long before they were famous. J. T. Kendall was one such man. He would lead numerous revivals in the Carolinas in the late 1800’s. Many were powerful, but almost all would be nearly forgotten. But one revival, the Cotton Gin Revival, would not only see many people on the frontiers set afire for Jesus Christ, but it would birth key leaders and forerunners for world-shaking outpourings of the Spirit.

Kendall was born in North Carolina in 1859, likely near the northeast coast of the Carolinas and the border with Virginia. While still a youngster, he put his trust in Jesus as his Savior and sensed the call of God to one day serve as a minister. The Methodist church in Winton, North Carolina, ordained him as a preacher at just 21 years of age. They assigned him to work various regional circuits as a preacher, until in 1885 they tasked him with serving the Clinton circuit, an area about 50 miles south of Raleigh. 

It was the time of post-war Reconstruction in the South. Notions of white supremacy and racial segregation were gaining traction. Formal Christianity was on the decline. But there was percolating still a slow-burning common hunger for God, for some kind of spiritual renewal to bring the people together. Understanding this, Kendall’s first goal was to launch revival meetings in the town of Persimmons College (now called Keener). 

Keener was a natural pitstop for many travelers. Located halfway between the big cities of Raleigh and Wilmington, the town’s abundant wells of water and commercial saw mill and cotton gin beckoned visitors to stop on by.In August of 1885, Kendall kicked off the revival in the nearby cotton gin. God lit up the countryside with Kendall’s passionate and explosive preaching and with the Spirit’s clear demonstration of life-transforming power. It led to the conversion to faith of hundreds of townspeople, perhaps even thousands over the next 3 years. Several churches were birthed in the aftermath. And God would bring a reformation of the character of the entire Keener community, no matter white or black, through this Cotton Gin revival. 

But, one of the most striking and long-term impacts of this revival would be the spiritual birth of two of the South’s mightiest revivalists: A. B. Crumpler and G. B. Cashwell. Crumpler was still a young man from the nearby town of Clinton when he heard the Good News from Rev. Kendall in Keener. Kendall personally discipled Crumpler and even performed the marriage for Crumpler and his bride in 1886. And he would help Crumpler to join up as a preacher with the Methodists. 

Cashwell had grown up in Keener and had been exposed to Christianity through his grandmother’s labors to bring Missionary Baptist congregations to their town. Although he had always been a bit of a wild prankster in his youth, he too was saved through the Cotton Gin Revival and likely became friends with Rev. Kendall and A. B. Crumpler. After serving with the Methodist church in Keener as a trustee for a short time, he returned to preach at his home Baptist church, bringing the Gospel to all races and all ages. Eventually the men three would cross paths and even work together for a time to ignite fresh fires of revival throughout eastern North Carolina. And God would use Crumpler and Cashwell in even bigger movements and revivals in the 1900’s to further God’s plans to set the world fully afire with the Holy Spirit. 

QUESTIONS TO DISCUSS:

  1. Even though very little is known about Rev. Kendall, what are your impressions about his personality, his dreams, and his ministry? How do you think he would feel knowing two of his spiritual sons went on to lead greater revivals and movements for God?
  2. Why do you think God chose to bring this pivotal Cotton Gin revival to the town of Keener? What aspects in your city or town could be used by God to magnify the next revival in your area?
  3. Who are you discipling these days, that you would call your spiritual sons (or daughters)? How are you investing into them so that they can go even further than you have for God’s Kingdom?

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