More than two centuries ago, five Williams College students gathered in a maple grove to discuss a dangerous pamphlet written by the legendary William Carey. It was a controversial study of unreached peoples grounded in his conviction that the responsibility of world missions belonged to all believers. It was their spiritual responsibility no matter the cost.
Within moments, heavy rain, strong winds and lightning engulfed the grove and prevented the five students from seeking safe shelter beyond a haystack. Even inside the haystack, while the world was seemingly coming down around them, they argued. Samuel Mills passionately insisted that the gospel must be taken to the unreached in Asia.
The five students began praying for their hearts and the hearts of other Christians. Mills exhorted his friends with the words that later became their heartcry: "We can do this, if we will!" Modern scholars point to the Haystack Prayer Meeting as the formative event which launched the American missionary movement. And its results are still being felt — even at Mililani Baptist — today.
Mills himself enrolled at Yale to cast the missionary vision to students there while finishing his theological studies. He met Henry Obookiah, a native Hawaiian student, who encouraged him and others to share the gospel with the lost in the Pacific. A year after Obookiah's premature death, the first American missionaries were sent to the Kingdom of Hawaii.
Mills also helped persuade churches across New England to fund Adoniram Judson, Luther Rice and others. Judson became the first Protestant missionary sent from the Americas to Burma. Rice returned to the United States where he spent the rest of his life raising funds and advocating for cooperative giving in Baptist missions. His efforts laid the groundwork for the Southern Baptist Convention.
As for Samuel Mills, he would die less than twelve years after praying under a haystack. But not before he helped found the first North American foreign mission board, launch the missionaries who continue inspiring us, served in the ghettos of New York City, established two Bible societies, ministered to Native Americans on the frontier and fought against slavery.
Since that hot August day in 1806, countless have gone to the Nations because of the prayerful actions of these faithful few. Their prayers were not bogged down by what-ifs but by an earnest desire for God to use them. Decades later, a man named Luther Wishard visited the same spot at Williams College and prayed. Over fifty thousand student volunteers would be mobilized for world missions as a result.
His prayer was simple and yet dangerous: "Lord, do it again. Where water once flowed, let it flow again...I am willing to go anywhere at any time to do anything for Jesus." Let these words be yours only if you are prepared for when God answers. Be prepared not only to possibly give up everything we hold dear but for the Lord to do something utterly amazing.
Neither Samuel Mills and the Haystack Five nor Luther Wishard foresaw the end-result of their prayers. Neither could they have imagined the incredible impact of their prayers among generations of believers. And to think it all began with ordinary Christians humbly asking God to fulfill a responsibility entrusted to us by Jesus millennia ago. "We can do this, if we will!"