It was the summer of 1806. The United States of America had just celebrated 30 years as a brand-new nation. Patriotic spirits soared, and the Second Great Awakening was in full swing.
Circuit-riding preachers galloped from town to town, spreading the good news beneath the tents of camp meetings until the Gospel burned hot in the hearts of thousands of men and women. And it was these men and women who went on to fight in the war against slavery and start over 600 colleges across the nation. Missionaries took God’s Word to the Western Frontier and the Native American tribes, but none ventured across the borders of the United States. And for one college freshman, Samuel Mills, and his group of friends, that wasn’t enough.
One warm, summer night, five students from Williams College in Massachusetts gathered in a meadow to talk. Their topic of discussion? Missions. Not just to the Native Americans, as everyone else had done, but to the rest of the world.
An hour passed, and the young men were far into their debate when suddenly a bolt of lightning split open the night sky. Then came the driving sheets of rain accompanied by more lightning until the misty air crackled with electricity. The five men rushed to find shelter, slipping and sliding through the muddy grass. A flash of lightning illuminated what looked like a small cottage, but as the men drew closer, they saw that it was actually a mound of hay piled on a low rack. A haystack.
Quickly, they huddled beneath the dripping straw, shivering as lightning struck nearby. But nothing, not even a thunderstorm, could stop Samuel Mills, the leader of the group, from restarting the debate. And as the sky erupted overhead, five young men huddled beneath a haystack, contemplating the salvation of the world.
As sparks of lightning flew through the air, another spark was kindled in their hearts. The debate became a prayer—a prayer that God would use them to send His Word to the far corners of the world. They knew that they were young with nothing much to offer.
But there was one thing each of them could give: himself. And that summer night in 1806 the seed of missions was planted, driven deep into the soil by the words of Samuel Mills: “We can do this, if we will.”
And they did! Samuel and several of the other young men went on to start a mission board, which six years later sent its first missionary to India. And they didn’t stop there! Soon, the board was sending missionaries to Hawaii, China and other Southeast Asian countries. These missionaries started hospitals, preached the Gospel and even began to translate the Bible into the native languages of the people.
Fast-forward over 200 years later to 2018. Missionaries from the United States have been sent to nearly every country of the world, and the Bible is available in more languages than ever before in history. And all of this was made possible because one college freshman and his group of friends trusted that God could use the few, young and insignificant to reach the entire world. With a little help from a haystack.