In 2018, Fred Lunsford was ready to die as soon as God would let him.
“I was really heavy hearted,” said Lunsford, who was 93 at the time and had lost his wife four years before. “I was praying, and I said, ‘Lord, I just want to go on home. I’m too old to pastor a church anymore or preach, and nobody wants to hear an old preacher like me anyway. I’m no more good; just take me on home.”
But in that moment in a prayer garden on the mountain near his home in Marble, North Carolina, he felt he heard God say these words to his heart — “Not yet.”
And Lunsford said back, “Why not yet?”
Lunsford kept going back to the prayer garden each day and asking the same question. And after a few weeks, he said one day he had an encounter with Jesus that would set the tone for his last years on earth.
“God spoke to my heart and said, ‘Son, I’ve been with you 70 years preaching the gospel, I’ve been with you when the storm was raging, I’ve been with you when the times were good. But I’m going to tell you why not yet: I want you to pray for spiritual awakening.
“I’ve extended your years on earth to do My business.’”
Lunsford said he wept and repeated the words of Isaiah — “Here am I, send me.”
And he began to try to figure out how to walk in that new calling.
First, he planned to preach a revival at the small church where he was a member.
“We had good services, but nobody was saved,” Lunsford said. “And I was disappointed; I thought that’s what I was supposed to do.”
But then he was asked to speak at a prayer conference at Truett Conference Center & Camp in Hayesville. He was excited about the opportunity, but before it came time to speak, he was struck with temporary blindness.
“So I called Chris Schofield (who at the time was director of the office of prayer for evangelization and spiritual awakening at the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina) and told him I was going to have to cancel the engagement to preach,” Lunsford said. “I told him I couldn’t see to read, and I wouldn’t be able to see people’s faces.”
But Schofield told him he was confident God meant for him to speak at that event.
“He said, ‘You don’t have to read, just follow the leadership of the Lord and do what He tells you to do,’” Lunsford said.
So Lunsford did. At the conference, he shared the story of his first “impression of the power of prayer” — the day he, at 5 years old, came upon a pastor laying facedown in a laurel thicket, asking God for help and saying he would rather die than be a powerless preacher.
The image of that preacher — whom he affectionately called Uncle Doc — stuck with Lunsford. As he grew up and spent 70 years preaching, he remembered Uncle Doc’s prayer, and he prayed similar ones. That’s why at 93 in his prayer garden, he told God he was ready to die because he didn’t feel like he had anything to offer anymore.
And then God asked him to pray for revival.
David Horton, president of Fruitland Baptist Bible College in Hendersonville, heard the story that day and said it gripped his heart “and motivated me to pray with greater frequency and greater intensity than I ever have in my life.”
Horton kept thinking about the story of Uncle Doc, and as he told it to others, he watched as God worked in the lives of the people who heard it.
That drew him to want to spend more time with Lunsford. So he and others including Greg Mathis, pastor of Mud Creek Baptist Church in Hendersonville, arranged a time to visit him.
Lunsford said it was a cold day when they came.
“We went to the prayer garden, and it was 17 degrees and we sat in the car and prayed, and that’s when God moved on Greg Mathis’ heart,” he said.
Lunsford told them he believed God had brought them there to pray with him for spiritual awakening to happen, and Mathis said he had “never in all of his 65 years felt the manifestation of God, the presence and the power of God that I felt that day.”
All the men present said it transformed their prayer life.
The day after the men prayed together, Mathis called Lunsford. He’d been up all night thinking about what they had experienced. And Lunsford told him he felt like God was asking him to gather as many preachers as they could to pray together on the mountain for spiritual awakening.
So Mathis began working to gather them. He called some pastors he knew, and he began working on a documentary film about Lunsford and the assignment God had given him.
Together they aimed to get 100 pastors there on May 5, 2020. It wasn’t long before they had 200 signed up.
But then the COVID-19 pandemic hit, and meeting together in that way wasn’t possible. In the end, though, that opened up the opportunity to try to get a bigger number — 10,000 — to sign up to fast and pray right where they were.
More than 260,000 signed up. And because of Lunsford’s burden, the prayer has continued.
A group of 60 or 70 pastors meets every morning on a conference call to pray, focusing on three requests — spiritual awakening in the U.S., 1 million souls saved and 100,000 young people called into ministry and missions.
And as awakening has recently started to break out on college campuses across the nation, Lunsford has continued to pray with awe.
“Sometimes I’m overwhelmed with it and trying to put my mind around what’s happening,” he said. “Greg keeps reminding me that’s exactly what we’ve been praying for.”
Lunsford said he didn’t expect it to happen on campuses. He expected it to start in the churches. But God had other plans, he said.
And since revival has broken out, he has gotten phone calls from some of the leaders at Asbury University — where awakening started in February — and other colleges, asking Lunsford and his prayer group to pray for them.
“We have a tremendous assignment here with great eternal significance,” he said.
And as he said, all of it has been “a God thing from beginning to end.”