By David Littlewood
Rees Howells was a man of little worldly fame, yet
through Norman Grubb’s best-selling biography, ‘Rees Howells –
Intercessor’, his life story is known to millions. As he came to know
the redeeming power of his Lord and Saviour, he faced the implications
of an entire surrender, learned to love the unlovely and discovered the
key to praying with power.
It was from this position of power that Rees became a
channel of revival in Southern Africa, and, on returning to Britain, a
mighty spiritual force which many believe changed the course of World
Rees Howells was born the sixth of a family of three
girls and eight boys in the mining village of Brynamman, South Wales.
His grandparents had been converted in the famous 1859 revival, but Rees
himself, although religious, knew nothing of the new birth.
After leaving school at the tender age of twelve, Rees
worked in the iron works for ten years before leaving Wales to join his
cousin, Evan Lewis, in America. He got a job in a tin mine and began to
make very good money. However, he was startled one day when Evan Lewis
asked him if he was ‘born again’. Rees was a good churchgoer – in
fact, he never missed the prayer meeting – but his cousin’s question
flummoxed him. So much so, that he moved to Martin’s Ferry, about 100
Suddenly, at the age of 23, Rees was struck down with
a near fatal dose of typhoid fever. The nearness of death made him fear
for his eternal welfare and, having recovered, he went to live in
Connellsville, Pennsylvania, where a converted Jew, Maurice Reuben, was
conducting an evangelistic campaign. Reuben’s testimony and preaching
broke Howells’ resistance to the gospel, and he unreservedly yielded
his life to Christ.
The experience of a living Saviour put a new set of
ambitions into Howells, and soon after he left America for his homeland
of Wales, arriving home in 1904, the year of the great Welsh revival.
The deep sense of the presence of God in the land left a lasting
impression on the young convert, who quickly matured and gave himself to
discipling the many converts left by the revival.
On his return, Rees went back to live with his parents
and working down the mine, but all his spare time was taken up in
furthering the revival. However, this convinced him of his own need for
greater spiritual power, and when attending the famous Llandrindod Wells
convention in 1906, he was again challenged to yield unconditionally the
whole of his life to Christ. After no less than five days of seeking
God, Rees yielded and immediately received such a powerful infilling of
the Holy Spirit that he returned from Llandrindod Wells a new man.
However, so fierce had been the inner conflict, that in five days he had
lost seven pounds in weight!
From this point, Howells’ life may be seen as a
series of experiences and testings through which God took him in order
to prepare him as one of the great prayer warriors of this century. His
first test came when God challenged him to pray for an alcoholic tramp
named Will Battery, whose nights were spent on the warm boilers of the
local tin mill. Prayer filled Rees’ heart with God’s love for this
poor creature, to the extent that he even spent Christmas Day with Will
in the boiler house! Finally Will came to Christ, and was fully
rehabilitated back into society.
Rees learned about what he later termed ‘princely
giving’ by giving another converted drunk, Jim Stakes, a full two
years rent to save Stakes and his family from being evicted. Then the
Holy Spirit laid on his heart the neighbouring village of Tairgwaith,
which had been completely passed-by in the revival, and had no place of
worship. Wickedness abounded here, but Rees’ prayers, coupled with his
extraordinary generosity, touched the people’s hearts, and a church
was started. Every night for two years, rain or shine, Rees would walk
the two miles each way to Tairgwaith to look after his flock and win
others for Christ – and that after a hard day’s work down the mine!
One day Rees noticed a group of intoxicated women, and
felt a stirring in his heart to pray the ringleader – a woman of
terrible reputation – through to salvation by Christmas Day. During
this time the Holy Spirit made it clear to him he was to have no contact
with her – she was to be won by prayer alone by ‘binding the strong
man’ as in Matthew 12:29.
During the weeks of prayer for this woman, God took
Rees deeper into the realm of the Spirit and spiritual warfare. As he
prayed, he was encouraged to see her getting nearer to God, attending
the open air meeting, then the house meeting. Finally, on Christmas Day,
she attended church and, in the middle of the meeting, went down on her
knees and cried to God for mercy.
A phrase which became part of Rees’ prayer
vocabulary was ‘the gained position of intercession’. This he
believed occurred when one had by prayer gained the place of power and
victory for whatever one was praying for. One particular area of victory
God led Rees into was divine healing, and he saw some hopeless cases of
sickness were delivered in answer to his fervent prayer.
There is no doubt that Howells’ piety and desire to
obey the least prompting of the Holy Spirit, made him look eccentric and
even foolish to his peers. For example, his desire to pray while walking
the two miles to the mission meant he felt he had to leave his head
uncovered, as one would in church. And this at a time when it was
unknown for a respectable man to walk out in public without a hat! But
Rees defied social convention – to the consternation of the rest of
More rumours started to fly when Howells withdrew from
the work of the mission in order to give himself to prayer three hours a
night, but people finally decided Rees was but people finally decided
Rees was crazy when he took the vow of a Nazarite (Numbers 6:2-6) and
went many months without cutting his hair or shaving. However, by the
end of his intercession, which he finished off with a fifteen day fast,
people had begun to sense the presence of God in his life, and many of
the men would touch their hats to him as he passed.
At the end of this intercession, Rees announced that
his Uncle Dick, a fellow prayer warrior who had been an invalid for 30
years, would be healed at 5am Pentecost Sunday and walk the three miles
to the church. On the Saturday, Dick was as ill as ever – so much so
that many people pitied him for being led stray by his nephew. However,
Sunday morning Dick rose from his bed perfectly healed and never had
another day’s illness until he died some years later.
In 1910, Rees married Elizabeth Jones and, after a
period of training at a theological college in Carmarthen, entered the
Congregational ministry. However, God dropped a bombshell by calling
Rees and Elizabeth to work in Africa, so in 1915 they sailed to work
with the South Africa General Mission in Gazaland, close to the border
with Portuguese East Africa. Here the Howells experienced a mighty
revival – greater even than they had seen in Wales in 1904. And when
the directors of the mission asked Rees to visit every one of the 43
mission stations, he claimed a promise that every one of them would see
revival – and they did.
After five years of incredible fruitfulness, the
Howells returned home in 1920, where the crying need for a Bible College
to train young people for the mission field and the ministry was laid
upon Rees’ heart. In 1923 during a visit to Mumbles, near Swansea, God
pointed out a mansion called ‘Glynderwen’ as the place. Although
other interested parties were willing to pay up to £10,000 for the
property, God showed Rees he must only bid £6,150 for it. After a
series of miracles (and some hair raising moments), the college was
opened in 1924.
The college was run on a faith basis – tuition was
free and the charge for board kept to a minimum. As Rees and his group
gave themselves to prayer, money began to come in and other neighbouring
properties were purchased, with a conference hall, a chapel and student
hostels being also built, with every penny of the costs being prayed in.
Howells had begun the college with only eighteen shillings (90p), but in
fourteen years he had prayed for and received £125,000!
At the beginning of 1935, Rees had a new burden to
pray for world missions. He shared this with staff and friends and they
agreed to intercede for any nation and country, as well a missionaries,
as the Lord indicated.
With the rise of Hitler and Mussolini, Rees and his
intercessors were called to ‘stand in the gap’ in prayer; as prayer
warriors they were to have no more claim on their lives, time or
possessions than if they had been drafted into the forces. Particular
prayer was made for Ethiopia when Mussolini invaded. Rees experienced a
great trial of faith when Addis Ababa fell, but the outcome of their
intercession was seen when in later years S I M missionaries returned to
Wallamo Province, where they had anxiously left 48 young believers, to
find a church of 10,000 Christians.
In the new year of 1937, Howells and his group
experienced a visitation of the Spirit and for three weeks lost all
sense of time as they were taken up in intercession. This prepared them
for the battles ahead, as they interceded for Britain during the dark
days of World War 2. Throughout the war Rees and his company – often
up to a hundred people – interceded every day from 7pm to midnight.
And that after a full day’s work! They were sustained by the power of
the Holy Spirit, and only eternity will reveal their part in the
conflict for freedom.
The end of the war and the return of the Jews to
Palestine in 1948 were a great cause for celebration for Rees and his
team. Howells’ burden to the end, however, remained the ‘every
creature’ vision, and he continually prayed for an outpouring of the
Holy Spirit which would make this possible. Part of the answer to this
prayer came when an aspiring young German missionary, Reinhard Bonnke,
was trained at the college during the 1950s. Bonnke has since
experienced an unprecedented outpouring of the Spirit in Africa. In
February 1950, Rees Howells suffered a series of heart attacks and died
aged 71. His last whispered words were "Victory! Hallelujah!"
His son, Samuel, took over as director of the college, which still
operates on the same faith principles as its founder. The Bible College
of Wales stands as Rees Howells’ earthly memorial. However, eternity
alone will reveal the effect this remarkable intercessor has had on
spiritual life in the twentieth century.