Just after dinner one evening last week, balding, spectacled President Victor Raymond Edman of Illinois' Wheaton College rose to begin a regular session of the Evangelistic Week that traditionally begins each term. Stepping up to the microphones in the brightly lit, rectangular auditorium of Pierce Memorial Chapel, he asked if any student would, 'like to give a word of testimony or praise on the blessings of this week.'
President Edman was not surprised when several students trooped up to the rostrum." (Students were asked to come and sit in the choir loft and move over and down one by one, after it became evident that too many were standing and waiting for too long, to testify or confess, but the reporters didn't get there the first day. They came the second night). Such impromptu declarations are not unusual at Wheaton, a little (1,300 students), non-denominational college which still bears the stamp of its strict fundamental heritage: no movies, smoking, card playing, dancing or drinking, a 10 p.m. curfew. But as the first students finished speaking, a surge of confessional fervor swept through the auditorium.
Singly and in little groups, sweatered and blue-jeaned undergraduates streamed onto the stage, filling up the choir chairs to await their turn. Hour after hour they kept coming. All night long, all the next day, all through the following night, and half the following day, students poured out confessions of past sins and rededicated themselves to God.
The auditorium filled up and overflowed into a smaller chapel downstairs. Classes had to be cancelled altogether. Some speakers came forward boldly and eagerly; other were so overcome with shyness they had to abandon the attempted come back later to try again. Some broke down completely.
Said one young man, 'I have to confess that in the pass I felt undue pride in my membership in the Men's Glee Club, and tended to look down on members of the Gospel Choir.' Sniffled a determined brunette: 'I want to say this publicly so that those who hear me will know I mean business. I know it's mostly the fellows who say they have impure thoughts, but girls have them too. And I want to apologize if I've ever tempted any of the fellows I've had contact with. I know I've tried, and I'm sorry.' Said a young man with a Brooklyn accent, 'I want to apologize for making the faculty the butt of my corny jokes...I want to get something else off my chest: giving thanks for food and then complaining about it.'
'Twenty-four hours ago,' declared a cheerful, ruddy baseball star, 'This is the last thing I thought I'd be doing...Last night I looked in my yearbook, and after my name it said baseball is my main interest. I want to say: Christ is my main interest.'
One girl both committed her, 'sin,' and asked pardon for it while at the microphone. Many of her fellow students, she said, were 'silly to give testimony,' because she couldn't believe they were sincere; then she asked forgiveness for doubting their sincerity. A spare young faculty member rose to confess: 'I've led a double life. I've lived a life of defeat...As you know, I was once a missionary in China. After the war started, I came back. I told people it was because of the war. But it wasn't...It was because I didn't want to go on being a missionary...I want you to pray for me so my life will really tell for God.'
There was little audible response to the confessions. Here & there, listeners sat with their heads in their hands. Patiently through all most all of it, waited the Rev. Edwin Johnson of Seattle's First Mission Covenent Church, who, as leader of the Evangelistic Week, had been scheduled to address the group the night it all began. At last, President Edman gave him his chance at the microphone. 'We've seen a probing of the heart today such as we've never seen before,' said Johnson.
But when other confession-hungry heart probers began flocking to Wheaton--followed by the simply curious--President Edman discretely ended the public testimonies. After a few hours more of confessions, it was all over. 47 hours and 40 minutes after it started. 'These kids are tired out,' explained weary President Edman. 'The testimonies have mostly to do with private matters. After all, the principle confessions are to Almighty God, not a public audience.'