Keith Green and Leonard Ravenhill: Revival Odd Couple

I spent a week recently in east Texas training a new batch of YWAM missionaries. One  evening, an Asian friend gave me a short tour of the area which I hadn’t visited in almost thirty years. We traveled from YWAM’s largest training center at Twin Oaks Ranch (built by David Wilkerson in the 70s) to the sprawling acreage housing Mercy Ships (once the Agape Force) and then over to the campus of Teen Mania (which was originally Last Days Ministries).

Some great ministries once were or are now located here. Their outreach touches millions of lives all over the world.

Our final stop was Garden Valley Baptist Church located between these para-church giants. Behind the church was a small cemetery I had asked to visit to seek out the graves of two of my heroes.

Keith Green and Leonard Ravenhill. They’re both buried in the far corner of the graveyard–only about twenty feet from each other. They were great revivalists who impacted their world For Jesus.

Both in life and death, they were the Revival Odd Couple from whom we can learn much about how God’s uses diverse human beings for his purposes and glory.

Leonard Ravenhill

I had the privilege of meeting Brother Ravenhill in the 1980s when I first worked with the YWAM community in the area. He lived in a small home near Twin Oaks Ranch, and on a number of occasions I walked over to his place to pray with him.

He welcomed me into his study, we’d talk about God and spiritual awakenings, and then we would bow our heads and cry out to God to bring revival to this generation. Leonard Ravenhill prayed with passion and clarity–just like he preached and wrote.

As a young man, I was greatly impacted by his intellect, understanding of history and his burden for the Church to wake up and get on fire for God. One of his famous books, Why Revival Tarries, had made a great impact on my life during my early years in Youth With A Mission.

Leonard was an Englishman with a beautiful accent!–born in 1907 in Leeds in Yorkshire, England, As a young man, he sat under the ministry of the legendary Samuel Chadwick and became a student of church history, with a particular interest in Christian revival. His evangelistic meetings during World War II drew large crowds in the British Isles.

In 1939, he married an Irish nurse, named Martha and in 1950, he and his family moved from Great Britain to the United States. In the 1960s they traveled around America holding tent revivals and evangelistic meetings.

In the 1980s, the Ravenhills moved to east Texas where he spent the last years of his life. He regularly taught classes at Last Days Ministries where he met and mentored Keith Green. He also spent time teaching at Bethany College of Missions in Minnesota.

Among others influenced by Leonard Ravenhill’s life and message were Ravi Zacharias, Tommy Tenny, Steve Hill, Charles Stanley, Bill Gothard and David Wilkerson.

And, of course, me–and many other young people looking for spiritual role models.

One of Leonard Ravenhill’s closest pastoral associate was Dr. A.W. Tozer who said this about his fervent friend: 

“To such men as this, the church owes a debt too heavy to pay. The curious thing is that she seldom tries to pay him while he lives. Rather, the next generation builds his sepulchre and writes his biography – as if instinctively and awkwardly to discharge an obligation the previous generation to a large extent ignored.”

Leonard lived a long and full life committed to spiritual revival. He died in November 1994, at the age of 87.

Keith Green

I also met Keith Green around 1980 when Winkie Pratney drove me over to the newly developing Last Days community. Keith gave me a tour of the property and especially of the warehouse where he was beginning to print and distribute the soon-to-be-famous LDM tracts.

During our visit, Keith lifted Winkie up high in the air on one of the fork lifts and then nearly scared him to death while buzzing him around the warehouse while Winkie held on for dear life! Keith was spontaneous and a prankster–and also committed to revival.

But it was not always that way.

Keith took to music at a young age, playing guitar at five, and the piano at seven.  His talents were noted by the LA Times in 1962 when he took to the stage in Arthur Laurent’s “The Time of the Cuckoo” in Chatsworth, California. A rising star was being born.

At 10 years old, young Keith went on to play the role of “Kurt von Trapp” in a local community theater production of “The Sound of Music.” By the time he was ten, he had already written forty original songs and signed a music contract with Decca Records with his father, Harvey, as his manager.

The first song he released on disc was A Go-Go Getter in May 1965. Upon publication of this song, Keith became the youngest person ever to sign with the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers and Decca Records planned to make Green a teen idol.

By the time Keith was twelve, he had written ten more songs, and TIME again ran a short piece about him in an article about aspiring young rock-‘n’-roll singers, referring to him as Decca Records’ “pre-pubescent dreamboat”. But instead of rising to secular stardom, Donny Osmond stole the hearts of the new teenage class and Keith’s life took a hard turn–one part bad and the other, eternally good.

Keith was born into a combination Jewish/Christian Science home which was an odd mixture that left him open minded but deeply unsatisfied. He began doing drugs and became interested in eastern mysticism and “free love.” But a “bad trip,” sent him fleeing the drug scene and in his pursuit of the truth, he found Jesus as his Savior along with another young musician named Melody who became his wife and companion.

Keith later admitted that he’d been “lost in a fantasy until God’s love broke through.” In 1975, Keith and Melody began taking people who needed help into their small home in LA which would later be dubbed “The Greenhouse”—a place where people grew in their faith. Much to the consternation of neighbors, some 75 people lived in the Green’s homes and traipsed down the suburban streets—including recovering drug addicts and prostitutes, bikers, the homeless.

In 1976 they incorporated their work as Last Days Ministries, and in 1979 purchased forty acres near Garden Valley, Texas to grow their expanding ministry which included Keith’s albums and concerts, his prophetic preaching on revival, holiness, and commitment to Christ and an exploding tract ministry.

In the late 70s, Keith Green was America’s number one prophetic voice to the Jesus Revolution. By May 1982, Last days had shipped out more than 200,000 of his prophetic albums – 61,000 for free–out of that warehouse I visited in east Texas.

But on July 28, 1982, Keith and eleven other people, including two of his young children were killed when Last Day’s small Cessna aircraft crashed soon after take-off due to over-loading. Like many others,  I heard the news with grief and shock–and mourned the life of a young prophet whose ministry seemed to be just beginning.

Keith Green was dead at the age of 28.

Only a few months before his passing, Keith had come to know a number of YWAM leaders who had encouraged him to use his influence to call others into missions. Keith seemed to be moving in that direction when his life was suddenly cut short.

Interestingly and redemptively, that vision came to pass after his death through a series of Keith Green Memorial Concerts where his wife Melody and other workers, teaming with YWAMers from all over America, used Keith’s message and notoriety to call thousands of young people to go into all the world.

Shirley and I got to know Melody and her two remaining children in 1986 when we attended a Leadership Training School together for three months in Kona, Hawaii. Our children were of similar age, and much time was spent playing together while Shirley and I and Melody talked about life, Jesus, and Keith.

It was a privilege to know Leonard Ravenhill and Keith Green. As i stood by their graves, my friend and I thanked God for their lives and I meditated how God can use such diverse people for his glory:

  • Leonard was a proper Englishman; Keith was a hippie from Southern Cal.
  • Leonard lived a long life of service; Keith was like a shooting star that emerged suddenly then faded into the sky.
  • Leonard was traditional, cautious, conservative and Old School; Keith was brash, reckless, fearless and a dreamer.
  • Leonard was a preacher; Keith was a musician.

But both of them had a heart for God and for revival in the American nation. Despite their differences, they became close friends, a mentor and a mentee–as different as oil and water–but united by the Holy Spirit in the power of Christ’s call.

Now their bodies lie about twenty feet from one another. But their spirits soar in heaven where both now behold their Lord and Master.

They certainly are the Revival Odd Couple.

Only an awesome and mighty God can bring together and use men such as these.

 

2 Comments

  1. Nancy Ivy on April 3, 2013 at 9:17 pm

    Great memorial, Ron. I find it interesting that you published it today, the 3rd anniversary of another great man's "Graduation Day", Wayne Dillard. Wayne and his wife Kathleen were on staff with Keith at Last Days, and came to know Keith and Mr. Ravenhill very, very well. Kathleen continues to work in India, traveling back and forth from her home in the USA. Wayne and Kathleen also spent a number of years as part of our church leadership in Chesapeake, VA.

  2. David Marshall on April 3, 2013 at 5:14 am

    Keith Green helped get me into missions. It was at the Memorial Concert in Seattle that I first heard about YWAM. His passing certainly left a whole in the American church. I think I heard about his death in Alaska, where I was serving at Echo Ranch Bible Camp, and was told the news by a former missionary to Morrocco whose own son had been murdered on a bus in Texas. I sometimes wonder what he'd be doing now if he had remained with us.

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