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Dave Frincke was on his treadmill when an idea came to him, seemingly out of the blue. “That’s how all good stories start, right?” he joked in a recent phone interview. “’I was running on my treadmill …’”
The idea that took root in his brain was that he should write a musical about the Welsh revival of 1904. The father of three and Heartland Church worship leader had never written a scripted musical before, and he’d only read one book about the revival many years previous. Still, he could not banish the notion that this musical needed to be written, and he immediately jumped off the treadmill and went to tell his wife, Bethany.
“I said to her, ‘I think God has told me to write a musical about the Welsh revival,’ and she was like, ‘Um, okay?’ That night, after my family was in bed, I started researching, and I was overwhelmed by what I was reading. A nation’s culture literally changed in a matter of months.”
The Welsh revival of 1904 was an undeniably fast-spreading, wide-sweeping phenomenon. There is no single explanation for why the revival took place or why it was so pervasive, but in the winter of that year converts began packing the churches in Wales and the UK in almost record numbers. The Welsh movement soon spurned corresponding revivals in U.S., Africa, India, northern Europe and Latin America. And while the revival was led by a number of fiery Welsh preachers, including Joseph Jenkins, Nantlais Williams, J.T. Job, Seth Joshua and Evan Roberts, it was given a boost by a few secular newspapers, namely The Western Mail and The South Wales Daily News, whose reporters gave extensive coverage to the now impromptu and impassioned services, which one worshipper described as akin to a hurricane.
Frincke’s research led him to believe that the revival rose out of a number of cultural, socio-economic and spiritual factors. His historically rooted musical, Bend Us, which will get its world premiere September 18-20 and 25-27 at the PPG Artslab as part of all for One Productions’ 2015-2016 season, concerns itself with all the forces at work, while focusing primarily on the spiritual side.
“There’s no quotable easy answer for why the Welsh revival happened when it did, but spiritually, God just did it,” Frincke said. “He is so sovereign, he brought about the changes in the hearts of the people. A hallmark of the Welsh revival is that it was a revival of repentance. The main teaching phrase of the revival was ‘bend me,’ which came from a very popular prayer and really speaks of repentance, of being humble and teachable. It tells us that God uses people who are teachable, humble and repentant.”
Frincke himself learned a little something about humility while writing Bend Us. A trained musician who plays piano, sings and has written and produced four solo albums of his own work, Frincke was new to script writing when he sat down to tell the story of the Welsh revival. That’s why he was delighted when all for One Productions artistic director Lauren Nichols volunteered to read his first draft.
Nichols’s resulting critique was not exactly a delight to read, but it turned out to be exactly what Frincke needed to make Bend Us not simply a retelling of significant historical events, but an emotionally stirring dramatic narrative with true-to-life characters and high stakes.
“She basically told me that the story was compelling, but she couldn’t possibly put it on stage,” Frincke said. “She was very blunt, in the nicest and most loving way. There was a line in her critique that really struck with me. She said, ‘Your script doesn’t make me care about the Welsh revival.’ Probably because the script was so event focused, I was missing the emotional connection. Thanks to Lauren, I knew what I had to do, and I started revising that same day.”
In a very short amount of time, Frincke turned out a second draft, and this time Nichols said she would be thrilled to stage it. Originally, Frincke was going to produce the show himself with Nichols directing, but plans changed with all for One moved from the Allen County Public Library stage they’d been using for all of their productions to their own space at PPG Artslab.
“Lauren asked if I’d like it if Bend Us was produced as part of all for One’s season, and I couldn’t have been more thrilled,” Frincke said.
The fortuitous meeting with Nichols (not to mention the treadmill revelation) was just one of many pieces of good fortune Frincke has encountered during the writing of his first musical, and he is as sure as he ever was that it was God’s plan for him to bring Bend Us and the story of the Welsh revival to American audiences. Another fortunate event was his online correspondence with a Welshman named Dave Pike. During the course of his research, Frincke emailed Pike, a blogger and an expert on the Welsh revival, to ask him if he knew about the origins of a particular chorus often sung during revival services. Pike went to work researching the chorus, and the two men struck up a friendship that led to Frincke visiting Wales for the first time a few years ago.
Later that same year, Frincke was electrified when he heard that a Welsh couple was in the congregation at what turned out to be a particularly memorable Sunday at Heartland Church. He made sure to introduce himself to the couple and was thrilled to find out that the woman was a classmate of his at Concordia, and that she and her husband had spent the last several years founding churches in and around Cardiff, Wales.
“I told them that I knew someone from Cardiff and his name was Dave Pike,” Frincke said, “and guess what they said? ‘Dave Pike? We know Dave. He went to our church.’ It was crazy and wonderful and a sign to me that God was connecting us.”
Frincke then discovered that Heartland Church, which he started attending in his late teens because Bethany was a member there, had at one time an active relationship with Wales, but that the relationship had lapsed. Thanks to a series of events set in motion by Frincke’s writing of Bend Us, the connection between Heartland and Wales is again healthy and vibrant, and Heartland has sent many ministry teams and interns to work in Welsh churches over the last couple years.
Frincke said working on Bend Us has reinforced his faith that God is never far away, that he concerns himself quite literally in the doings here on earth. That’s why he made sure to incorporate the hymn “Here Is Love” into the musical. Not only was it considered the love song of the Welsh revival, but its chorus has particular significance to the main themes of the show.
“There’s a chorus to the hymn. It’s a beautiful little phrase that when translated into English means, ‘Thanks be to Him for ever remembering the dust of the earth.’ To me, that means not that we’re worthless, but that God never forgets. When we see him change the hearts of an entire people, we see that we’re not forgotten, that God is closer and cares more than we could ever have imagined.”