Coming to the IBTI you will find it to be a place full of life, diversity and the presence of God. Over the course of 70 years, thousands of students have been through the training and gone out into many different mission fields. In the midst of a world culture that is increasingly individualistic and self-serving, young people still enrol at the IBTI and become part of the Kingdom culture, where God and his purposes are at the centre. But what made the IBTI what it is today?
How it All Began
Just after the Second World War ended, evangelist Fred H. Squire travelled to Holland with the intention of bringing relief goods to those people who had lived under Nazi occupation for six whole years. When he arrived there, he was met with an overwhelming degree of suffering. Many people had starved to death, many others had been killed. Those who had survived now lived under traumatic circumstances and were so poor that an entire family had to share a single pair of shoes. He was taken to see the battlefields of the Second World War, where he was surrounded by mass graves. Everywhere he looked he would see a little cross in the earth marking the place where a person’s life had been taken. In that intense moment, death was all that was around him. According to his reports, he simply wanted to shout out, “O that men would turn to the living Christ, the only hope of the world.”1 That day would change his life forever and it is now known that “…at that moment, the IBTI was conceived in his heart.”2
Two years later, the opportunity to do something for Europe came up. In 1947, the 1st Pentecostal World Conference took place in Zurich, which Fred H. Squire attended. Its main purpose was for the Christians in countries that had not been too damaged during the Second World War to somehow help those nations which had been utterly destroyed. Terrible accounts of suffering and poverty were shared at that conference. In many countries, people were lacking everything needed for life. But the extraordinary thing was that “They did not ask for money, clothing, or food. They declared their greatest need to be spiritual. This was their plea – ‘Please, send us evangelists to preach the Gospel throughout their lands; send us Christian literature; train our young people to teach and preach and take a positive lead for God’.”3
So, Fred H. Squire responded. He immediately spoke to the delegates of different countries, telling them to find young people with the call of God on their lives, to send them to him in England where he was going to train, feed and keep them for two years free of charge and send them back to their home to preach the gospel to their people. And so it began. In September 1947, the first session at the International Bible Training Institute in Leamington Spa took place with students from England, Italy, Holland, Indonesia, Finland and Switzerland.
Growth after the Early Years
Very soon, the property in Leamington Spa was too small for all the students, so in 1949 the IBTI moved to Hook Place in Burgess Hill, its present location. Students continued to come from more and more countries, first from Europe and eventually from six continents. The IBTI became increasingly involved with relief work, in Europe especially after the Second World War and during the communist dominion, but later expanding its mission field to countries in Africa and other parts of the world.
From 1952 to 1999, the IBTI annually ran the so called “Camp Convention”, a ten-day programme of day-time meeting, evening rallies and children and youth activities. This was an occasion where people met in a very large marquee in the grounds of IBTI and experienced God in transformational ways. Someone summarised the IBTI Camp Convention by saying, “…it was like ten days of heaven on earth”.4
Revival from Heaven
Any account of the IBTI’s history would be incomplete without mentioning what happened in January 1955 in the very chapel our students meet for prayer and worship up to this very day. Everything started when Fred H. Squire repeatedly made the statement that if the church would put everything aside to seek God for ten days, a revival would take place. He suddenly felt challenged to do it rather than talk about it, so a plan was made for the beginning of the following term, January 1955 to spend ten days waiting on God.
According to reports, the first few days were very difficult, continuing in prayer and seeking God proved to be an exercise of real self-discipline. The breakthrough came when one morning, Fred H. Squire was overcome by the presence of the Holy Spirit and having been so mightily empowered he went to the morning chapel and preached from Romans 12, calling for a complete surrender to Christ. While the congregation was still listening, everybody in that chapel experienced an extra ordinary encounter with God and as Fred H. Squire said, “…the Heavens were opened and we saw ourselves in our failure and unworthiness and were brought to ‘Present our bodies, a living sacrifice.’"5 Someone else would claim later on that, “No words can possibly express such a supernatural revelation of Jesus Christ to man(…) Acts tells us that ‘When they had prayed, the place was shaken where they were assembled together and they were all filled with the Holy Ghost and spake the Word of God with boldness’. I can only say, this is what happened to us on Friday morning, 7th January 1955.”6
Through this first outpouring of the Holy Spirit everyone at IBTI was so consumed with a desire to seek God that they even forgot to eat, as “(…) those who had no intention of fasting, found that they were.”7 They continued in prayer, meditation of the Word of God and corporate worship. So it happened that four days later, 11th January 1955 a second outpouring occurred, although this time the suffering in the world and the nation’s desperate need of Christ were in the foreground. People in the chapel felt broken by the responsibility for lost souls.
As their time set apart for seeking God extended beyond ten days, a third tangible encounter with God took place and many of those who experienced it claimed they would never be the same again. In fact, a genuine difference in character was evident in them and others could tell they had had a real encounter with God.8
In those days the news of this revival spread rapidly as churches and newspapers were notified and many people came to the IBTI with a desire to be revived – and they were not disappointed.
Cooperation with AOG GB
In 1947, the Field Office of the European Evangelistic Society was located at the IBTI, which later became the Administrative Offices of the AOG Action Europe branch of Missions. Eventually, the whole department of Overseas Missions was based at IBTI, with John P. Wildrianne fulfilling the role as AOG Mission Director for many years.
Today, this past partnership has created a platform on which mission network and good relationship with many churches continues to create opportunities for placements and internships for our students. To this day, about half of the British AOG missionaries around the world are IBTI graduates, which shows that the link with AOG GB continues.
John P. Wildrianne (Belgium) and Jean-Jacques Zbinden (Switzerland) had a vision for the IBTI to establish a Pentecostal church in Burgess Hill. So, in 1976 the "Burgess Hill Pentecostal Church", now called "Centre Church (Burgess Hill)" was formed. It is part of the AOG GB movement and more than ever passionately serving the community with the gospel message.
A story based on faith
To conclude this account of IBTI history, we cannot help but mention that it is an unmistakable witness to God’s grace. Be it the financial provision that enabled the IBTI to buy Hook Place completely debt-free or the countless donations and support that were given to the college at just the right time, God has always been directly involved in the IBTI’s ongoing development. Simply by looking back 70 years, we are overwhelmed by God’s faithfulness and look forward full of faith and expectation, confident of his favour and purpose for this college.
“For everywhere you go and on every continent, you will meet former IBTI students, serving their Lord and Saviour in different mission fields around the world.”9
All the material taken from "Operation Relief" (Fred H. Squire), Faith Targets the World - The story of IBTI" (Doreen Wildrianne) and special IBTI report "Revival from Heaven".
1 Squire; Fred H.; Operation Relief, Fred H. Squire Publications, printed by the Southern Publishing Co. in 1958, page 56
2 Wildrianne, Doreen; Faith Targets the World - The story of IBTI, published by Compassion & Care International; printed by InterPress, Budapest 2004, page 17
3 Wildrianne, page 20
4 Wildrianne; page 44
5 IBTI Report "Revival from Heaven", published in 1955, page 17
6 Revival from Heaven, page 12
7 Revival from Heaven, page 14
8 Revival from Heaven, page 13, 19
9 Wildrianne; page 93