Michale Thornton is an outreach pastor in Wilmington and he has written a book about two evangelists who lit a fire for God in a small area in Dunn.
“My wife and I launched Ignite Ministries,” said Michael Thornton in a telephone interview late last week. “It’s an outreach arm for our church. Thornton and his wife, Amber, just celebrated their seventh year together after they met at a Bible College in Dunn.
“I’ve had a rough past with crime and drugs,” he divulged. “But the Lord changed all that.”
Born in Jacksonville, his dad was an electrician. They moved to New Jersey, and his dad later retired to Jacksonville. Thornton’s parents are from Sampson County.
“I took the road less traveled,” he said, explaining that he left home around the age of 14 or 15.
“I was with the wrong crowd, in drugs and alcohol, doing coke, and crack cocaine,” he explained.
“I made a big mess of my life,” said Thornton. “I was in jail numerous times. I lived like that a long time from when I was a teen to my early 20s.”
“I joined the Marines in 2002 at 22 years old to straighten out my life,” he continued. He said that he had been going through these bad cycles and patterns and it finally caught up to him. He went to prison, he was thrown out of the military, and was homeless, digging food out of trash cans, robbing people, and hustling.
“I had to become candid and transparent, and open up my heart,” he divulged, choking up. “I also became a prostitute on the street, in homosexual relationships, going from men to women. I sold my body for dope.”
“That was my life,” he said. “I knew deep down it wasn’t right, but I couldn’t stop.”
“Then I got in trouble,” he explained. “I robbed a drug dealer that I was living with. I wanted to try to leave and fix my life, but I got caught, and it was repay it or die.”
“I couldn’t get it out of my mind,” he said … “that this is real, and not a dream.”
“The only ones that could call were my parents, my mom,” he said. “She told me she didn’t care and that she couldn’t go through this again. I called back and my dad answered.” Thornton’s dad is a minister, a prison minister, and an ordained evangelist.
“He agreed to help me on one condition — he said he w0uld pay off the drug dealer if I would check into a long term rehab,” divulged Thornton. Thornton checked into the faith-based program that targeted drugs and alcohol.
“I had to go and get help, so I agreed,” he said. “I didn’t want to die and I had no where else to turn.”
“At that point I didn’t want to, but I decided that I am,” he said. He checked into a rehab program in Mount Olive called Potter’s Wheel Ministries.
“I got there, and I didn’t want to go, but when I got there something shifted in my life,” he explained.
“One day I was alone on a path, and on the third day, a few days in, I remember feeling I wasn’t alone,” he said. Beginning to cry, he said he had a hard, heart=breaking moment, a moment when he couldn’t stop crying.
“I heard the words, ‘I love you’,” he said. “Something on the inside of my heart, the anger, rejection, it broke down.”
“I realized that I am not alone, someone is here with me,” he said, describing how he paused long enough to find God and Jesus.
“I searched through everything before and how I couldn’t find it, and on that day I found it,” he said. “I remember that pain and hurt.”
“I decided I am going to give this thing a try,” he said. “I was tired of doing what I wanted to do with my life. I had tried everything and it had not worked.”
“I made a commitment, that God was going to be my core value in life,” he said. “I decided I was not going to do what I wanted to do anymore.” Thornton decided he was only going to do what God wanted him to do, even if that meant he was cleaning toilets.
“I graduated from the program, and I stayed on as an intern to help other guys,” he said.
“I have a calling in my life, to proclaim the word and preach the gospel,” he detailed.
“My dad came to see me during visitation,” Thornton said. “He said he had a friend of his that gave him a catalog for a Bible college.” Thornton’s dad gave him the catalog for Heritage Bible College in Dunn.
“The Lord said to me ‘I am going to send you; I want you to go’,” said Thornton. The Lord said this to Thornton even though he had a warrant out for his arrest and only had two bags of dirty clothes to his name. From that point, he moved on from the program and moved in at the Bible College where he met his wife.
“My life just took off and blew up in a good way,” he attested. “Part of my calling is to share my testimony.” They both went on to graduate and get degrees, and during that time is when he first heard about G.B. Cashwell and A.B. Crumpler.
Cashwell and Crumpler were known for their famous revival in a tobacco barn in the same vein of Azusa Street.
“I heard the story in class, and it impacted me,” he said. “This was back in 2005, and no one knew where it was held.”
“So I got into my car and said I’m going to find it,” Thornton revealed, explaining that in class they only told him the general area.
“I heard a voice in my head, telling me to turn right here,” he said. He pulled up into a vacant lot and got out of his car.
“I felt like I had lightning running through my body,” he divulged. “I wondered if that was the place. I got in my car and left, and didn’t hear anything.”
A few years went by, and he found himself at Regent University with his wife. While he was there, staff from the 700 Club from TBN network came and interviewed him about his life.
“They filmed it and aired it all over the world,” he said. “That was a huge highlight. They started taking that testimony into prisons.”
A British evangelist producer translated it into Swahili and took it to Africa. One person who watched the video ended up jumping out of their wheelchair, healed, renounced their Muslim faith and became an evangelist of their whole village, Thornton said.
Then a 2010 news article from Dunn came out that changes his life.
“The Raleigh Archives and the Harnett County Historical Association found the location of the revival in Dunn,” he said.
“They had a big ceremony and placed a granite state marker,” he explained.
“I called the researchers and came down from Virginia and we met,” said Thornton. “I went down and met them after lunch.” They asked me if I wanted to go down to the site.
“I went there and I felt that lightning again, and I couldn’t shake it,” said Thornton. “It was the same spot I stopped at before. It was the exact vacant lot I stopped at five years prior trying to find the site.”
“That blew me away,” he said. “I knew there was something divine in this, and I drove back to Virgina dumbfounded.”
“I began to pray,” he said. “I asked ‘What do I do with this?’”
It was then that he realized that he wanted to write a book, and he felt a push to stay away from things that had already been written.
“He said ‘trust me, I am going to give you documents from this that no one has seen in 100 years,” he explained. “I began to read my book while at Regent.”
“Within six months I had photos, newspaper articles, records and deeds no one had seen in 100 years that had been kept,” Thornton divulged.
It took him about two years and while he was researching his aunt decided to do a genealogy search of his family’s history on his dad’s side.
“She presented us with books of research to the heads of the families,” he said. “It was then that I learned that I was a descendant of Cashwell, the man I was writing about.” The book that he was writing about is called “Fire in the Carolinas: The Revival Legacy of G.B. Cashwell and A.B. Crumpler.”
“That gave me an extra boost of motivation, enthusiasm and fire,” he said. “I had a personal appointment with destiny with this story that took place 100 years ago.”
He graduated from Regent University and moved back to Wilmington with his fourth daughter.
“I had this finished manuscript and I had felt compelled to write it,” he said. This lead him to look him into publishing his work.
Three months went by, and one weekend he went up to Little Washington. When he returned, he had an email from the manager of Creation House. The email said that they had reviewed his book and would like to make a contract to publish it.
“I wanted to know why,” he said, considering that the publishing house was based out of Florida. “I’m from North Carolina he told me, and that he was born in Edenton. He then told me he was from Little Washington, which was where I had visited that day.”
“I found out that he and his wife planted the church that I visited in the 70s,” he said. They offered him a contract of $15,000 to publish his book but they needed half up front to get started, and when they had the second half they would be able to get started.
“I began to pray, and in a few months I had raised a few dollars,” he explained. “Then a business man calls me, and asks me how much I need. I needed $5,000. He met me in a parking lot and gave me a check for it right then and there.”
“A guy in church came the next day with the rest of what I needed,” he said. “It had been raised within a few months.”
“All the proceeds go towards our ministry,” he said. The story has brought many denominations together and even led to a three-day 50-hour worship and praise meeting.
“It has been history coming alive today in the same spot,” he said. “It has been 10 years that I have been clean and sober and going hard after God.”
“I was a crack addict, but God has transformed my mind,” he said. “This is God’s miracle. It was a process. Everyone struggles, and it has this root, a tragic event in childhood.”
Thornton moved on past and through that, and his book is part of that testimony.
For more information about Thornton and his book visit fireinthecarolinas.org
Emily M. Hobbs can be reached at 910-592-8137 ext. 122. Follow us on Twitter: @SampsonInd