The northern provinces of this central African state are beset by the mysterious and contagious Marburg virus that kills suddenly without explanation. Victims bleed to death from every opening in their bodies. Malaria is endemic throughout the country. Leprosy is still common. The doctor-to-patient ratio is 1-to-50,000. A quarter century of civil war left behind a deadly legacy of land mines–the most land mines per square mile of any country on earth. The war was vicious and personal. Patients were forced to tear down hospitals brick by brick. Lepers too weak to run away were burned alive in their huts.
The weekend of June 10-12, hope overflowed in war-ravaged Lubango, Angola, at the first-ever public evangelistic event in the formerly Marxist state.
The weekend began with the Friday morning dedication of A Project of Hope, The Evangelical Medical Center of Lubango. Dr. Bob Foster, beloved long-time medical missionary to Angola, dedicated the medical center along with Franklin Graham; Sebastiao Chiquete, president of the Evangelical Alliance of Angola; and the regional governor, Jose Ramos Da Cruz.
Planners say that when the hospital, a project of the Evangelical Alliance of Angola, opens in January, fully equipped and staffed, it will be the best medical center in the country.
When the Alliance’s pastors planned the hospital dedication a year ago, they asked Franklin Graham if he would expand the dedication ceremony and proclaim the Good News of Jesus publicly in Lubango. Graham accepted the invitation, and a three-night Festival of Hope was born.
In a city too broken to take a census, with population estimates ranging from 200,000 to a million, some 47,000 people attended the Festival over three days. Most walked uphill from the city center to the stadium. They walked home in the dark, as street lights are a rarity and flashlights a luxury. By Sunday night, nearly 13,500 had come forward to respond to the invitation.
In an extraordinary unity of purpose and faith, 90 of the city’s 94 churches participated in the Festival in Lubango’s soccer stadium: praying, training counselors and inviting neighbors. The churches raised a choir of 1,400 voices. The choir rocked the stadium for three nights with an entrance and exit march that was part praise, part tribal dance and part conga line, waving their song sheets over their heads.
“Nothing like this Festival has happened in Angola–ever,” Franklin said. “In a country that was once torn apart, we thank God for peace now that the war has ended. Now that there is peace in the land, we have an opportunity to bring this Festival and spiritual peace to people’s hearts.”
Franklin speaks from experience. He last visited Lubango in 1984, in the middle of the civil war. He was invited then by Dr. Foster to assess the country’s desperate medical needs. Franklin traveled two days by car from the northern, coastal capital of Luanda to reach Lubango. In Lubango he visited a young seminary student, Jose Evaristo Abias. As soon as Franklin left, Abias was arrested by the Marxist secret police for the crime of meeting with an American Christian.
“Two Cubans and an Angolan interrogated me from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. for 10 days, ” Abias recalled. “They searched my house and took all my books. They took a book Franklin gave me. They said I was a secret agent and must be working for the CIA. It was my last year in seminary, and I had a lot of Greek New Testament texts. They took all those and said it was a secret code. Then they placed me under house arrest.
“It was very difficult in those years to share the Gospel,” Abias continued, “but the Christians were committed, and the Church grew.” Twenty-one years later, Pastor Abias served as president of the Festival’s executive committee.
“The biggest change now is the freedom to preach,” Abias said. “We must use this chance to testify. My biggest blessing from the Festival was the training center for the pastors, to see the pastors united and working together, to see how the people came together in unity. It will be easier for us to work together now.”
A specially tailored Saturday morning children’s Festival of Hope program began early Saturday morning with the twin sounds of children singing and thousands of little feet tramping into the stadium.
For months, the local churches had worked to make Festivalzinho special. Thousands of yellow paper nametags were cut, lettered and tied with yarn one by one. Youth groups gathered thousands of green, yellow, blue, red and white T-shirts to organize children so no one would get lost. Farm trucks were hired. Never before in Lubango had so many children gathered for anything like Festivalzinho.
Saturday morning, beginning at dawn, all the work came together. Children streamed uphill from the city center. Farm trucks, packed shoulder-to-shoulder with children, drove in from the countryside. Buses rolled through the dust and excited faces peered from every window. The stadium was packed with a sea of 15,000 eager children wearing colored T-shirts and hanging on to every word of the story of Jesus.
At the end of the program, when Associate Festival Director Adrian Arce asked the children if any would commit their lives to Jesus, the stadium emptied in rivers of green, yellow, blue, red and white shirts. Running forward in the dust, 7,500 children–half of the stadium–came forward.
By Sunday night, adults were overflowing with joy and hope like the children. When the choir danced in, the crowd stood and danced, too. When the Tommy Coomes Band sang “My Hope Is in the Lord,” the crowd knew the lyrics. When Dennis Agajanian lit up his guitar, everyone in the stadium stood to their feet. Franklin told the story of Nicodemus from John 3, where Jesus declares, “I tell you the truth, no one can enter the Kingdom of God unless he is born again” (John 3:3, NIV). When Franklin invited people to commit their lives to Christ, 3,500 people–some 25 percent of the audience–responded.
Lourenco Pedro Chinene, the Festival’s prayer chair, stood near the stage Sunday night. At 13, he was sent on scholarship to Cuba, where he was taught, “God does not exist. It’s a fairy tale, a fantasy.” Back in Angola, Christian friends gave Chinene a Bible, and he became a believer. Now he’s in his last year of seminary.
“We had hundreds of people praying,” Chinene said in reference to the Festival. “We came to this stadium and prayed over it many times. Adrian Arce said to us, ‘Pray here. In this place one day you will see thousands come to the Lord.’ Praise the Lord–I saw it.”