Sure, Lali Quisishvili saw the storm clouds hovering over the Festival of Hope in Tbilisi, Georgia, on Saturday evening, but she didn’t even blink.
Shelter may have been in short supply in the open-air courtyard of Evangelical Faith Church, but her faith was not.
“We’ve been praying for this for a year,” Lali said. “I knew God wouldn’t allow it to rain and for these children to get wet.”
For Lali, a small-business owner three metro stations south of the church, “these children” went by the names of Tamuna and Gvanca. Before Saturday, she had never met the 10- and 7-year-old sisters from a small village in the Kakheti region, best known for producing the region’s top wine.
But thanks to the Festival’s extensive busing network—more than 300 buses were booked from all regions of Georiga—Tamuna, Gvanca and their grandmother were able to attend the Festival of Hope 90 kilometers away from home.
And by night’s end, this simple bus trip turned into salvation.
“Religion can’t save you,” Franklin Graham said at Saturday night’s Festival. “Going to church can’t save you.
“Only Jesus Christ can.”
This was news to Tamuna and Gvanca, both nominally raised in the church, who eagerly threw up their hands to ask Jesus into their lives. They hadn’t heard of this personal relationship with Jesus.
“He’s alive and here tonight,” Franklin Graham continued, preaching on blind Bartimaeus from Mark 10. “Waiting for you to accept Him into your heart.”
So even as the dark clouds crept closer and closer, local believers were undeterred. “It’s not going to rain,” one of the prayer committee members said, with a near-deadpan delivery.
How do you know?
“Because we prayed against it.”
Simple as that.
And that’s the same conviction Lali carried on Saturday. Already, she and others have had to deal with the blow of the Festival moving out of the Sports Palace last-minute because of a fire.
She had personally spent the week leading up to the Festival handing out more than 100 Festival fliers at the beauty supply shop she co-owns—with no way of telling most of her customers about the changed venue.
So when this weather seemed to threaten? Ultimately, she knew God was in control. “I had a peace in my heart.”
And thanks to the rain staying away, now Tamuna and Gvanca did too. “I do think their prayer was sincere,” Lali said. “Children are more sincere than adults.
“They told me they were going to start reading the Gospels in the New Testament.”
The two sisters shared how they were particularly moved by the powerful singing of local believers, many breaking their stoic countenance during a worship set by Michael W. Smith.
The finale, Agnus Dei, with the 500-member choir beginning with a sweet Georgian harmony was an emotional moment for both Michael W. Smith and the Tommy Coomes Band backing him up.
Add Tamuna and Gvanca to that list.
“We didn’t know we could glorify God with music like this,’” the sisters told Lali.
And so what happened to grandma, who invited them on the bus adventure? Where was she at during all of this?
“She also prayed a prayer of repentance with another counselor,” Lali said of the 70-year old. “Then she came over and wanted me to pray with her. She said I’m no longer afraid of death.”
These three life-changing decisions from Kakheti were among hundreds on Saturday night as more than 4,000 crammed into the courtyard and overflow areas.
And how’s this for God’s timing? Just 15 minutes after the counseling session wrapped up, rain drops—big rain drops—began to fall and rain continued for hours afterward, bringing a lightning storm with it.
But tomorrow’s weather? Zero percent chance of rain for the Festival’s final two events—one at noon, the other at 7 p.m.
Lali is looking forward to clear skies and more changed lives— or “miracles” as she puts it.
“Very much excited,” she said. “I’m hoping God will do incredible things in Georgia.”
For more stories, videos and photos of the Festival of Hope in Tbilisi, click here.