Saturday night, the Festiwal Nadziei (Festival of Hope) kicked off to an exhilarating start in Warsaw, Poland.
After two days of heavy downpours, with temperatures dropping into the 50s at the open-air Pepsi Arena, believers were praying for the rain to hold off. And it did.
Patches of blue sky opened up as TGD, a well-known Polish choir, took the stage to lead the stadium of 20,000 in worship before Franklin Graham preached the Gospel.
It was not the kind of event that happens every day in Poland, a country where about 95 percent of the population claims Catholic affiliation, but many people are unchurched.
“Some of us have been waiting for this moment for many years,” said Wladyslaw Dwulat, the Festival’s executive chairman. “I’m hoping this will change the city and us.”
Several people at the Festival could remember when Billy Graham preached in Poland, in October of 1978, under communist rule. At that time, evangelistic activities could only be held within church walls.
Saturday night, nearly four decades later, it was a very different story. The Gospel was proclaimed openly in a public arena (normally home to the Legia Warsawa professional soccer club) and hundreds streamed down from the stands to the grassy field when Franklin Graham gave the invitation to accept Christ.
“Tonight you can leave this stadium knowing your sins are forgiven and your soul is secure in the hands of God forever,” Franklin Graham told the crowd. “God loves you. He wants to forgive you. But you’ve got to be willing to repent of your sins.”
Applause broke out as people immediately came forward at the invitation to publicly accept Jesus Christ as their Savior.
Among the sea of faces in front of the stage were five children who found their way to Maria Nadolna, a believer who was trained as a children’s counselor for the Festival.
Nadolna had traveled four hours by train from the city of Poznan. She found herself surrounded by three girls and two boys, all between the ages of 8 and 12.
Four of the five said they wanted to ask Jesus into their hearts. The fifth was likely a Legia Warsawa soccer fan; he had a different reason for making his way down to the field.
“He said he just wanted to see the grass,” Nadolna laughed.
Well, he got a good look at the grass. And he also heard the Gospel, expressed in kid-friendly terms. Then Nadolna asked if anyone would like to pray to accept Jesus.
“The one who wanted to see the grass said the prayer,” she smiled. “Everyone prayed the prayer. And I felt assured the children were doing it honestly, from the bottom of their hearts.”
All around Nadolna’s young group, Polish people of all ages spoke and prayed with Festival counselors.
Yeremiasz Hendzel, an 18-year-old counselor, helped a 47-year-old man rededicate his life to Christ.
A few yards away, Andrzej Nadera, a tough-looking guy sporting a white bandana and a leather jacket, was excited to reassure one man of his salvation, and pray with another man who said he didn’t believe in heaven or hell.
“I told him what the Bible says about it,” Nadera said. “And I told him it’s like an apple that falls to the ground. We can refuse to accept it, but it does fall. It’s the same with life after death. Whether we believe it or not, it does exist.”
As hundreds of conversations took place across the field and countless prayers were uttered, Maria Nadolna summed up her view of the night.
“It’s amazing,” she said. “Heaven is filled with joy.”
Go to BillyGraham.org/Live at 11 a.m. ET on Sunday to watch a live stream of the second and final day of the Festival of Hope in Warsaw. Sunday’s event will feature Newsboys and Michael W. Smith, with a Gospel message from Franklin Graham.