A mob scene at a soccer stadium?
In Latin American culture, maybe you’d find this for a fútbol match. But to come and hear about Jesus?
Yet that was exactly the scene just outside La Paz’s Rafael Mendoza Castellón Stadium, where thousands simply would not fit inside for the Festival de Esperanza with Franklin Graham.
Bolivians were packed in the stands, shoulder-to-shoulder, and every usable square foot on the infield was filled with red and white plastic chairs. By the time the 4 p.m. event began, the doors had been locked and those in line became restless, feverishly trying to get in.
“You can tell there’s a hunger for the supernatural,” Festival Director Galo Vazquez said. “And that’s what the Gospel is all about.”
In all, 31,250 made their way to the stadium by car, bus, mini-bus, taxi and foot, including several thousands who watched the Festival on a jumbo TV screen in an overflow area outside the stadium.
But that official count was at least two people short.
Maria, 33, and Yumi, 30, came to the Festival right around 4 p.m. and were told there was no room inside. So the two friends who met at church did the only sensible thing: They climbed the nearby Achumani mountain range and took in Festival de Esperanza from a bird’s-eye view.
Popular Christian artists Matamba and Daniel Calveti could easily be heard from their perch.
“We have a good view up here,” Maria said. “And you can still hear very well.”
But still, Maria couldn’t help being “a little disappointed,” by not getting in. “But what can you do?”
For the 800-plus involved churches, some for as long as 18 months, you just keep inviting those who need Christ in their lives.
“I think this is terrific,” said Vazquez after more than 2,000 people made decisions for Christ on Saturday night. “You never know what God is going to do. We are rejoicing for the harvest and that God has answered so many prayers.”
Franklin Graham preached from Luke 15 on the prodigal son, stressing how “the father ran to his son and put his hands around him. And the son said, ‘I’ve sinned against you. I’m sorry, please forgive me.’”
He paused, just briefly, and drove home the message: “That’s what the Father will do for you. He’ll put his arms around you and forgive you.”
“Franklin Graham has been amazing, preaching with such conviction and authority,” Vazquez said.
Even before the invitation was given, many had come forward. By the time Franklin Graham called people forward to accept Christ as their Lord and Savior, hundreds were pouring down the aisle.
Teen Turns from Alcohol
One of the hundreds to receive Jesus on Saturday evening was Esther, a 14-year-old impressionable teen from El Alto, just north of La Paz.
Coming from a non-Christian home, Esther’s eyes were open when she saw the crowd singing, dancing and worshipping God — even fellow teens.
“She saw that young people and Christians can have fun without alcohol,” said Ariane Paucara, a 21-year-old Festival counselor from La Paz.
The 14-year-old had dabbled in the alcohol and drug scene, which has become more common in the city of El Alto, according to Paucara. According to other locals at the Festival, some teens are using rubbing alcohol mixed with Coca-Cola or powdered Kool-Aid as an inexpensive alternative to getting wasted.
“Because there are a lot of parties,” Paucara said, “it has become common to drink at these parties, even underage.”
But there was something about Esther’s body language that caught Paucara’s attention. As she was explaining what it meant to accept Christ into her life, other girls seemed distracted, but not Esther.
“The other girls were looking around,” Paucara said. “But she was really paying attention and really listening. I think she really made a decision for Christ tonight.”
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