How did My Hope change Portugal?
Trick question, say those who worked closely with the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association’s world evangelism project. Only God can change a person, a community, a country.
And those results throughout Portugal, which some call the “Gateway to Europe,” will come in waves.
But if you talk candidly with Matthews in their living rooms and church parking lots, you realize that the biggest impact My Hope had on Portugal may quite possibly be on the mentality of the evangelical church.
There is life-changing power in the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
But you have to be willing to share it.
“I believe one of the keys of the process is to convict the believers that we have a hope,” said O Caminho (The Way) pastor Samuel Santos. “And to value the contacts and friendships more than anything.”
The value of a friendship is the heart of the “Matthew” concept, which is the critical component of My Hope.
Sure, there’s the 30-minute television program that features music, testimonies and convicting messages from Billy or Franklin Graham. And there’s a huge step of faith that Christians must take inviting people to watch the program.
More than 970 churches and 5,400 Matthews went through the training.
But the entire My Hope premise — much like all of society — hinges on that personal relationship.
“If you just invite a neighbor that you are not in contact with, it doesn’t work,” said Claudia Pereira. “You have to have a relationship with them for it to work well.”
Pereira, 34, had tried to nail down some of her closest unsaved friends to come over to watch the program, but when scheduling became an issue, she offered to reschedule to the next week and they took her up on it.
She knows it’s not about just filling her living room couch and chairs with warm bodies.
“They know us,” Pereira said. “They know our lives. They know we go to church. They know how we live.”
Portugal’s top-ranking evangelical, Dr. Fernando Soares Loja, concurs. “I believe this is an opportunity for the believer to witness to their friends.”
Loja, the President of Commission of Religions Freedom, knows there’s also another benefit of My Hope: Getting the 1 percent evangelistic population to realize their voice can be heard by the other 99.
“It’s as if our teenager has become 18 years old,” he said. “It’s like now they can hear our message.”
Loja was “just a teenager” himself when Portugal tried to organize a Billy Graham Crusade, only to be dissuaded by a 1974 revolution.
“We tried 40 years ago for Billy Graham to preach but it was impossible,” he said. “We can’t have him personally, but we can still have him preaching the Gospel.”
“It’s a dream come true,” said Sarah Catarino, president of the Portugal arm of Aglow International, “to see the church of Portugal united in an effort.
“We’re bringing Jesus to people.”
And that message of Jesus has already penetrated many hearts, even if it’s at a slower rate than other cultures.
One church with about 60 members averaging about 120 in weekly attendance had two first-time visitors show up on Harvest Sunday.
Two first-time visitors.
It may not seem like cause for celebration, or worth much of a mention, but in a place like Porto, Portugal, two new visitors is a big deal.
“Two people. That is really remarkable,” said Evan Malone, who has spent her last 24 years helping plant and develop churches in Portugal. “They are afraid to step into the church. It’s the whole society against someone taking this step of coming into the evangelical church.
“It’s like pulling teeth.”
But one, or in this case, two new believers at a time, God is growing churches, and in the meantime, growing confidence in the Portuguese Christians, reinforcing the evangelical message: The Gospel of Jesus as alive as ever.
“I think God is doing something,” she said.
Pray for My Hope
Pray for the new Christians in Portugal and for the upcoming My Hope broadcasts in Spain, Dec. 15-17. Please consider supporting these effort with a financial gift too.