People in Pittsburgh love their sports. And why not?
The Steelers have won 6 Super Bowls, two in the past decade. The Penguins won the 2009 Stanley Cup. Even the Pirates are back in the post-season conversation.
But this weekend—inside the Penguins’ home, the CONSOL Energy Center—the love and passion on display had nothing to do with a ball or a puck or fighting for a championship.
“If you don’t remember anything I say tonight,” said Franklin Graham at the Three Rivers Festival of Hope, “remember that God loves you.”
Festival counselor Peter Hosac, a lifelong Pittsburgh resident, was sporting a smart yellow embroidered Steelers polo shirt Friday night, and considers himself a Steelers junkie.
But not this weekend.
Forget that pre-season game Saturday night against the Buffalo Bills. There’s nowhere else he’d rather be than right in the middle of where God is working.
“This is where it’s at,” Peter said, pointing to the counseling floor. “This is the burning bush. We can watch the game on tape later.”
If that’s a VCR Peter’s talking about, he’s as old school as some of the late 70s Steeler and Pirates juggernauts. But on Friday, Peter was all about the present and the opportunity God laid before him. Four different people crowded around him, but he ended up talking with Patrick, a 33-year-old Pittsburgher, who accepted Christ into his life.
Peter made sure Patrick knew exactly what kind of commitment he was making. “In fact, we prayed it twice,” he said.
Franklin Graham led a mass of people packed all over the CONSOL Energy Center floor in a prayer of salvation. Old and young, from all walks of life, prayed out loud to receive Jesus Christ into their lives after a powerful message on the Festival’s theme—hope.
“For many here tonight, your bucket of hope is empty,” he said.
Citing the conflicts in the Middle East, northern Iraq, Syria, Ukraine and even the U.S. (the recent Missouri police shooting), he started Friday night’s message on a sobering note.
“When you look at the news, there’s not much hope,” Franklin Graham said.
Around the world, people watched the Three Rivers Festival through a live webstream. With more than 7,000 inside the CONSOL Energy Center, even more tuned in worldwide.
The Festival of Hope was viewed in more than 80 countries, including Pakistan, Israel, Rwanda, Nigeria, Russia and Myanmar.
Inside the arena, and out, the message that was heard was not one of the hopelessness that each person faces here on earth. But on the eternal life, offered exclusively by the Lord Jesus Christ.
“(God) will set you free,” Franklin Graham, “but you have to be willing to put your faith in His Son, Jesus Christ.”
Andrew, a 13 year old, decided tonight would be the night, coming forward and meeting fellow 13-year-old Titus, who counseled him through his decision, describing Andrew’s prayer as “pretty powerful.”
Margie, another counselor, didn’t get the opportunity to walk through the steps to peace with anyone, but did relay how instrumental Franklin Graham’s ministry was to her personally.
“I got saved at a Franklin Graham Festival in Johnstown 23 years ago,” she said of the 1991 week-long event two hours east of Pittsburgh. “I went the first night and I just wouldn’t come down to the front but by Friday night I couldn’t wait to come down.”
And the same may be true for some in attendance on Friday. But there are two more nights of impactful music and powerful messages of eternal hope.
“He’s still alive,” Franklin Graham said of Jesus Christ. “He’s not dead. He’s still alive. He’s here at the CONSOL center tonight.”
Tune into the Three Rivers Festival of Hope on Saturday (6:30 p.m. ET) and Sunday (3:30 p.m. ET) at BillyGraham.org/Live. On Saturday the lineup includes artists Tedashii, Lacey Sturm and Lecrae while Sunday’s lineup features Charlie Daniels and Michael W. Smith.