Carina Fernandez watches for her daughter Alanis to emerge from her third-grade classroom. When Alanis appears, mother and daughter have important business to conduct. In the midst of the swirling crowd of chattering voices and sputtering motorbikes, they invite three of Alanis’ friends to Festiniños–the children’s Festival to be held the following Saturday as part of the Festival of Hope With Franklin Graham.
As they talk, a family friend approaches–Katherine, a mother of two, is here to pick up her children.
Carina has been praying for Katherine. She and Alanis take this opportunity to invite Katherine and her children to the Festival as well. Katherine readily accepts.
In just a few moments, six more people have been invited to hear the Good News of Jesus. And Carina says that in the past few weeks she has personally handed out some 200 invitations to the Festival.
A short time later, teens and young adults from Iglesia Mi Fortaleza (Church of My Strength), sweep through a nearby bus station. In minutes, they’ve given out dozens more invitations.
This was the final day of an effort that, beginning in January, saw Christians distribute nearly 300,000 Festival invitations throughout Montevideo and the surrounding area.
Evangelical Christians have always made up a very small portion of Uruguay’s population. In fact, Uruguay ranks as the most secular nation in all of Latin America.
But in the days of the Festival of Hope, thousands of volunteers–representing more than 700 churches and 64 denominations–banded together to make the message of Jesus known in a big way. The Festival became the largest evangelical gathering in Uruguay’s history, with a total attendance of 71,000 over four meetings.
During the March 19–21 meetings, musicians such as Montevideo’s own Ivanna Izquierdo, Spain’s Marcos Vidal, the Dominican Republic’s Lilly Goodman and the United States’ Tommy Coomes Band joined to support Franklin Graham as he proclaimed the Good News of Jesus. At the end of each meeting, Franklin invited people to come forward, confess their sins and put their faith in Jesus Christ.
After watching hundreds respond on the first night of the Festival, Pastor Roberto Mairena, the president of the Festival’s executive committee, remarked, “My heart is touched. I feel a great satisfaction to see the response of so many people to a message that was so direct that it would compel them to leave their sin and come to Christ.”
At each successive meeting, the crowds grew, as did the numbers of people who made decisions for Christ. On the final evening, with the stadium completely full, hundreds more gathered in a grassy area outside, where they sat in plastic chairs or on the ground, or leaned against buses and eucalyptus trees.
A secular nation? Perhaps. But people were hungry to hear about Jesus, and during the Festival more than 8,200 came forward in response to the Gospel invitation. Among them were Katherine, her two children and the other three friends invited by Carina Fernandez and daughter Alanis outside Casteran School.
After the final meeting, as workers began to dismantle sound and lighting equipment, national coordinator Alejandro Fernandez spoke of the Festival and the future: “This surpasses my dreams,” he said. “Now I’m dreaming of bigger things–of reaching each city in this country with a team working in a similar way. The Festival not only gave us this harvest, it also gave us new vision, encouraged our hearts and gave us a platform to start a new style of evangelistic work together–in unity, like the Lord Jesus prayed.”