In Peru Sept. 8-10, more than 140,000 Christians invited their friends into their homes and businesses to watch Mi Esperanza (My Hope) broadcasts featuring sermons by Billy and Franklin Graham, or the World Wide Pictures film Road to Redemption. They also shared their own stories of how Jesus Christ has changed their lives. As these stories of hope spread, churches across Peru were filled with the more than 247,000 people who made commitments to Jesus Christ during Mi Esperanza.
Twenty-year-old Leonardo Márquez nervously runs his hand over his curly black hair. In about an hour, 25 or so of his friends and neighbors will fill the living room of his family’s modest two-story home in the Los Olivos district of Lima, Peru. First, they’ll watch the Mi Esperanza broadcast. Then Márquez has a story to tell them.
Only months ago, Márquez was headed down a destructive path. He had grown up in a home full of anger and strife. He responded by drinking, going to parties and hanging out with the wrong people. But his mother, Tania Espino, had accepted Christ earlier, when she saw that her family was being pulled apart. She realized that her son was struggling. She turned to her pastor, who met with Márquez, led him in a prayer to receive Christ and brought him to a three-day church camp.
“The first day I stepped into the camp, I felt a force tell me that I was not alone,” Márquez says. “I felt the love of God, and I told Him that I didn’t want to be alone anymore.”
Márquez came back changed for good, his mother remembers. “He was happy; I was happy,” Espino says. “It’s incredible to me how he’s behaving now. He’s so changed, and he wants to show other people.”
Tonight Márquez will have a chance to do just that when their friends and neighbors come to the Mi Esperanza party they are hosting.
The guests will arrive soon, so Espino walks to the bakery at the end of the block to buy big, soft rolls to make sandwiches. Meanwhile, Márquez arranges white plastic chairs in four rows in front of a black metal entertainment center. He has shared his story only once before in front of a crowd, he says, his face turning red. But in spite of his nerves, he’s eager. “I want them to experience what I’ve experienced this past year,” he says, smiling and shoving his hands into the pockets of his baggy jeans.
As the time of the broadcast nears, the mostly teenage guests filter in and sit on the plastic chairs or in the stairwell. Some stand along the light blue and white walls of the living room. The teens and adults listen intently to the testimony of four Peruvian singers and to Billy Graham’s invitation to receive Christ.
The program ends and Márquez turns off the television. Standing just to the left of the television, he begins to tell his guests that he once tried to take his own life. But he didn’t succeed. Instead he discovered God’s great love for him.
“We have a hole, an emptiness, that we try to fill with drugs and alcohol,” he explains to the guests. “But Jesus is the only one who can fill it, and tonight might be your only chance.”
Then Carmen Inca, Márquez’s neighbor and a fellow member of Agua Viva church, joins Márquez up front and invites the guests to accept Jesus.
The teens look self-consciously around the room, perhaps worried about what their friends will think if they raise their hands. Two girls overcome their fears. Inca leads them in a prayer for salvation.
Once the prayer is finished, Espino and Márquez bring sandwiches, soda and flan from the kitchen. Soon everyone has been served, and Márquez, Espino and Inca are free to talk with their guests about the program. One girl admits to Inca that she had been hesitant to respond to the invitation earlier but wants to receive Christ now.
Márquez wishes that more of the guests had responded. “Just three people came to Christ, but I’m sure the seed of faith is planted,” he says hopefully. “Jesus will have the last word. I leave it to Him.” During the next two evenings’ broadcasts, Márquez will see 15 more people come to Christ.
Highways and Byways
Many Christians in Peru couldn’t wait for the opportunity to share Christ with their family, friends and neighbors. Much like the parable of the banquet in Luke 14:16-24, they went to every highway and byway of their neighborhoods to invite people to hear the Gospel.
Rosa Ramón Castillo and Maruja Vargas Linares, members of Misión Cristiana el Reino in the Surquillo district, are two such Christians. The prostitution, gang and drug activity they saw around their neighborhood motivated them to become involved with Mi Esperanza. Along with four other women from their church, they devised a plan to reach their neighbors. They had only a handful of the official Mi Esperanza invitations, so they made copies, then went door to door through the neighborhood, inviting 500 people to watch the program. Then, rather then let the size of their homes limit their outreach, they got permission to use a small, neighborhood soccer court for their party.
On Thursday evening, the six women brought to the court four large televisions and enough food for their guests. They arranged the televisions around the court so everyone could see and hear the program. More than 200 people filled the bleachers. Some had come just to play soccer but found themselves watching Mi Esperanza instead.
At the conclusion of the broadcast, the ladies told their own salvation stories. Linares had come to Christ because her marriage was crumbling. Castillo had been minutes away from swallowing pills and committing suicide, because of the disintegration of her family, when a Christian neighbor knocked on her door and led her to Christ. Both women testified to how Jesus Christ had given them purpose and restored their families.
These testimonies pierced hearts across the soccer court. Many women said they were feeling desperate about the situations in their families. Some were suicidal. But after hearing the Gospel and seeing how Christ had changed their neighbors’ lives, 27 adults and 23 children responded to the invitation to receive Christ.
Harvest of Souls
Sunday, Sept. 11, 2005, was a day of rejoicing in Peru, as thousands upon thousands of new believers attended “Harvest Sunday” celebrations at their Mi Esperanza hosts’ churches.
At Iglesia B’blica Emmanuel, an affluent church in downtown Lima, scores of people lined up outside the church waiting to squeeze into the pews for one of six Sunday services. A fine, cold mist, typical of Lima this time of year, settled on them, but no one seemed to notice. Instead, hosts talked excitedly about their weekend and introduced their newly saved friends to other church members.
“We have so many new people that I think we will have to add a seventh service!” Pastor Nolberto Pérez said as the first service began. Within weeks the church reported that some 900 people came to Christ as a result of Mi Esperanza.
That evening at Comunidad Cristiana Shalom, a church in one of Lima’s poorer outskirts, at least 200 people sat shoulder to shoulder on backless wooden benches to keep warm. There was no glass in the windows, which were mere openings in the cinder block walls, and the rain blew in. It also dripped through holes in the corrugated metal roof and ran underneath the front door, making the cement floor slick.
But in spite of the conditions, the church was filled with supernatural warmth. The whole congregation clapped, jumped and waved their arms in the air as the worship team sang. They laughed when a drop of water splashed on Pastor Moisés Surco’s head while he called the 75 new Christians and their hosts to the front of the church. Members excitedly reported how many people prayed to receive Christ in their homes and businesses.
One of those hosts, Karen Boyer Bravo, invited her 16- and 17-year-old classmates and several neighbors to watch Mi Esperanza in her home.
“These people were really important to me,” Bravo says. “I was nervous, but they said yes.” She invited her history and evolution teacher, an atheist. At first he refused her invitation, but her question, “If you died, where would you go?” shook him, and he agreed to watch the program at her home. In all, 10 classmates and four neighbors came to her Mi Esperanza party.
After the program, Bravo told her guests that Jesus Christ was the only way to change. “I’m not telling you about a religion,” she said. “Jesus is a way of life.” Her teacher was convinced that God exists, and he surrendered his life to Christ along with five of her classmates.
After hearing Bravo and others like her speak about what God had done through his congregation during Mi Esperanza, Surco summed up the weekend: “The Lord is the victor in this project.”