Changing Lives in Quito

By Bob Paulson   •   October 17, 2006

For months, Christians in Quito, Ecuador, prayed that God would change lives during the Festival de Esperanza (Festival of Hope) with Franklin Graham Sept. 22-23 at Quito’s Olympic Stadium. And true to His Word, God did more than all they could ask or imagine (Ephesians 3:20). In this South American capital set in a valley silhouetted by the Andes mountains, the Festival had a total attendance of 140,000—the largest evangelistic gathering in the history of Ecuador. The final meeting set an attendance record for Quito’s Olympic Stadium, and more than 14,000 people responded to the invitation to make a decision for Jesus Christ during the two-day event.

Ruben and Gladys Quishpe, with their children Jocelyn, Kevin, Josue and Johnny, walked in the crisp Andes mountain air toward Door 12 at Quito’s Olympic Stadium. It was slow going–5-year-old Johnny isn’t the fastest walker, and his slightly older brothers Kevin and Josue are prone to impromptu, laughter-filled wrestling matches and games of tag.

The Quishpes have not been attending any church. Why, then, did they come to this first evening of the Festival of Hope With Franklin Graham? “We were invited,” Gladys said, “and we want to hear about God. We just want to change.” Like thousands of others, the Quishpes had heard that the Festival offered a message that could transform their lives.

They continued on to Door 12, grabbed a bite to eat from a food vendor and found some seats near midfield among a crowd that soon grew to 42,000.

That crowd was not there by accident; it was an answer to countless prayers and months of cooperative work by Christians in the Quito area. Many churches began praying for the Festival in January. Juan Cando, pastor of Centro Cristiano Tombaco (Tombaco Christian Center), said that his church added the Festival to its 5 a.m. intercessory prayer meetings months ago. Standing at the front of the church sanctuary, Cando held up a stack of Festival Operation Andrew cards with the names of people the church had been praying for.

In the months leading up to the Festival, organizers reached out to the region in a variety of ways. Health caravans provided medical and dental care to more than 20,000 needy people in five provinces, according to Dr. Byron Argoti, who directed the medical work.

In Quito, one church alone distributed some 6,000 Festival invitations in Quito’s Old Town sector. “This is the kind of project I really love,” said Pastor Fernando Tapia, of Centro Cristiano Victoria con Jesus (Victory With Jesus Christian Center), “because it encourages the people to move ahead. They have the passion to move ahead when they see the results.”

In spite of these efforts, a major challenge arose days before the Festival when suddenly a soccer game pre-empted the first night’s meeting. Not to be discouraged, Festival organizers gave soccer tickets to about 2,000 young people who displayed Festival banners and distributed invitations at the game.

But many people, like the Quishpe family, came to the stadium because friends invited them. “We are depending mostly on Operation Andrew–people bringing people to the stadium,” said Fernando Lay, pastor of Iglesia Allianza de Iñaquito (Alliance Church of Iñaquito) and chairman of counseling and follow-up for the Festival. “In my own church, almost 700 signed up for Operation Andrew. Our goal is to see 500 new people coming to our church as a result of the Festival.”

One member of Lay’s church, Hernando Salazar, certainly did his part in Operation Andrew. Salazar wrote 21 names on Operation Andrew cards. Two weeks before the Festival, seven had already put their faith in Jesus Christ. “The Lord just put it on my heart to start to talk with them,” Salazar said. “I have been a Christian one year and nine months. … I don’t have a lot of time in Jesus, but the Lord has changed my life completely.”

In recent decades, God has changed many lives in Quito. Pastor Cando recalled that in the 1980s his members faced persecution for their faith. “People wanted to kill us,” he said. “They threw rocks, they beat us, they did a lot of bad things. But the Lord just opened their hearts. … Most of the people respect evangelicals for their testimony. They see lives changed, families restored.”

On Friday evening, Pablo Marco Ponce, a counselor to the mayor of Quito, reinforced that message, telling the Festival crowd, “The only way we can have a different life or a different country is with Jesus. We pray the Lord will bless this Festival. After this wonderful and beautiful Festival, our city will be nearer to Christ.”

That night, Franklin Graham told the story of Zacchaeus, a despised tax collector who had cheated many people but who overcame obstacles to see Jesus and ultimately put his faith in Christ.

“What obstacle is keeping you from coming to Jesus tonight?” Franklin asked. “I want you to know that you are important to God. God loves you, and He sent His Son, Jesus Christ, to this earth to save you.”

When Franklin invited people to come forward and show that they wanted to turn from their sin and commit their lives to Christ, hundreds immediately began moving down the aisles toward the field. Once they reached the bottom of the ramps coming out of the stands, some ran to the platform. “Don’t run,” Franklin said gently. “Don’t push. We don’t want anyone to get hurt. There is plenty of room, and we are going to wait for you. If you’re not sure that your sins have been forgiven, come. Come to God tonight through faith in His Son, Jesus Christ. Be set free.”

Shouts of “Gloria a Dios!” (Glory to God) and “Hallelujah!” came from the stands. At one side of the counseling area, two men waved large flags in celebration.

Among those who went forward were the Quishpes, the family that had arrived at the stadium saying they wanted to change. After praying with a counselor, Gladys said, “I feel peace right now, because I can feel the Lord in my life.” Ruben added, “The moment they invited us to come forward, we decided to receive the Lord in our hearts.”

Christians saw God answer their prayers in dramatic fashion. Juan Carlos Jarrin likes to play basketball in the parks, and in so doing has told many people about Jesus. For three months, 32 people had been attending an evangelistic Bible study at Jarrin’s house, but none had received Christ–until Friday night at the Festival, when every single one of them went forward. “I’m so surprised how the Lord does His work,” Jarrin said. “I’m just His instrument, that’s all.”

As the Festival continued Saturday morning with Festiniños (see sidebar) and then concluded Saturday evening, God continued to call people to salvation.

On Saturday, Arturo Noren, pastor of Iglesia Bautista Betania (Betania Baptist Church), anticipated the following day’s worship services. “Tomorrow is going to be a big celebration,” he said, “because we are going to have so many people share what the Lord is doing. … It is amazing to see how Quito is coming alive for the Lord.”

Rafael Ortiz, the Festival’s executive chairman, struggled to express his feelings as he watched people being counseled Saturday evening.

“The only words I have in my heart after seeing all this are ‘glory to God,'” Ortiz said. “We did our part, and that can be imperfect, but the way the Lord does things is a miracle. All the glory goes to Him.”