For three nights, they came by train, by bus and on foot from throughout Moldova: People from villages in the North, the South and from the Eastern region called Transnistria. Each night the people filled to capacity Moldova’s National Stadium in the capital city of Chisinau. Hundreds watched by video from an overflow area outside the stadium.
During the historic “Festival of Hope,” held July 8-10, Franklin Graham proclaimed the Good News of Jesus to more than 93,000 people from all across this former Soviet republic–and more than 13,000 responded to the invitation to put their faith in Jesus Christ.
The Festival was not only the largest evangelistic gathering in the history of Moldova, it also was Franklin Graham’s first Festival in Eastern Europe. Franklin took the opportunity to convene a historic meeting in Chisinau (pronounced Kish-i-nev) with some 40 church leaders from Romania, Russia and eight of the 11 republics in the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS), a coalition of former Soviet republics. All who attended that meeting extended invitations for Franklin to return to the region to hold Festivals in their respective nations.
Valeriu Ghiletchi, chairman of the Festival Executive Committee, commented on the significance of Franklin Graham coming to Chisinau: “Moldova is the gate to the former Soviet empire.”
“The [Christian] unity here in Moldova is second to none in the regions of the former Soviet Union,” said Viktor Hamm, Festival director. “The churches have been working for a number of years in evangelism, and they are very active.”
The fervor for evangelism in Moldova has been directly influenced by the work of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, which has been involved there since the nation declared its independence in 1991.
As the fledgling country began to find its way, the political and economic upheaval made for a fertile spiritual environment. BGEA worked to bring the truth of Jesus Christ into the region and found men and women eager to know their Creator. Moldovans began turning to God as they adjusted to their new freedom–and to the challenges that freedom created.
BGEA’s ministry in Moldova has included Schools of Evangelism, television broadcasts and the Hour of Decision radio program. In 2001, more than 1,000 Christian leaders attended a BGEA Congress on Evangelism in Chisinau. Hamm, in association with the BGEA, also conducted two Crusades in Moldova–one in northern Moldova and another at the National Stadium in Chisinau.
Many to whom BGEA ministered in the early years of Moldova’s independence have gone on to spearhead the spread of the Gospel throughout Eastern Europe, Hamm said.
Searching for Hope
Struggles that marked the beginning of this young nation have remained. Yet Moldova remains open to the Gospel. Perhaps partly because Moldova is one of the poorest countries in Eastern Europe, the people are searching for hope.
That search has taken many Moldovans beyond their nation’s borders. It is estimated that one-third of Moldova’s workforce is now living and employed outside of the country. As a result, families are suffering.
“Thousands and thousands and thousands of children live without parents,” said Viktor Popovich, pastor of Jesus the Savior Church, in Chisinau.
Hamm described the situation this way: “In the villages, most of the kids in the schools are living with one parent, because one parent is working somewhere else. Many kids live with their grandmothers and grandfathers. Basically, the family structure is falling apart.”
And the region’s problem of human trafficking has reached catastrophic proportions. Many women, especially those from the villages, are lured abroad by false newspaper advertisements offering high-paying jobs–and end up enslaved in a life of prostitution.
“This is the exact right time for the Festival,” said Popovich. “The people of Moldova need to know that there is a Hope. We’ve been praying for this kind of revival.”
Taking the Message to the Nation
The Festival of Hope was the culmination of a year of preparation by 700 churches from more than a dozen denominations nationwide. “This is a unique and historic event for us because it mobilizes all of the evangelical churches,” said Ghiletchi, who also is Bishop of the Union of Christian Evangelical Baptist Churches of Moldova.
This kind of unity is significant in this nation of 4.6 million, which is home to only 50,000 evangelical believers.
For months leading up to the Festival, churches held prayer rallies and gatherings. More than 2,000 participated in the Festival’s choir, which held weekly practices in 10 different regions for its far-flung members.
Many young adults also participated in an “Automarch,” or car rally, which on Sunday, July 3, took them to more than 160 towns and villages throughout Moldova as they invited people to the Festival.
During the Automarch, Sasha Pavlovskhy, 20, was among a group that traveled to the breakaway region of Transnistria, which is attempting to gain independence from Moldova. Those who went to the troubled region encountered some resistance at the border, where they were forced to remove the banners and posters from their vehicles. But Pavlovskhy remained undaunted: “There are lots of villages that hadn’t heard the Good News, and after this Festival, they have,” he said.
The car rally ended with a historic, first-ever Christian gathering at the Plaza of the Great National Assembly in the center of Chisinau. The caravan of vehicles–covered with posters and waving Festival flags–received a police escort as they convened in the Plaza to pray for the country and to announce the upcoming Festival.
“We could not even imagine that this could happen!” exclaimed Stephan Pavliuk, 22.
“It is amazing what the Lord has done in terms of preparation,” said Hamm, “allowing us to penetrate the country with the Gospel and to do as much as we were able to do. This is God!”
Jesus Christ Is the Answer
During the Festival of Hope, Franklin Graham shared the Gospel of Jesus Christ each night; his messages were interpreted into Russian the first two nights and into Romanian the final night.
Franklin recalled a 1980s visit to the border of Romania and Moldova with his father, Billy Graham. “Years ago I drove to the border of this country, looked through the heavily guarded gate and prayed that one day you would be free and that I would have an opportunity to come back,” Franklin said. “Now I am here with tens of thousands of you, and this is a free nation. But I want you to have a spiritual freedom found in the hope and love of Jesus Christ.”
One young man who made a first-time commitment to Jesus Christ was Valeri, 19, from the town of Floreschti. After seeing the Festival advertised in his village, Valeri rode with a friend on one of the 1,100 buses chartered for the Festival. When the invitation was given, Valeri said, “I felt that God was calling me to come forward.”
Tatiana, 21, came to the Festival with her sister, who is an evangelical Christian. With tears in her eyes, Tatiana committed her life to Jesus Christ and prayed for God’s forgiveness. “I cohabitate (with my boyfriend), and I know it’s a sin,” she said. “I was touched by the words that God loves me. I’m joyful, but I’m afraid that some obstacles are waiting ahead.”
Certainly the new believers in Moldova will face troubles and obstacles, but Franklin Graham proclaimed on the Festival’s final night, “Whatever is wrong, whatever is troubling you tonight, Jesus Christ is the answer.”
Thousands from all across the nation of Moldova found the answer and the hope that only Jesus Christ can bring.