Building Blocks in Budapest

By   •   May 23, 2012

When Franklin Graham proclaims the Gospel in Budapest June 1-3, he will address an audience that looks different from the two crowds his father spoke to in the 1980s—yet bears some striking similarities.

On January 1, 2012, a new Hungarian constitution replaced the one crafted by the communist party when it came into power in 1949; the constitution was merely modified when communism fell in 1989.

According to one news source, “The 2012 constitution affirms the Christian heritage of Hungary and attempts to set in concrete some Christian values, such as the protection of embryonic life, marriage being a union between a man and a woman—in addition to the usual, internationally recognized human rights.”

During Mr. Graham’s visits, the times were different, explained Festival of Hope Director Viktor Hamm. “In the communist era, religious expression was prohibited.”

Indeed, Karl Marx, the father of communism, said, “Communism begins from the outset with atheism,” while Vladimir Lenin wrote: “A Marxist must be an enemy of religion.”

In his autobiography, Billy Graham recalled his first outreach in Budapest: “In 1985, we were given use of a 12,500-seat public sports arena in the center of the city. It was the first time in many decades, to our knowledge, that a public venue had been used for an evangelistic meeting in Eastern Europe. I couldn’t explain that in any other way than God’s doing.”

“Four hours before the start of the September 22 meeting,” said Mr. Graham, “every seat in the indoor arena was taken; many had to stay outside to listen over loudspeakers. The Hungarians’ love of music is legendary, and a large choir, accompanied by a volunteer symphony orchestra, had been recruited for the event from virtually every Christian denomination. Even without special political insight, I felt that Eastern Europe was on the brink of massive change.”

His July 1989 visit was even more remarkable.

“In what can only be described as a miracle, we went to hold a huge evangelistic rally in Hungary’s largest outdoor stadium,” said Mr. Graham. “All attendance records were broken at the rally; every seat was taken, and people packed the grassy perimeter of the playing field. Statistics never tell the whole story, of course, but everyone was astonished that an estimated 110,000 people attended.”

When the invitation was given, 35,000 people jammed the playing field and overflowed onto the running track.

“Never in our ministry had such a high percentage responded.” said Mr. Graham. “My four visits to Hungary in 12 years absolutely fixed my conviction that the Holy Spirit was releasing a spiritual force in that part of the world that was bound to challenge the atheistic philosophy that had dominated nations in that region for decades.”

According to Viktor Hamm, the impact of the 1989 Crusade on churches and society reverberated throughout Eastern Europe:  “It broke every possible record and attracted the attention of the media. The communists realized that the power of the Gospel is greater than the teachings of Lenin, Marx or Engels.

“The footprint of Mr. Graham’s Crusade is very visible even today,” Hamm added. During a recent pastors’ seminar, 98 percent of those attending were there in 1989.

“The baton of enthusiasm, the baton of evangelism is being passed on from generation to generation, not only within Hungary, but also within BGEA,” said Hamm. “Dr. Graham and now Franklin Graham are carrying the same message, which is Christ and Christ alone.”

Yet, despite the recent religious freedom found in Hungary, the needs of the human heart are the same as in 1985 and 1989.

“Today, with Hungary being part of the European Union, all of the influence of the West—liberalism, immorality, the values of postmodern society—have migrated from Western Europe to Hungary,” said Hamm. “So the Hungarian churches of today are dealing with exactly the same problems that the Western churches are dealing with, plus the Communist past.”

Festival of Hope Chairman, Rev. Janos Papp, said, “I am convinced that the Festival of Hope and its clear and obvious goal—to proclaim the Gospel of Jesus—is very timely and absolutely necessary. It will have a healing effect, as a “cairos – event,” which is happening in the best time in our country.”

“In Hungary today, less than half the people believe God even exists and only 6 percent attend church,” said Franklin Graham in his most recent prayer letter. “Millions need to hear the Gospel. Pray for me, that the Holy Spirit will enable me to preach clearly ‘about the Lord Jesus Christ with all boldness and without hindrance’ (Acts 28:31, ESV).”

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Budapest 1989