More than a hundred buses helped bring people to The Odyssey Arena from towns up to two hours away from Belfast. Several overflow locations were needed to accommodate the crowds that were lined up around the venue. For those who could not get into the arena, the event came to them when musicians and Celebration of Hope staff and volunteers went outside to talk and perform. Many other people participated in the event via live satellite in the neighboring town Inneskillin.
“Not long ago, people thought Belfast was a hopeless city because of The Troubles,” said Lord Mayor of Belfast, Jim Rodgers. “Now is the time for the Celebration of Hope, and this visit by Franklin Graham is an opportunity to change lives.”
It was just 10 years ago that citizens of Belfast lived in a state of recurring violence and bombings. Still today, a high wall divides many protestant and catholic communities, and gates block off some neighborhoods at night. Yet this weekend 386 churches united, believing that hope and true peace is possible for all their countrymen.
“Many horrible things have been done in the name of religion,” said Franklin Graham, president and CEO of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association. “Religion is not the answer. Religion cannot save you. I’m here to talk about the peace that comes from having a relationship with God’s Son Jesus Christ.” By the end of the weekend, 2,445 people responded to the invitation to follow Jesus.
Monday, April 7, 2008
Last night in the midst of raining ice and bitter winds, more than 11,100 people lined up to enter the Odyssey Arena in Belfast, Northern Ireland.
Many came because they were hungry deep down for a message of peace and forgiveness. According to arena employees, no event has ever before filled the arena like the Celebration of Hope did this weekend.
Franklin Graham told the crowds a story that Jesus once told: Two people owed a debt and could not pay. One owed 50 about pounds, and the second owed 500 pounds. Out of grace, the one who had lent them the money forgave both people and insisted that they owed him nothing.
The one who owed the larger amount was more grateful for the forgiveness he received because his debt was larger. However, neither person could pay his debt. Both needed forgiveness.
“We have a tendency to look at the sins of others and compare ourselves,” Franklin Graham said. “‘See, I’m not really that bad,’ [we say]. But we’re all guilty, and we’re all born into sin.”
We all have a reputation before God as sinners. Even if a person has spent her life in church, she is still a sinner. But God is willing to forgive even the greatest debt if we will just come to Him and give our lives to Him through faith.
When Franklin Graham invited the crowds to receive God’s gift of grace and make a decision for Jesus Christ, hundreds walked forward to the platform to make a commitment.
A woman named Anna was visiting Belfast on vacation with her husband. They are from Macedonia, and both are police officers. The husband had made a decision for Jesus Christ during a satellite broadcast of Billy Graham in 1992, but Anna was not a believer. When they heard that Franklin Graham was in Belfast while they were visiting, they decided to attend the Celebration. They walked forward together at the invitation, and Anna committed her life to Jesus Christ.
Through the four services altogether this weekend and months of preparatory classes and events, more than 3,300 people have made a commitment to Jesus Christ in Northern Ireland.
Norman Lynas Chairman of the Action Group for the Celebration said, “I think in Northern Ireland, there’s been a fire ignited for evangelism and I believe our churches will grab hold and realize that the rest doesn’t work unless people come to Christ. I think it’s the simple Gospel, and I think there’s going to be a call again for people to come to Christ and be converted, to be saved.”
Please pray for those who have made new commitments to Jesus Christ. Pray that the Body of Christ in Belfast, the churches, will be strengthened with new life and new hope.
Saturday, April 5, 2008
Saturday morning in Belfast began with more than 5,100 youth crowding into the Odyssey arena for the Celebration of Hope Kidzfest.
Although wind swirled outside the arena and temperatures were low, British songleader Duggie Dug Dug warmed every young heart at Kidzfest with his inviting message, jokes, and colorful puppets. Nearly 1,000 youth ages 1-18 came forward at the invitation to make a decision for Christ.
Saturday evening, more than 9,600 teens and young adults packed the arena for the “Student Night” to hear upbeat music from hip hop artists 29th Chapter and rockers Tree63. Many in Belfast have “prodigal” sons and daughters and have been praying for them for years. Many adults said that their children and teens have showed no interest in faith over the years, but thousands accepted invitations to attend the Celebration of Hope.
Franklin Graham spoke of being a prodigal, which means being a person who wastes his or her life. He encouraged the thousands of young people present to make a commitment to Jesus Christ and subsequently to experience the most exciting life possible. With the hope of God in your heart, Franklin Graham told the crowds, nothing is impossible.
At the invitation to come forward, more than 1,000 people–mostly ages 10-18–walked down to the platform to commit their lives to Christ. Nearly 500 “attended” the Celebration as they watched a live satellite broadcast in nearby Enniskillen, Northern Ireland.
Friday, April 4, 2008
Dancing in unison to traditional music, an Irish troupe raised excitement among the crowd of nearly 7,000 at the Celebration of Hope in Belfast Friday night, April 4.
Later, Irish musician Robin Mark led crowd in worship, and thousands turned their eyes to large screens in Belfast’s Odyssey Arena to watch personal testimonies from local citizens. One testimony was that of a young woman who found new strength and new life in a relationship with Jesus Christ.
“I’m a sinner,” Franklin Graham said. “I was born into sin. And it doesn’t matter that I went to church every Sunday. But I did not want Jesus Christ to control my life. I wanted to be free. I wanted to experience life and experience all the things life had to offer. And I was afraid that if I gave myself to Christ, I would find myself in a spiritual straitjacket. I wanted to be free.”
Franklin Graham spoke of the many ancient cathedral and church spires in Belfast, Northern Ireland, which have a cross on top. The cross is a beautiful and offensive symbol; one that represent both peace and pain. The cross symbolizes Christ’s courage and faithfulness.
Christ was obedient to God’s plan to redeem us from sin. Because of Christ’s perfect sacrifice on the cross, His death in our place, we can receive God’s forgiveness. And because of Christ’s resurrection, we can receive victory over sin and death.
“I believed in God,” Franklin Graham continued. “I believed in Jesus Christ. I just didn’t want Jesus sitting on the throne of my life. And I believe there are many of you here tonight may be in the same boat. You may have gone to church. You were raised in a religious background. But I am here to tell you that religion isn’t going to save you. You see, you have to have a personal relationship with God’s Son, the Lord Jesus Christ.”
“Maybe you’re empty tonight. Tonight you come to Christ and let Him fill that void in your life. If you put your faith and trust in Christ tonight, He’ll forgive you, He’ll cleanse you and will welcome you and receive you into His presence. But you’ve got to make a choice.”
With that invitation, hundreds walked forward in faith to make a decision for Jesus Christ. All of those who came forward spoke with trained, volunteer “Encouragers” who prayed with them and gave them a copy of the Gospel of John, from the New Testament, as well as materials for getting involved in a local church.
One 40-year-old woman walked forward after thinking for several minutes. She said that she had been struggling with depression and a particularly tough life situation, and she was hoping God would help her piece her life back together. She realized now, she said, that Christ was her only hope, and she bowed her head to invite Him into her life.