Mykhailo came with his heart hurting and his life broken, like so many people in war-torn Ukraine.
A bus brought him 100 miles to the Festival of Hope in Lviv, and his feet took him from his seat in Arena Lviv to the field of the soccer stadium after Franklin Graham gave the Gospel invitation.
Mykhailo approached a pastor, Anatoliy Schmiuksovskyy of First Baptist Church in Lviv, on the field and said at first that he only wanted a musical CD of the American couple that sang earlier in the evening, John and Anne Barbour.
Anatoliy explained that he had no access to a CD, but he invited Mikhailo to say the prayer of salvation that Franklin was reciting to the nearly 2,000 from the crowd of 39,100 who had come forward in response to the invitation.
Mykhailo said he could not do so because he had been drinking. There was a heavy smell of alcohol on his breath, and he was ashamed.
“Christ can accept you just like this and give you a new life,” Anatoliy said.
Mykhailo then prayed to receive Christ, becoming one of more than 1,500 people to do so on a very special night in Lviv.
Many months of planning and much prayer led up to the event, which included a 2,800-member choir of local worshippers.
The stadium’s 35,000 seats filled quickly, and extra songs were added to the early part of the service to allow people in cars and buses still lined up on streets outside to find a place in the stadium. Latecomers stood and sat on the edge of the field to hear the Good News that God loved them and made a way for the forgiveness of their sins through Jesus’ sacrificial death on the cross.
It had rained all day Saturday leading up to the Festival, but the drops stopped shortly before the meeting began at 5 p.m. By the time Franklin began to preach, a blue sky appeared amid the clouds above the open-air stadium.
For Valeriy Antonyuk, a Festival honorary chairman and the head of the Baptist denomination in Ukraine, what God did on this night was a sign and a wonder to a nation in deep need of hope.
“Right now, our people are not in a good situation,” Antonyuk said. “They have many problems … but they have a thirst for God.”
Antonyuk was seated next to Franklin on the platform and had an ideal view of the droves of people who came forward to pray, many of whom he said were probably young soldiers who had served in the war against Russian separatists in the eastern part of the country.
“A lot of people were kneeling in front of the stage,” he said. “I saw tears in their eyes. It’s a great joy for me to see so many of them come to know Christ tonight. It was a special work of the Holy Spirit.”
Volodya and Oxana Karpyak, who have been married for nine years, served as counselors and were blessed to help lead a combined seven people in the prayer for salvation. It was Oxana’s birthday, and she said the harvest she witnessed on this night was the best present she could ever have received.
“I am filled with emotions,” she said as she hugged her husband.
He exuberantly replied: “Great and mighty is our God.”