Colombia Pastor Welcomes New Believers, Adds Church Service After Cúcuta Festival

By   •   June 18, 2019

It’s been two months since the Festival de Esperanza (Festival of Hope) in Cúcuta, Colombia, on the Venezuela border. Franklin Graham preached on Easter weekend, and hundreds came forward in response to Christ. Here’s one pastor’s story of what happened afterwards.

On the last Sunday in April, a pastor in Cúcuta, Colombia, was shocked to see his church at capacity. It wasn’t a one-time phenomenon, either; his church has since added an additional service to accommodate the crowd.

He really shouldn’t have been taken aback, he said several weeks later. After all, it’s what he’d been praying for—more people seeking Christ. And he wasn’t alone in those prayers.

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For months leading up to Franklin Graham’s Festival de Esperanza (Festival of Hope) in Cúcuta, more than 300 local churches prayed and invited people to come.

Pastor Mario Diaz Ayala was one of them. He knew this was going to be an unprecedented event for his city, which sits on the border of Venezuela. The area has faced—and still faces—severe economic uncertainty on both sides of the border.

Mario Diaz Ayala has been a pastor for 20 years. This time last year, he said he rarely saw new Christians coming to his church. Following the Festival of Hope with Franklin Graham in April, his church added a service to accommodate all the new believers—a change he can contribute only to “the Holy Spirit working.”

Pastor Mario served on the Festival’s leadership team and had everyone in his church inviting people to hear Franklin Graham preach at a massive soccer stadium. Church members went door to door, handing out flyers. Pastor Mario helped organize 12 of the hundreds of busloads of people who came, and others in the church used their own cars to drive people to the event.

In the two days before Easter, more than 94,000 people heard the Gospel, plus another 22,000 who attended a kid-centric evangelistic program called FestiKids earlier in the week.

“It was amazing—an incredible opportunity for this city,” Pastor Mario said.

But any church that’s been involved in a Festival knows that’s not where it ends. What happens after people decide to start a life with Christ? Where do they go once the event is over and the venue clears out?

At every evangelistic event, Franklin Graham encourages new believers to go to church where they can grow in their faith. But it’s not just a recommendation; there are people on the ground to be sure each new Christian is connected with a church nearby.

That’s where people like Pastor Mario come in. More than 50 new people showed up at his church the Sunday after the Festival.

“We were surprised by the Lord,” he said. “The people don’t fit. There are too many people.”

And they keep coming—some who didn’t even go to the Festival.

Not that that’s a bad thing.

Before the Festival, Pastor Mario said his church had 170 members. Now it’s 250 on Sunday morning and another 250 on Sunday afternoon. His church also added a Saturday service specifically for new Christians, around 50 to 70 people.

Pastor Mario (center) and his family in Colombia.

Right now, his church is made up of three small houses situated next to each other, with no walls between. He’d like to buy a fourth house to expand the building.

It’s not all up to him to care for the new faces, though. He’s mobilized his entire church to help disciple new Christians and teach them the basics of Christianity.

Church growth has sparked a fresh wave of prayer, too. There are 15 new prayer groups just for new believers.

Another kicker: his church isn’t the only one. He knows other pastors desiring larger church spaces since the Festival because more people are showing up on the weekends.

The name of Pastor Mario’s church translated is “House of Glory,” and in past months, he said that last word can be applied across his city. There’s a certain glory that radiates from Cúcuta as churches have unified around this Festival and grown together “like a family.”

Looking back, he said the two-day Festival “was a blessing not only for the new believers, but for the pastors” who get a front-row seat to the aftereffects.

God’s response to those early prayers he prayed has nearly blown him out of the water.

Pray for new believers in Colombia and Venezuela as pastors in both countries help them grow spiritually following the Cúcuta Festival.