Franklin Graham’s wakeup call wasn’t exactly scheduled for 4 a.m. on Wednesday morning in Toronto.
But he certainly wasn’t sleeping at that hour after an electrical fire outside his hotel room set off a blaring alarm that emptied out the hotel.
So what do you, up before dawn? Well, this is Canada, which sort of makes it a no-brainer.
“I love Tim Horton’s coffee,” Franklin Graham said at a press conference before the launch. “And they’re always open.”
Thus began his day as the Greater Toronto Festival of Hope was launched in front of 800 Toronto-area pastors and church leaders who heard first-hand the vision and passion for what may be the start to a long-awaited revival.
Could this be the spark the Toronto church has been praying for — to ignite the city and surrounding areas for Christ?
Hany Boghossian, the Festival Executive Leader, couldn’t resist.
“He’s a firestarter,” Boghossian quipped, talking about Franklin Graham’s impact on Toronto.
But the metaphor was not lost amongst the laughter.
The hope for the Greater Toronto Festival of Hope is to fill the 20,000-seat Air Canada Centre on three straight September nights.
Air Canada is home to the Toronto Maple Leafs, which Boghossian claims is the “one thing that unites the church” in Toronto. And Franklin Graham talked about how “people who may never come to your church may go downtown for an event.”
“They may have been there already for a concert or sporting event,” he continued. “And they probably know what exit to take.”
The Festival committee presented Franklin Graham with a personalized No. 14 Maple Leafs jersey, representing the year they are praying the church finally unites in this international city comprised of 51 percent foreign-born people from 220 different nations.
“We’re all Leafs,” Boghossian said. “But we’re all part of the same tree.”
Dr. Sheela Duraisami, who closed out the launch event in prayer, is just one example of Toronto’s international mix. A native of Chennai, India, Duraisami moved to Toronto in 1989 and now leads the Church on the Rock International Ministries.
“We’ve been waiting as a city for the body of Christ to come together,” Duraisami said. “I’ve personally been waiting for more than 20 years. But I feel spiritually we are ripe.”
“I look around this room and I see so many different denominations represented. I’m excited,” she said. “The name Billy Graham — and Franklin Graham — carries a lot of weight. It’s the glue to bring all the denomination and ethnic groups together.”
Pastor Ho-Ming J. Tsui, 33, of Richmond Hill Community Church spoke about how impactful the evangelistic training can be on a church as Festival counselors take the Christian Life and Witness Classes and youth are trained through FM419.
“As a younger pastor it seems like everybody is concerned with social justice issues but there’s not a lot of focus on evangelism,” he said. “I’m really excited people will be able to learn how to spread the Gospel in the context of their relationships.”
Jamie Stewart, pastor of Kennedy Road Tabernacle, asked who was at the 1995 Billy Graham Crusade in Toronto. Nearly half of the hands in the room flew up.
“To see the hundreds and hundreds of people walk forward and give their lives to Christ was tremendous,” said Stewart of Mr. Graham’s fourth and final Crusade in Toronto. “What I gained personally through the Christian Life and Witness classes was so powerful.”
Stewart couldn’t help but notice the international diversity present at Wednesday’s launch.
“We’ve got the nations in this city,” he said. “What I believe we’re seeing today is a rehearsal for heaven.”
Alvin Nicholson of the African Canadian Christian Network concurs.
“We believe this is a fantastic opportunity to let Christ be known,” Nicholson said. “We really believe with all our hearts that if we work together, we will see a great harvest.”
Boghossian took things one step further.
“I believe this is a critical moment for this city,” he said. “I have a dream for this city — that this would be the most difficult city to go to hell from.
“I’m excited, can you tell? This is a great gift the Lord has given us.”
Get involved in the Greater Toronto Festival of Hope now. Click here for a complete schedule of events.