Although Franklin Graham preached his concluding message on Jan. 24, the Chennai Hope Festival lives on. Even now, ripple effects are spreading across India–among youth, in the churches, and in the lives of those who gave their hearts to serving.
“This has been a unique event in India,” says Festival Director Chad Hammond. “Our goal was not to fill the venue. Our goal was that God would touch the city of Chennai, and we feel that happened. We thank God for His Spirit.”
More than 187,350 people heard messages of hope over a four-day period. Nearly 15,000 people responded to the invitation to commit their lives to Jesus Christ in a city that is 82 percent Hindu and roughly 9 percent Muslim.
Known as the Jerusalem of India, Chennai has the nation’s largest Christian population – 7 percent. The rest of India is less than 3 percent Christian.
Historic ties to Christianity run deep in Chennai. The apostle Thomas is credited with bringing the Gospel to India in 52 A.D. It is believed that he was martyred on St. Thomas Mount in Chennai by the local tribal people. The site of his death is a landmark visited by thousands of pilgrims each year.
The city is known for its religious tolerance. Hindus, Muslims and Christians live peacefully with each other. In some places, you will find a church, a mosque and a temple side by side. But there are people who oppose the proclamation of the Gospel and conversion to Christianity. Converts sometimes are ostracized socially and disowned by their families. Other times, the cost is much greater.
Most people have at least heard about Jesus, but consider Him one of a number of gods. Some will listen to Christian messages “to be on the safe side” but not commit their lives totally to Him.
So Franklin Graham’s clear, direct Gospel presentation that Jesus Christ is the only way to salvation was a much needed message. “If there were a few more Festivals like this, I think everyone in India would be saved!” says Joy Amudha, a Festival counselor. “We want Franklin Graham to come back again and again to save our country.
“But,” she adds, “the revival has started. This fire will spread.”
Impact on Churches
For a full year before Franklin stepped onto the platform in Chennai, a team worked to mobilize and unite some 200 local churches that actively participated in the Festival. “Nowhere in the history of churches in Chennai has such a unity come before,” says Pratap Singh, pastor of Trinity Full Gospel Church. “We were looking for something great and we are reaping it.”
Right now an entire committee is making sure that people who made commitments are connecting with one of 1700 churches throughout the area. The team hopes to complete the follow-up process by April 1
“One of the dynamics that make Franklin Graham Festivals unique,” says Hammond, “is that we don’t focus only on the event, but on preparation beforehand and discipleship afterward. Church leaders have told us the Christian Life and Witness Classes and Operation Andrew have really helped their congregations.”
Also notable for this Festival, Hammond adds, “we brought together 9,000 young leaders who work with youth around the city and we had about 3,000 children’s leaders who helped with Kids Fest. Fifteen ministries worked together for the last eight months to get kids from the slums to come to the event. That was a significant work.”
The largest children’s gathering in Chennai before the Festival drew 9,000 kids over three days. “We in one day had 32,000 kids,” Hammond points out. “It was the largest children’s gathering in Tamil Nadu history.”
Humor is used to convey the Gospel message to kids
Impact on the Disabled
Also making history, according to volunteers Victor and Avitha Daniel, were the Festival’s accommodations for disabled people. “This was the first time in Chennai that an exclusive area was designated for persons with disabilities in a big public program,” says Victor. “We hope this will be the start and everyone will follow your example.”
Both Victor and Avitha have passion for helping the disabled. “God’s love reaches every corner and every person,” says Avitha. “I think God showed us this is an area of need–that disabled people also need to hear about the Lord. Here, they got access to knowing about Christ. So very often they don’t get the chance to go to church.”
Daniel explains that he survived open heart surgery when he was 16, “so I knew the Lord spared my life for a special purpose. I waited on the Lord and after a college degree, he led me to teach computers to the disabled and when we are with them, we preach the gospel to them.”
During the Festival, the Daniel’s were part of a team that ushered disabled people to their seats and communicated with them; Avitha signed all of Franklin’s messages. Cumulatively, the team served 83 people with disabilities during the Festival –14 using wheelchairs, 28 with hearing impairment, and 5 people with visual impairment.
“Glory and praise to God that 21 persons with disabilities made a first-time commitment to accept Jesus as their personal Savior,” says Victor. “What a wonderful blessing and thanks for the opportunity to be a part of this.”
“We are amazed that the Lord used us in a small way to bring persons with disabilities into His kingdom during the Hope Festival,” Avitha adds.
According to Victor, all who accepted Jesus were filled with joy and want to be part of something like this again. Raja, a person using wheelchair, asked: “Will they have this Hope Festival next year also? I have never seen anything like this before.”
People with all types of disabilities were able to praise Jesus
Impact on Youth
Perhaps the greatest impact – the one with the most long-term significance – that any Festival can have is on the next generation. Priya and Vimal Natarajan, a wife and husband who served together as counselors, explain why this is especially true in India: “More than 75 percent of the population is below the age of 30,” says Vimal. “That translates into approximately 700 million people. Over the next 20 years, they will be a formidable force in this nation.
“Youth are the key to India,” he adds.
Vimal and Priya share a burden for reaching out to the young people at their church, New Life Assembly of God. Priya enjoys mentoring and encouraging women between the ages of 18 and 24: “Many who come to our church are converts from Hinduism; they don’t have support at home and need a lot of encouragement. The family structure is quite difficult. They are praying for the salvation of their family members.”
She describes life for many young women in India: “They have a lot of pressure on their jobs. They work long hours and don’t have much recreation. There may be conflict with superiors or team members. Those in college have intense study pressures.”
Young women of Chennai rallied to bring people to the Festival
Across India, says Priya, the next generation faces many challenges. “Young women and men are often lonely; they have all these gadgets so they spend very little time interacting with each other. They have no one to share their problems with, no reason to talk with each other.”
She feels the new gadgets distract youth from the true God. “They are all the time plugged in and connected to something, and they miss out on life. It just passes by. Relationships, talking, sharing, even crying on someone’s shoulder – they don’t have time for that.”
But Priya is encouraged by what she witnessed at the Chennai Hope Festival. “So many young people came forward,” she says excitedly. “I know their lives will transformed by the presence of God. There will be a permanent change.”
Vimal agrees. “What I experienced at the Festival was something amazing! I am really amazed that everyone I counseled over the last two days was under the age of 25. They have such a hunger. Saturday night they could be anywhere else, but they were here. Seeing so many young people coming forward has really stirred me.”
The Chennai Hope Festival provided a “tremendous opportunity for all youth to work together,” Vimal says. “It doesn’t end here. This is just the beginning. Our training as counselors will be put to good use after this ends – the material we’ve been given – has transformed us. We will definitely carry on the work which was started during this Festival.
“The time is short and we need to raise as many people as possible,” he adds.
Vimal and his wife are especially encouraged that God touched their 8-year-old daughter during the Festival. “It is our hope and prayer for our own children to fall in line with God’s plan. Our little one who is 8-years old came home from the Festival last night and said, ‘Mommy and Papa, I now know want I want to do. I want to become a preacher.’ And we said, ‘Amen.'”
Three generations of Christian women in worship
The photo at the top of the page shows young ladies from New Life Assembly of God in Chennai.