Imagine the scene.
The crowd is swarming down from every aisle. Some looking upward. Some carrying a glowing smile. Others wiping away tears.
And that’s when it hits you. These people headed right for you, making eye contact, are at a point where they no longer want to go on without Jesus Christ in their lives.
The Almighty God has called individuals by name.
It’s a scenario that’s happened thousands of times throughout the 60-plus-year history of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, and countless people have been praying that it’ll happen again at the Festival of Hope with Franklin Graham Friday, Saturday and Sunday in Jacksonville, Florida.
That hypothetical was presented in 17 Jacksonville-area churches over a three-week Christian Life and Witness course training earlier this year to help demonstrate the seriousness of what might be taking place at the end of May.
“What does it look like to stand on the floor of the arena?” Festival Director Eric Boutieller challenged those going through the course.
And after 3,800 people were equipped to share the Gospel and live an effective Christian life, something interesting caught Boutieller’s attention.
More than 20 percent of those going through the three-week training said they made a decision for Christ during the training, including more than 100 first-time commitments to follow Jesus.
“It shows that Jacksonville is ripe for harvest and we’re really excited about that,” Boutieller said.
Florida has always been a sort of second home for Billy Graham, who has deep roots in the state. He went to college at Florida Bible Institute (now Trinity College) and preached his first sermon in a church in Palatka, Florida.
Mr. Graham also preached at 15 Crusades in the state, including twice in Jacksonville (1961 and 2000).
The Festival of Hope marks the first trip to Jacksonville for Franklin Graham, who held Festivals in both Tallahassee (2001) and Gainesville (2002), possibly the two most polarizing cities if you live in Jacksonville.
“They go to the Jaguar games, but they’re more proud about being a (Florida) Gator or (Florida State) ‘Noles fan,” Boutieller said.
The Festival of Hope will be on neutral ground. The Veterans Memorial Arena (capacity of 15,000 for sporting events) is home to Jacksonville’s football and minor league hockey teams but has seen its share of major events as well—the NCAA Men’s Basketball first round was played there in March.
Next weekend, a diverse and high-powered collection of artists will fill the stage, and Franklin Graham will deliver the Good News of Jesus to all within earshot.
On Friday (May 29), The City Harmonic and Tenth Avenue North kick things off, followed by Dae-Lee, Lacey and Newsboys on Saturday night. Sunday afternoon, Charlie Daniels and Tasha Cobbs will close out the weekend.
All three events can be seen live online at JaxFest.com, beginning at 6:30 p.m. (ET) on Friday and Saturday and 3:30 p.m. (ET) on Sunday.
In the final stretch before the Festival, Boutieller and the Festival committee are encouraging the 300-plus churches involved to continue committing next weekend to prayer. More than 29 Jacksonville-area prayer networks have been praying for a move of God in northeast Florida.
“Pray for their friends. Pray for the lost,” Boutieller said. “That Jesus Christ would be lifted high above the city of Jacksonville.”