On the last day of the Hokkaido Festival of Hope in Sapporo, Japan, people in the crowd could hardly contain their joy.
Sunday wrapped up the three-day Festival, and by the end of the night, the audience made it clear they didn’t want it to end. Dozens ran to the stage to hear the Brooklyn Tabernacle Singers, and with arms raised, they sang, clapped and swayed back and forth to high-energy worship songs.
Over the course of three nights, as well as a Saturday afternoon children’s event, thousands of people attended the Festival, with hundreds responding to the Gospel preached by Franklin Graham. Thousands more watched the event streaming online.
Franklin Graham preached on the Prodigal Son from Luke 15, a story that resonated with a crowd that’s familiar with self-reliance. It was self-reliance that got the Prodigal Son into trouble and left him feeling empty inside.
The emptiness people feel “can only be filled by God Himself,” Franklin Graham said, and when we turn to Him, He’s there to welcome us with open arms.
Many did turn to Him when the invitation was given. There were moms holding small children and elderly people who had trouble walking, but that didn’t stop them from coming forward.
Some wiped tears from their eyes as they made their way in front of the stage at Sapporo’s Hokkai Kita-Yell sports arena. Others in the audience cried tears of joy seeing their fellow Japanese respond and receive follow-up. Franklin Graham encouraged those who responded to seek fellowship in a church.
Katsuko Ishio, a piano player at her church, counseled some of those responders. She even brought some friends to the Festival, and one decided to learn more about Jesus. At first, Ishio was disappointed that only one friend responded, but then she recognized other ways God is working in her friends’ lives through the Festival.
And that’s not all.
“I myself changed,” she said. “I was encouraged.” Ishio hopes churches that participated in the Festival remain unified and said she will do what she can to ensure that happens.
Pastor Noboru Watanabe is doing his part, too. In 1980, he brought his son to a Billy Graham Crusade in Tokyo where his son accepted Christ after speaking to a counselor.
“Counseling is so wonderful,” Watanabe said, remembering how his son’s counselor led him to Christ. Today, his son is a doctor in Tokyo and Watanabe is doing the counseling. At Saturday’s Festival, he shared the Gospel with someone of a different religion, and Sunday, he reassured a man of his salvation.
But the event wasn’t for people only around Sapporo. Delegates from Tokyo witnessed the Festival firsthand. Tokyo will host a Franklin Graham Festival in 2015, and if that Festival is anything like the one this weekend, Tokyo has a lot to look forward to.
For now, those who attended the event in Sapporo are still taking it all in.
Like the story of the 13-year-old boy who goes to church every week but decided during Sunday’s Festival to follow Jesus Christ. Or the woman in the United States who has a burden for her brother-in-law, a Shinto priest, in Fukuoka, Japan. The pair flew to Sapporo for the Festival, and the brother-in-law responded at the end, telling a counselor he was convicted. The counselor plans to keep in touch with him.
While leaving the venue Sunday, people chatted excitedly about the Festival—especially those Gospel songs. And now, more importantly, many more understand what those songs are about.