As the world was changing by the hour in March of 2020, northern Italy became the epicenter of the COVID-19 outbreak in the Eastern Hemisphere.
Meeting the dire physical needs with an Emergency Field Hospital in Cremona—about 60 miles southeast of Milan—Franklin Graham and Samaritan’s Purse laid the groundwork to bring the evangelical churches together like never before in this region.
“It became quite a remarkable thing,” said Mark Bashford, director of the Oct. 29 Noi Festival in Milan. “We were the first to show up in Italy. And it certainly won the hearts of those in Italy. It unlocked the door.”
Specifically, it opened the door for the evangelical churches to work together in an unprecedented fashion. And hence, the Noi Festival with Franklin Graham was born.
Noi Festival: What’s in a Name?
“Noi can mean we or us. It can also mean together or united,” Bashford said. “It also means joining forces, belonging to something bigger.”
And when you consider that more than 500 evangelical churches in Milan are working together for a singular purpose—to share the Gospel of Jesus Christ at the 12,000-seat Mediolanum Forum—it’s a reminder that God has a purpose for everything—even a worldwide pandemic.
More than 4,000 Italians have completed the Christian Life and Witness Course (CLWC)—free training on how to share your faith in Jesus Christ with those around you—and many are ready to serve as counselors at the Noi Festival. Churches are involved as far away as Rome to the south, Turin to the west and Venice to the east.
“Never before has there been an evangelical event of this scale in northern Italy,” Bashford said.
Evangelical Church Finally ‘On the Map’
The excitement has been building for some time. Originally scheduled in February 2021, the Noi Festival was postponed twice because of COVID-19, before landing on Oct. 29.
On Sept. 29, about 300 pastors launched a 30-day prayer initiative, leading up to the event at the Mediolanum Forum, home of AX Armani Exchange Milan Euroleague basketball team.
Earlier this year, preparation for the Noi Festival included three youth rallies—one in Milan, Turin, and Verona—as well as CLWC trainings in various cities.
“There’s been stories of pastors sitting right next to each other, and they don’t even know each other exists. Then they discover their churches are right down the street from each other,” Bashford said.
Many pastors have formed relationships, exchanging phone numbers or connecting on social media apps.
“From the point of view of the pastors, the Cremona hospital hit international news headlines,” Bashford said. “But in Italy, it put the evangelical church on the map [because] this was the evangelical church doing this.
“When we say this is the same Franklin Graham that sent the field hospital, it gave us open doors that we wouldn’t otherwise have.”
The Noi Festival will also feature music from The Afters and Taya—formerly of Hillsong UNITED—and a life-changing Gospel message from Franklin Graham.