A thousand miles off the Florida coast is the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, an unincorporated territory of the United States and the first place Franklin Graham will share the Gospel with the masses in 2017.
The Festival of Hope (or Festival de Esperanza) will be held Feb. 10-12 in the capital of San Juan, one of the largest harbors in the Caribbean.
Local leaders there have a burden for their homeland and started pursuing an event with BGEA back in 2011.
“Usually God puts the same burden on the heart of the evangelist,” said Viktor Hamm, vice president of BGEA’s Crusade team. “These two things always come together. And when they come together, you know it’s of the Lord.”
Protestantism has grown throughout Puerto Rico since the U.S. acquired the territory in 1898 following the Spanish-American War, but in the past five years, there’s been a significant decrease in church membership and attendance. Native religious traditions still have a hold in some areas.
“San Juan is a culture of religion,” Hamm said, yet less than 25 percent of Puerto Rico’s 35 million citizens identify as evangelicals.
Churches there are doing their part to see the island embrace a living, active faith in Christ.
About 1,400 churches around Puerto Rico are involved in February’s Festival, which will be held in the same stadium—Hiram Bithorn Stadium—where Billy Graham preached during the 1995 San Juan Global Mission, attended by over 175,000 people.
Hamm said Festival preparations are going well, with the local team having already led over 4,200 people through Christian Life and Witness classes, part of the training required to counsel people who respond to the Gospel during the Festival.
At a breakfast for church leaders at the end of October, over 600 pastors showed up. And many others kicked off 2017 with 40 days of prayer and fasting leading up to the event.
“There’s a tremendous sense of excitement, a tremendous sense of anticipation, and the churches are really coming together,” Hamm said. “This is a wonderful opportunity.”