“It’s just beautiful,” Geri Rodgers said, her eyes shining as she looked across the packed American Memorial Park in Saipan. “I can’t believe this is happening. Somebody pinch me.”
The crowd, some 3,700 strong, filled the outdoor concert venue for Friday’s Marianas Festival of Hope with Franklin Graham. It was a time of worship, a chance to hear a message of God’s love, and a sweet evening of fellowship.
“Are you ready for some Jesus?” one man named June exclaimed to those nearby as he took his seat with his family.
For many, like June, the Festival was simply an opportunity to share the hope that only Christ can bring. It’s been an extremely challenging stretch for many within the Northern Mariana Islands, a commonwealth of the United States.
In late October 2018, Super Typhoon Yutu slammed into the Marianas with the force of a Category 5 Hurricane. The storm especially rocked Saipan, the largest of the Mariana Islands, and nearby Tinian. Homes, businesses and schools were destroyed. Samaritan’s Purse deployed to assist with recovery, but the local effort is ongoing. More than a year later, some families are still living in tents. Some public schools have combined, opting for half-day schedules to try and fit everybody in. Money is tight both for local residents and the government. To make matters worse, the island’s tourism industry took a hit with travel limited by the coronavirus.
“There’s fear, and the economy is down,” Franklin Graham said after taking the stage on Friday. “Some people don’t have hope. Maybe you’re here, and you don’t have hope.
“It doesn’t matter what mountain you face, what valley you have to go through. Jesus said, ‘I will never leave you, nor forsake you (Hebrews 13:5).’”
Graham’s message centered on Mark 10:46, where blind Bartimaeus sincerely cries out for Jesus to heal him. Occasionally the impassioned crowd would chime in with “preach” and “amen” as Graham insisted Jesus is the only way to God, our heavenly Father (John 14:6).
“You’ve got to be willing to come to Christ in faith. Bartimaeus called in faith. He recognized Jesus was God’s Son,” Graham said before asking people to come forward if they’d like to make a public decision of faith in Jesus Christ.
Many left their seats on the concrete auditorium steps, the surrounding grassy knolls and even the overflow seating to come forward. Men, women and children of all ages stood shoulder-to-shoulder as they prayed in unison with Graham to ask Jesus for forgiveness.
One of those individuals was a young mom who said she wanted to start anew after mistakes she’d made in her life. She shared that she had lost her home during Yutu and only recently moved into temporary housing with her family. This Festival is bringing hope, she said.
“Look at this,” she said excitedly gesturing to the large crowd around her.
Still, there were many personal, sobering moments of reflection in the midst of an otherwise dynamic evening. A 55-year-old pastor’s wife wiped away tears as she shared her story with Marilou Arriola, chairperson of the Festival’s communication committee. The woman said she had all the head knowledge, but she needed reassurance. Arriola prayed with her.
“Honestly, as counselors, we weren’t expecting this much of a turnout for the invitation,” Arriola said. “We are overwhelmed and overjoyed.”
Arriola continued to say that people in the Marianas are really hurting, but God has His reasons.
“We always said God has a purpose for every single thing He does,” Arriola said. “Yutu may have wiped out the islands, but it was the perfect time for cleansing, for a revival, for the island to be awakened. … Sometimes, they say, you need to be completely broken down to see Jesus Christ, and I think that’s what He did in a big way. Instead of working on individuals, He said, ‘The whole island, I’m going to do this revival.’”
The energy was simply electric as the Tommy Coomes Band and Dennis Agajanaian teamed up to lead the final set of worship. One more last song led to one more last song. The youth crowded in front of the stage, worshipping God with singing and dancing. It was hard to tell who was having more fun—the bands or the attendees.
“This night is just amazing because there’s thousands of people who are here hearing about the Gospel,” Rodgers said. “They won’t come to church … but they’re willing to come to a concert. They’re feeling God’s love, and they know it’s gotta be something special.”
Please keep these new and rededicated believers in your prayers. Please also pray for the churches that will follow up with discipleship efforts.