Meet the People of Colombia
Festival Volunteers Serve out of Gratitude
September 1, 2009 - At each Franklin Graham Festival, hundreds — or some times thousands — of local volunteers serve behind the scenes, demonstrating their love for God by helping others to meet Him. The Festival de Esperanza in Colombia was no different.
I am passionate to show God’s love to people and specifically, I like to give hugs. I am not acting. It is something that I have inside me.
by Janet Chismar
Countless ushers, office managers, counselors and clowns joyfully "gave back" out of full hearts. Johana Rivera, for example, spent Saturday morning clowning around at Festiñinos in gratitude for God's forgiveness.
"I love God and this is a really good way of showing it," she said during a pause in the action. "And I really love kids too!”
A teacher by day, Johana's passion for youth comes out of a painful past. Although brought up in a Christian family, she wandered away from God at age 12 and spent the next few years abusing alcohol.
When she turned 15, her father forced her to go to a camp. “I didn’t want to be there, and I was so mad," she said.
Johana gave God three days to prove Himself real and show His love for her. During those three days, however, she didn’t get the sign she so desperately craved. Arriving home, she was still filled with anger. "I felt they were telling me lies," she said. "I thought, 'God doesn’t love me and He doesn’t exist.'"
When she locked herself away in her bedroom, Johana's parents sent a pastor to visit and pray for her. She refused at first, but when she relented, he prayed and told her, “Joanna, the third day is not over. He is going to talk to you; He is going to prove it you.”
“In that moment," she said, "I began crying and my heart was really touched.” But it took some time to quit drinking. "At first it was a really hard process because I liked going out and drinking with my friends," Johana explained. "I had to stop seeing those friends, but my family was a really good support and I had a leader who was a really good support."
That was five years ago and now she is "really into God, and loves God, and that is why I am here."
Willington Ortiz — pictured on top of the page — is a local pastor and Festival volunteer who also came from a troubled past. “Before knowing God," said Willington, "I had a lack of love. I had a really hard youth." He was involved in drugs and gangs. "I was filled with hate and resentment because my parents got divorced."
Although Willington studied at a Catholic High School and knew about God, he didn’t have a relationship with Jesus. "Religion wasn’t working for me. If I had known God’s love, I would not have fallen into drugs. They were my refuge.”
When he was 19, Willington's sister took him to a Christian church. "They were talking about Matthew 11:28-30, 'Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.' I gave my life to Christ. I got to know God and that changed my life completely."
With tear-filled eyes, he explained that "it has been 11 years, but I cannot forget that moment. His love transformed me. That’s why I get emotional."
Willington found that God's love filled the void in his life. "From that day on, I am passionate to show God’s love to people and specifically, I like to give hugs. I am not acting. It is something that I have inside me."
Watch Willington in action: