Hope for Argentina
January 1, 2003 - Sun-drenched vineyards and tree-lined country roads make up much of the landscape of Mendoza, a province tucked in the foothills of the Andes Mountains in the west-central
region of Argentina.
by Amanda Knoke
Some say that Argentina seems somehow misplaced in South America and bears more resemblance—both in its physical appearance and its people—to Europe, where lie the roots of most of its inhabitants.
Downtown Mendoza is no exception. Its streets are lined with shops of fine leather goods, and market vendors fill their shelves with wines, olives, raisins and marmalades. Restaurants provide some of the finest beefsteaks in the world. But the European-like charm and delicacies are deceiving—a visitor may be shocked to see the price tags. Since last January, the value of the Argentine peso, once worth the same as an American dollar, has shrunk by more than 70 percent. According to a 2002 Reuters report, "Argentina, Latin America's third biggest economy, is suffering an economic slump worse than the 1930s' Great Depression in the United States. ... The deaths of several children from malnutrition shocked the once-wealthy nation that produces enough food annually to feed the United States."
The Argentine economy is in shambles, as is the government, which recently experienced five presidents in the span of two weeks."People have totally lost hope in their country," said Eduardo Aracama, pastor of Iglesia Cristiana Evangélica de Pedro Molina.
Many in Mendoza and the rest of the country are now unemployed, depressed, without hope. Yet, at the same time, the city stands out for its number of Christians eager for evangelism, eager for the hope of Jesus Christ to be brought to their city, said Norman Mydske, director of Latin American Ministries for the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association.
"We feel that this is God's particular moment, only for Mendoza, but for all of Argentina," Mydske said. "Argentina is living in the greatest crisis in its entire history, economically and politically. We feel that this is God's timing, and that's why we're here."
Just over a year since evangelical church leaders invited Franklin Graham to their city, Festival de Esperanza (Festival of Hope) opened Nov. 14 at the Malvinas Argentinas Stadium to a crowd of more than 23,300 people, a number that would grow to 32,800 by the Festival's close Nov. 16.
A festival atmosphere indeed, the opening ceremony to Festival de Esperanza was complete with fireworks, gauchos and their horses, a release of balloons, a flag presentation, and a folkloric interpretation of Mendoza's predicament. The grand opening to the Festival segued into a musical lineup featuring the folk band Los del Camino, Jaci Velásquez, Marcos Vidal, Dennis Agajanian and the Gutierrez Brothers, and the Tommy Coomes Praise Band.
In his opening message, Franklin Graham empathized with the Argentinians' plight."People in your country have lost hope in financial and government institutions, and you have lost hope in the institution of the Church," he said. Recognizing the number of religions that offer false ways to God, Franklin Graham pointed out that no one except Jesus Christ has paid our debt of sin or can offer us hope. "Will you confess Christ as your Lord?" he asked.
A 44-year-old man, invited to the Festival by his girlfriend, said that she had died of a heart condition the night before, and he came alone in his grief to receive the hope and peace that Jesus offers.
A 61-year-old woman said that she had financial problems and was going to lose her house. A neighbor had spoken to her about Christ, and now at the Festival she committed her life to Him.
Christians in Mendoza bathed in prayer more than 140,000 names of people like these through Operation Andrew prayer cards. Participating churches took the prayer program to a new level in Mendoza with a two-part card. Christians would keep half of the card with names to lift up in prayer and would turn in the other half of the card, with the same names, so that the names could be logged onto a master prayer list.
In addition to the thousands of prayers going up for Operation Andrew names, more than 560 prayer intercessors volunteered to intercede for the Festival in and around the perimeter of the stadium during the meetings.
Before Franklin gave his final message, Juan Carlos Gervilla, general coordinator for the Festival, passionately appealed to the crowd, comparing Franklin Graham to the sower in Matthew 13: "The sower is Franklin Graham, and the word he brings is the seed, which can produce fruit in the heart."
Like seeds that produced the lush vineyards blanketing the province of Mendoza, the word did go out, and landed on the hearts of more than 18,800 people who indicated a decision for Jesus. "When Jesus is uplifted in this way, I feel the joy of heaven in my heart," Gervilla said. "There is no greater joy than to see someone going from death to life, the joy of seeing a sinner repent."