Coming to the True Cross
June 1, 2003 - It seemed appropriate that Franklin Graham's Festival de Esperanza, held April 10–12, 2003, in Veracruz, Mexico, ended up being in a baseball stadium. Organizers worried that a last-minute venue change might hinder attendance, but a well-known line adapted from the baseball film "Field of Dreams" proved true: "They will come."
by Karen Pierce
And come, they did—despite the change of venue and a north wind that produced lower-than-normal temperatures. Some 57,000 attended the three-day Festival of Hope, which brought together 250 area churches. More than 9,100 people made their way to the outfield in Beto Avila Stadium as they responded to an invitation to put their faith in Jesus Christ.
Coming by Bus
When Pastor José Dorantes got word that the 30 buses weren't coming to take folks from his area to the Festival, he wasn't sure what to do. After all, it was just a few hours before their departure time, and it was Friday evening, the eve of a two-week holiday in Mexico. Replacement buses would be almost impossible to secure for the five-hour drive—especially on such short notice. After meeting with other local pastors, it was decided that the trip would be canceled.
But the people who were already waiting for those buses thought otherwise. When Dorantes told the would-be Festival-goers to go home, they refused.
"We saw a miracle ..." Dorantes said, describing the events that followed. "Something very tremendous happened. They knew that God was going to open the doors. And the people said, 'Let's pray. We are not going to go home. We are going to pray.' Even though I told them to go back, the people said, 'No, pastor. We are not going to; we are going to pray.'"
So the prayers went up, and people began to make phone calls. Soon, the buses came from all over.
"One by one, the buses were arriving," Dorantes said. "We don't explain ourselves what happened. It's God."
By 1 a.m. that Saturday—three hours after they were originally supposed to leave—there were enough buses to bring some 2,500 people to the Festival's last day of events. They arrived in Veracruz with plenty of time to park and for the approximately 1,500 children on board to eat and to get ready for the Saturday-morning children's event.
For Dorantes, it was more than just an answer to prayer. It was a lesson in faith.
"I prayed, 'Forgive me, God, for not being more faithful,'" he said. "I am overjoyed because the people were strengthened in their faith."
Letting the Children Come
Some 23,500 people attended Festiniños, the children's program held Saturday morning. After a Gospel presentation, more than 5,700—most of those children and youth—made decisions for Christ.
One girl who prayed to receive Christ is Lady, a 12-year-old whose aunt brought her to the event. "It was good," she said. "I learned about God. ... I felt that I needed to be close to Jesus. I want Jesus to be my friend. I learned that Jesus died for me."
Eduardo, 11, attended because someone invited him. "I want Jesus to come into my life," he said. "It's very nice to be with Jesus."
In conjunction with the Festival, more than 90,000 children received gift-filled shoe boxes and Christian literature through Operation Christmas Child, a project of Samaritan's Purse.
Ezekiel, a 7-year-old boy who was abandoned by his parents, was the recipient of a shoe box at a church close to his home in a city dump. Ezekiel's box contained candy, a ball and a stuffed monkey, among other toys and personal hygiene items.
"I was so happy," he said about receiving the gifts. "What I loved most was the monkey."
Ezekiel, who lives with his aunt, attended Festiniños—and, like thousands of other Mexican children, learned about God's love.
The children's event marked the first time so many children in Veracruz—and perhaps even in Mexico—have gotten together for such an event, said Dr. Ruperto Badillo Romero, a pastor who headed the Festiniños committee.
"My life will never be the same after this experience because I have been touched in my heart," Dr. Badillo said. "Every child that you touch with the Gospel of Jesus Christ is a destiny, and behind him is a family."
Coming to Christ
Franklin spoke each night of the Festival after performances by local choirs, Spanish recording artist Marcos Vidal, Mexican vocalist Maria del Sol, acoustic guitarist Dennis Agajanian, the Gutierrez Brothers, and the Tommy Coomes Band.
On the Festival's opening night, Franklin said that Veracruz—which in English means "true cross"—has an important name.
"To the Romans, the cross was a symbol of execution and pain," he said. "But to those that have put their faith and trust in Jesus Christ, the cross is the symbol of hope. It's the symbol of life. Because Jesus Christ is God's Son who shed His blood on the cross for your sins and my sins. And we know that if we confess our sins to God and by faith put our faith and trust in His Son Jesus Christ, God will forgive us and cleanse us of our sins. And so our hope is in our true Savior Jesus Christ."
The city of Veracruz—home to one of the country's busiest ports and to some 1.2 million people—is a strategic place for spreading the Gospel in Mexico, Dr. Badillo said.
"It's a door," he said. "Now it's an open door for the Gospel. Before, it was an open door for sin. It was an open door for the religious people that came with idolatry for this country. The No. 1 problem in this country is idolatry. You are going to find idolatry everywhere, and the Lord is breaking that spirit with the Gospel of Jesus Christ. And the door that is open now for that breakthrough is Veracruz."
What makes Veracruz so valuable is its location, its port, Franklin said at the Festival. "There are many of you here tonight in this great and important city of Veracruz, and you're in danger of losing your soul," he said.
Being religious won't save you, Franklin told the crowd.
"You may go to a Baptist church," he said. "That's not going to save you. You may be a Catholic. That's not going to save you. You may be Pentecostal. That's not going to save you. You see, religion cannot save you, and I'm not talking about religion tonight. I'm talking about a relationship with God through Jesus Christ. You've got to be willing to come to Christ. ... You come to Christ tonight."
And come, they did.