June 9 'Marathon' Full of Gospel Goodness
Day-Long Baltic Youth Festival Poised to Change Lives
June 7, 2012 - A 10-hour, one-day, two-session Festival marathon on June 9 is chalk full of top notch regional, U.S. and New Zealand musicians along with Franklin Graham preaching the Good News of Jesus to the youth of Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia.
Michael W. Smith is among the many musical guests who will perform June 9 in Riga, Latvia.
by Trevor Freeze
If you build it, they will come.
Nobody’s about to confuse the Eastern European city of Riga, Latvia, for the small-town Iowa cornfield setting in the movie Fields of Dreams.
But when it comes to this Saturday’s Baltic Youth Festival, the local committee adopted a similar mentality some six weeks ago when the 10,500-seat Arena Riga had completely filled with advance ticketing. And that was before any real advertising had rolled out.
So, an aggressive decision was made to help spread the Gospel in a slightly unorthodox manner: Build a second session and they will come.
The result is a 10-hour, one-day, two-session Festival marathon on June 9, chock-full of top notch regional, U.S. and New Zealand musicians along with Franklin Graham preaching the Good News of Jesus to the youth of Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia.
Oh, and about filling up that second session?
“Theoretically, both events are full. All indications show it will be a packed house at both Festivals,” said Brad Miller of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association.
Miller has carefully picked words like “theoretically” and “all indications” since all the seats — as at every Festival BGEA hosts — are free of charge. But in Riga, attendees are required to reserve a seat, either through the website or through group booking bus tours.
Each person who registered online was eligible to reserve up to three seats. But those reservations come with an expiration.
“What we’re going to do 15 minutes before the show starts with all unused reservations is to open the doors to the general public.
“There will be people coming in off the street, who have heard about the Festival through an advertisement or maybe they heard about it on the radio. We’ll do whatever we can to get them in and be part of the Festival so they can hear the Gospel message.”
The decision to release seats at 1:45 p.m. (for the 2 to 6 session) and 7:45 p.m. (for the 8 to midnight session), Miller said, has been clearly communicated to those who have reservations. “The message is get there early,” he said.
But there will be some folks, Miller acknowledged, who have been invited by a friend, family member or neighbor who may have shown initial interest, but still won’t decide until the last minute.
And in this former Soviet-controlled region where both suicide rates and youth unemployment rates are among the highest in the world, the Baltic Youth Festival committee wants to do everything in its power to get the true message of hope out to those who are searching.
“It might be someone who is on somebody else’s prayer list who has been invited but didn’t take that next step of booking a seat,” Miller said.
Filling up a 10,500-seat venue, not just once, but twice in one day, primarily targeting youth would be quite a feat, especially considering the small percentage of evangelicals in the Baltic region.
But that challenge has been met head on.
Nearly every means of advertisement has been deployed, starting with 350 billboards, including posters on the sides of buses and at bus stations.
Hesburger, who has been supporting all the BGEA Baltic Festivals since Estonia in 2009, has again showed tremendous support, distributing Festival posters and fliers to all their McDonald-type restaurants in Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia. Cili Pica, a local pizza favorite, has been distributing a Festival flier with every receipt to its customers.
“It’s really a great way to promote the event,” Miller said of the restaurant tie-ins.
Two flash mobs this past week — with more than 200 of the Latvian youth performing a spontaneous five-minute dance routine in two different parts of Latvia — created a spontaneous audience circle, who were then given invitation fliers.
Social media has also joined the advertising circus, spreading the word through Facebook, Twitter and Draugiem, perhaps the most effective tool of all.
Billed as the Latvia Facebook, Draugiem is the most popular social media website in this part of Eastern Europe, and according to one committee member, the first day a Festival ad ran on the site, more than 400 people reserved seats for the Festival. To date, more than 40,000 unique visitors have clicked on the official website.
“We have churches putting our Festival banner on their website, which links to the Festival website,” Miller said.
The end result is that you can hardly swing your hands in Riga without hitting someone who hasn't heard about the Baltic Youth Festival. Two sessions. One day only.
Each session will feature Michael W. Smith, Newsboys, The Parachute Band, many highly respected artists from the three Baltic countries and Belarus, and of course, Franklin Graham bringing the Gospel message.
“There’s a definite buzz,” said Miller, who has seen more than 400 counselors sign up to work both sessions. “Every time I see young people out somewhere I take out a flier and ask if they’ve heard about it. And they say, ‘Yeah, we know about it. And we’re coming.’ ”
Check out the Festival website »
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