A City Finds Healing
September 1, 2008 - On Saturday, June 7, Pedro, a counselor at the Festival of Hope With Franklin Graham in Villahermosa, Mexico, was shocked when he saw a familiar face among the thousands who had come forward to receive Christ. A few months earlier, Pedro had been living in a flood shelter, one of thousands of residents displaced by the worst flood to hit Mexico in 50 years. He had used his time to tell other victims about Christ, including one woman who practiced witchcraft. The woman was not interested in anything Pedro said. And now here she was in the crowd of people—praying for salvation! Amazed, Pedro walked over to her. "I really want to change," the woman said.
by Kristen Burke
A City In Need of Hope
For almost two years, churches in Villahermosa have been bringing the hope of Christ to their home state of Tabasco. Hundreds of Christians invited loved ones into their homes in November 2006 to watch the nationwide broadcasts of the My Hope World Evangelism Through Television Project. Many committed their lives to Christ and joined churches, and in turn led more people to Christ.
As the My Hope project came to a close, planning for a Franklin Graham Festival began. Christians from all over Tabasco were just beginning to work together toward a Festival of Hope when, in October 2007, a cold front dumped five days of rain and flooded the state. Citizens and soldiers spent days stacking sandbags at the riverbanks in Villahermosa.
The government began warning people near the rivers to flee. On Oct. 31, two flooded rivers broke through the sandbag levees, and within a matter of hours the water had risen, submerging the first floor of downtown buildings. Thousands fled their homes and businesses. The water eventually covered 70 percent of Tabasco; churches and schools became shelters, using whatever they had to help their members and neighbors as they waited weeks for the water to recede. There was little left to salvage in many flooded homes and businesses.
The Festival committee could see God’s hand in the events that followed. Using their Blackberry phones, they began connecting churches and government entities with groups such as Samaritan’s Purse, an international Christian relief agency. Because Franklin Graham is head of both Samaritan’s Purse and the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, the organizations were able to respond to the disaster quickly. Samaritan’s Purse began providing church shelters with food, water filtration systems, hygiene supplies and home cleaning kits.
When the waters finally began to ebb, the committee returned to the Festival plans. Before, it had been difficult to get churches involved, but once the flood forced them to reach out daily to meet the physical needs in their communities, the churches were eager to do something soon to meet the state’s need for spiritual hope, so they moved the date of the Festival up from November to June 6-8.
Although the flood itself was not a good thing, God brought good things out of a horrible situation.
Alejandro Bojorquez, pastor of Centro Cristiano, saw this firsthand when much of the community surrounding his church was flooded.
"These circumstances weren’t a coincidence," he said. 'They were the plan of God. The Gospel is not only words; it means hope and compassion. People need to see compassion first. Remember that Jesus first satisfied the needs of the crowd, then told them the Gospel. That is what happened here."
The day before the Festival began, Salvador Ramos, pastor of Iglesia Dios Es Amor, said the event came just in time.
"Lots of people lost everything they had," Ramos explained. "People here need to have Jesus in their hearts. The city needs Jesus. The Festival has given them hope. Every time we send members out with Festival fliers, people tell them, 'I’ll be working then, but I am going to make time to go to the Festival, because I want to know what it’s about.'
"We have had this openness because there are many problems here. We fear violence, and there have been a lot of kidnappings. People also are looking for jobs but can’t find them. They don’t know what to do and that is why they are looking forward to the Festival."
Hope in Any Language
Verónica López teaches interpretation and English at two universities in Villahermosa. As a teacher, Verónica was limited in how much she could share Christ in her classes, but no one could limit how much she prayed for them. Although Verónica never mentioned her prayers to the students, she could see their effect on her classes.
One day a girl came to see her after class.
"I don’t know why you love God," she said to Verónica, "but you have this something that I want to have."
Verónica couldn’t believe it. "Lord, You are amazing," she prayed, "because my students are changing and I haven’t said anything."
The conversation gave Verónica an idea. She was in charge of enlisting interpreters to help the non-Spanish-speaking BGEA team who would be arriving in Villahermosa. What better way for her students to learn than to be interpreters at the Festival, where they would work with the team who would be reporting on what happened at the meetings?
Several students accepted Verónica’s "job offer," including a girl named Gaby. Verónica had been praying for Gaby because she always wore black and seemed to have a heavy heart. Gaby’s family is Christian, but she was not committed to Christ. During the first evening of the Festival, Gaby interpreted pre-Festival interviews, then sat at the media table to listen to Franklin Graham. She listened to Galo Vásquez translating Franklin’s message into Spanish. Verónica knew that Gaby might be listening only to judge Galo’s skill as an interpreter, but she believed Gaby would pick up on the message, too.
When Franklin asked those who wanted to receive Christ to come and stand in front of the platform, Gaby stayed in her seat. She bowed her head as Franklin asked those standing to pray with him. Verónica saw Gaby’s lips moving and tears trickling down her cheeks. When Verónica slipped into the seat next to her, Gaby tried to hide her tears. Verónica sensed that the Holy Spirit was convicting Gaby of her need of salvation.
During the next two days, Gaby continued interpreting as the BGEA team collected stories of what God was doing in the lives of the more than 9,400 people who made commitments to Christ.
By Sunday, Amancio, another of Veronica’s students, was struggling with the Gospel, too. Veronica had assigned him to work in the counseling and follow-up area, but that evening, his supervisor told him to go and listen to Franklin preach. Amancio didn’t want to go, but his mood lightened when he saw Gaby at the media table. He sat with her and finally listened to the message.
Franklin talked about Nicodemus, the religious leader who came to Jesus secretly. Jesus told Nicodemus that he needed to be born again.
"Religion isn’t enough," Franklin said. "You must be born again, and the only way is through Christ alone. Some of you say, 'I'm a Catholic. I have been all my life.' Some of you say, 'I'm a Presbyterian,' or 'I'm a Baptist.' But Jesus says you have to be born again." Gaby and Amancio listened intently.
Franklin explained that everyone is guilty of breaking one or more of God’s laws, and the penalty is death. The entire human race is under this penalty. But the Bible has an answer, he said.
"God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believes in Him will not perish, but have everlasting life" (John 3:16, KJV).
Once again, Franklin invited people to come forward to make a commitment to Christ.
Amancio turned to Gaby and said that they needed to go forward. They both stood and walked to the front of the platform. Verónica ran to pray with them and welcome them to God’s family.
"I was crying so much that the counselors thought I had come forward to make a commitment," Verónica said. "But it was just that I was so happy to see my students coming to Christ."