Franklin Graham's First Festival in Northern Ireland Is Area's Largest Evangelistic Event in Nearly 50 Years
386 Churches Unite for Celebration of Hope at The Odyssey Arena in Belfast April 4-6
Sharing a message of hope with overflow crowds of 32,783 people at The Odyssey Arena in Belfast, Franklin Graham’s first Festival in Northern Ireland was the area’s largest evangelistic event since Billy Graham visited the city in 1961. More than a hundred buses helped bring people to The Odyssey Arena from towns up to two hours away from Belfast. Several overflow locations were needed to accommodate the crowds that were lined up around the venue. For those who could not get into the arena, the event came to them when musicians and Celebration of Hope staff and volunteers went outside to talk and perform. Many other people participated in the event via live satellite in the neighboring town Inneskillin. “Not long ago, people thought Belfast was a hopeless city because of The Troubles,” said Lord Mayor of Belfast, Jim Rodgers. “Now is the time for the Celebration of Hope, and this visit by Franklin Graham is an opportunity to change lives.” It was just 10 years ago that citizens of Belfast lived in a state of recurring violence and bombings. Still today, a high wall divides many protestant and catholic communities, and gates block off some neighborhoods at night. Yet this weekend 386 churches united, believing that hope and true peace is possible for all their countrymen. “Many horrible things have been done in the name of religion,” said Franklin Graham, president and CEO of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association and international Christian relief organization Samaritan’s Purse. “Religion is not the answer. Religion cannot save you. I’m here to talk about the peace that comes from having a relationship with God’s Son Jesus Christ.” By the end of the weekend, 2,445 people responded to the invitation to follow Jesus. During his visit to Belfast, Graham was also invited to meet with Dr. Ian Paisley, The First Minister of Northern Ireland. The Belfast Celebration of Hope marked the first Franklin Graham Festival to be streamed live on the Internet on www.billygraham.org. Now others can take part in these Festivals held around the world. The event featured traditional Irish, rock, hip-hop, and inspirational music by local and international artists. Special guests included 29th Chapter, Tree 63, Ian Hannah Band, Robin Mark, Keith & Kristyn Getty, the New Irish Orchestra, the Tommy Coomes Band, and guitarist Dennis Agajanian. Local sports heroes Andrew Trimble from Irish Rugby and Northern Ireland International footballer Stuart Elliott shared personal stories about their faith and how athletic glories could not fill a void in their lives. Saturday morning, 5,176 children filled the arena for KidzFest, a fun drama and music presentation about God’s love. The Celebration of Hope was Graham’s first Festival in 2008. Upcoming events will be held in Knoxville, Tenn. (April 25-27); Villahermosa, Mexico (June 6-8); Timisoara, Romania (July 4-6); Charleston, S.C. (Sept. 19-21); and Taipei, Taiwan (Oct. 30-Nov. 2).