Overflow Crowds Gather for Franklin Graham Festival in Formerly Communist Moldova
More than 93,000 People Exercise their Freedom, Gathering for the Largest Evangelistic Event in the Country
CHISINAU, Moldova, July 12, 2005—It was only 15 years ago when some citizens of Moldova were imprisoned for simply practicing or expressing their Christian faith. Yet this weekend was a hallmark of change for one of the poorest countries in Europe, as tens of thousands who were formerly subjugated to strict communist rule packed National Stadium to celebrate their freedom and faith.
The Festival of Hope with Franklin Graham, July 8-10 in the national capital of Chisinau, drew crowds totaling 93,907 to the country’s largest stadium. By the final night of the Festival, 6,920 people had responded to the invitation to put their faith in Jesus Christ. With overflow crowds each night, it was one of the largest religious events in the nation’s history. Some people traveled more than four hours each night to the Festival. More than 1,200 specially arranged buses and trains brought people from remote regions of the country.
“Years ago I drove to the border of this country, looked through the heavily guarded gate, and prayed that one day you would be free and I would have an opportunity to come back,” said Graham, president and CEO of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association. “Now I am here with tens of thousands of you, and this is a free nation, but I want you to have a spiritual freedom found in the hope and love of Jesus Christ.”
Graham, 52, came to Moldova at the invitation of pastors, leaders, and churches. More than 700 churches and 3,700 volunteers from multiple denominations participated in the Festival.
Crowds heard Graham’s messages translated into Romanian and Russian, the two languages used interchangeably in Moldova. The Festival featured traditional and inspirational music by local and international artists. Special guests included Americans John and Anne Barbour, who performed in English and Romanian, and award-winning guitarist Dennis Agajanian. An exceptional local choir of 2,000 people performed along with musicians from Moldova, Belarus, Ukraine, Italy, and Romania.
During the week, some 40 church leaders from across Eastern Europe met with Graham and extended invitations for him to return to the region to hold Festivals in their countries. Graham’s next event in Eastern Europe is scheduled for Kiev, Ukraine, in 2007. Preparations for the Festival in Kiev, a city of 4 million, began following the historic “Orange Revolution” where citizens ensured that the democratic process was upheld in recent elections.
In conjunction with the Festival, teams from Graham’s international Christian relief organization Samaritan’s Purse handed out thousands of gift-filled shoe boxes to local underprivileged children. This year, the organization’s project, known as Operation Christmas Child, will hand-deliver more than 7 million shoe box gifts to needy children in 95 countries.
Graham recently led Festivals in Australia, Paraguay, and Angola, speaking to some 340,000 people. Later this year, he will hold U.S. Festivals in Corpus Christi, Texas (Aug. 19-21) and Shreveport, La. (Nov. 11-13).