An evangelistic festival headlined by Franklin Graham in southeast India ended on Sunday drew nearly 85,000 people.
On the final night of the Chennai Hope Festival, held in the coastal city of Chennai, more than 1,600 people came forward to accept Jesus Christ as their saviour, according to the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association. Volunteers quickly mobilised to connect those who came forward with a new church home.
Graham preached about the story of the prodigal son and how only Jesus Christ could fill the emptiness of the soul. The crowd responded to the message with prayer and by coming forward to accept Jesus.
Earlier in the week, Graham preached to about 23,000 people on Friday about the need for salvation through Jesus Christ using the story of Zacchaeus, the tax collector.
“Zacchaeus wanted to meet Jesus when He was passing through,” Graham said on the second night of the Chennai Hope Festival. “I think maybe Zacchaeus felt guilty. Maybe tonight you feel guilty. You wonder if there is any way you can be forgiven. Yes, tonight you can be forgiven.”
Graham explained that God is not far away but “He loves you so much He gave His only begotten Son to die for your sins”. And on the third day God raised His son to life.
“He is not dead. He is not hanging on a cross,” Graham declared. “He is here tonight. Tonight you can be forgiven.”
Like Zacchaeus, who was called to come down from the tree, Jesus was calling each person in the crowd to respond, the evangelist said.
Nearly 900 people responded to the invitation to accept Jesus on Friday.
In addition to the evening messages, the Chennai Hope Festival also included a children’s festival on Saturday morning. BGEA said more than 10,000 children accepted Jesus as their saviour.
“We are thankful that Franklin Graham meets social needs but also that he is taking the Gospel to the downtrodden,” said the Rev D Mohan, festival executive general chairman, according to BGEA.
Graham is the president and CEO of Samaritan’s Purse, a humanitarian organisation that has delivered more than 6.6 million shoe box gifts to the children of India through its Operation Christmas Child programme.
“India is the greatest harvest field in the world,” said Mohan. “We pray millions of souls will be added to the Kingdom this week.”
India is the statistical centre of gravity of the people in the world who have never heard of Jesus Christ, according to Dr Todd Johnson, research fellow and director of the Study of Global Christianity at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary in Boston. The term “statistical centre of gravity” means there is an equal number of a people or type of people to the north, south, east and west of a specific point, which in the case of unreached people is found in India.
Johnson, who gave the presentation about the statistical centre of gravity for unreached people at a frontier mission conference in 2007, also noted that research had indicated the most responsive people to Christianity was found among Hindus, Muslims and Buddhists, but most Christian outreach never reached non-Christians. More than 90 per cent of all Christian evangelism is aimed at other Christians, and 86 per cent of the world’s Hindus, Muslims and Buddhists do not personally know a Christian, the researcher found.
“I think it is an interesting irony that God himself has prepared the peoples for the Gospel message, but we tend to be slow in contacting and being incarnational witness among these peoples,” Johnson said at the time of the research's release.
Dr Paul Dhinakaran, who leads Jesus Calls Ministries in India, said ahead of the festival, “It is God’s time for India. Franklin has sown to meet the needs of people around the world. We pray during this festival he will reap all that he has sown.”
Other Graham evangelistic festivals scheduled for this year will take place in Brazil , Canada, Japan, and Latvia, which will be the former communist country’s first-ever evangelistic event.