Franklin Graham proclaimed the message of Jesus Christ during Festival de Esperanza ("Festival of Hope"), June 10-12, in Tijuana, Mexico -- the most-crossed border point in the world. More than 51,000 people attended during the three-day campaign, and 3,315 prayed to put their trust in Jesus Christ.
The "Festival of Hope," held in cooperation with the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, comes after months of preparation and the participation of more than 350 churches in Tijuana. Local organizers see the Festival as an opportunity to carry the Gospel throughout the nation of Mexico.
Festival Committee Coordinator Jose Rivera explained, "To see the sin in Tijuana -- the alcoholism and drugs and vandalism -- and then to hear Christians praying and prayers being answered, pastors are coming together and churches are getting stirred up. Something is really happening here.
"We see Franklin Graham's 'Festival of Hope' as a key tool for the church of Tijuana to do something about these problems. We know that the answer from God for Tijuana is not coming from political or social changes but through the change of the church."
Before the Festival began, Franklin Graham told reporters, "Many people have come here and have found good jobs, but the happiness is not there. They are still searching, and I want them to know they are searching in the wrong places. God is near all of us, but we must call on Him and put our faith in His Son Jesus -- and Jesus alone."
The Festival -- held in a bullfighting ring called Monumental Plaza de Toros -- began with fireworks Thursday night. Fanny Baylis, assistant to the National Coordinator of Festival de Esperanza, commented, "We call Tijuana 'the beginning [of Mexico],' and the bull ring is physically located at the beginning of the whole of Mexico -- right at the ocean. From here to the rest of Mexico, the grace of the Lord is going down."
To begin, Franklin Graham shared the message of Zacchaeus from Luke 19 and compared Tijuana to the biblical city of Jericho. "This city sits on the border -- many people pass through Tijuana," said Graham. "This is the way it was for Jericho. It was a city of great trade. Romans put in an office for tax collection. Zacchaeus was a Jew who worked for the Romans. He was hated by his people. Zacchaeus felt guilty ...
"There was an obstacle in his way," he continued. "Beside this stadium is a fence between the U.S. and Mexico. [Zacchaeus'] obstacle wasn't a fence, it was a crowd. He was a short person with a big crowd in front of him. He could not see over their heads. Maybe you feel small in the eyes of God, that your life is not important. I'm here to tell you that you are important to God. He loves you."
On Saturday morning, the bull ring was transformed by brightly-colored banners, piñatas, and clowns for Festiniños ("Children's Festival"). More than 150 buses filled the parking lot of the stadium, many decorated with balloons and banners themselves.
During the drama "The Puzzle," the 16,000 young people in attendance witnessed one girl's journey to find Jesus. As the play explained, "How can we know that God loves us? He knows exactly how we feel. He knows what it's like to be alone. With Jesus you have a friend who's been through everything you've been through."
BGEA evangelist and translator Galo Vasquez assured the audience, "You only accept Jesus one time. He won't leave your heart."
More than 70 percent of the respondents during Festival de Esperanza were age 25 or younger, with more than 1,800 decisions for Christ following the Saturday morning kids' program.
And although the Festival came to an end, as Franklin Graham said on Saturday night, "Tonight is not the end, it's the beginning for many who have put their faith and trust in Jesus Christ. The work of the Church continues; the message of the Gospel goes forth. We don't stop trying to reach Tijuana for Christ."