Marion Salonga opened her eyes after Will Graham prayed and marveled again at the number of people who had flocked to the front of the Quirino Grandstand at Rizal Park on Feb. 16 to inquire about a relationship with Christ. The previous night, she had counseled someone who was admittedly living a sinful life. He had stolen, among other things, and had been in jail. But he was ready for a new life, and he left Rizal Park with a changed heart.
Scanning tonight’s crowd, she spotted a couple standing with their young son. The man was crying. Will’s message had been on broken families, and this family seemed troubled. Marion silently prayed for guidance, then she approached the couple and asked if the husband was OK.
“Yes. I accepted Jesus,” he uttered as best he could. “I’m OK.”
“What made you come to the front?” Marion asked.
“I want to know more about Jesus. I want to start reading the Bible. I want to start going to church. I’ve never had a personal relationship with Jesus before.”
Marion sensed there was more.
“My wife, she’s been sick, so I’m just begging the Lord to heal her.”
His wife spoke then. She had been sick for two years. The two of them wanted to take Jesus seriously as He was their only hope. They both prayed for forgiveness of sins so they could know Jesus was walking beside them, whatever the future held.
In an amazing outpouring of the Holy Spirit, more than 19,400 people opened their hearts to Christ during the Greater Pangasinan-Metro Manila Celebration with Will Graham in the Philippines. The Celebration was an eight-day, nine-event campaign that started Feb. 9-10 in Ligayen, the bustling capital of the province of Pangasinan, and ended Feb. 15-17 with a three-day event in Manila’s Rizal Park, where presidential inaugurations are held.
All told, 149,656 people heard the saving message of God’s love and forgiveness, including more than 35,000 in Pangasinan alone. Nearly 7,000 accepted Christ at the Narciso Ramos Sports Complex—including a woman who was led to Christ by her son, a beaming young man named Jayson.
“Tonight it’s very fulfilling because I have my mother there, and I tell her about Jesus,” Jayson said. “She’s now very happy!”
The meetings in Pangasinan were followed by special events for teens, government/military leaders and marketplace leaders. More than 1,000 attended the government/military meeting.
“This was an amazing opportunity to bring the Gospel to the highest level of leaders in the country,” said Chad Hammond, BGEA’s director of Asian Affairs. “Will gave an invitation, and 172 people received Christ. We sense this event can have significant return on the people of the Philippines, as corruption is one of the leading problems in the country.”
The Celebration marked the first time all three generations of Graham evangelists have preached from the same venue in the same city. Billy Graham held a Crusade at Rizal Park in 1977, and Franklin in 2006.
Christians hope Will’s Celebration will spur the same outpouring of Christian growth and church attendance spurred by the previous events. In 1977, there were 5,000 evangelical churches in the Philippines. By 2006, there were 51,000, and there are now 78,000.
“With the cooperation of 1,600 churches in Metro Manila, we are expecting a great number of new believers that will be added to the churches,” said Bishop Noel Pantoja, general chairman for the Celebration.
One of those new believers was led to Christ by Will’s interpreter, Reuel Tica, a third-generation pastor, whose father interpreted for Franklin in 2006. Tica watched from the stage in Pangasinan as the young man who served as his driver ran to the front of the sports complex to receive Christ. Tica had shared the Gospel with him the previous day and he had prayed for forgiveness of sin at that point.
“Ramil was one of the first to run forward at the invitation,” Tica said. “He felt like Will had been speaking to him directly, and he wanted to be reassured of his salvation.”
Many of the Philippines’ faith leaders trace their spiritual journey back to a Graham event, including bishops and pastors of some of the largest churches. James Tioco, the Celebration’s chief of staff, is an elder in his church and trains regional pastors in disciple-making. He accepted Christ in 1977 at age 15.
“I was involved in gang activity and obviously lost,” Tioco said. “That evening, the Word of God was planted in my heart. Some pastors came along and watered the seed, and it grew and I began to bear fruit.”
Tioco is amazed that he made it to the Celebration. A severe case of vertigo had rendered him immobile, but during the meetings someone called him and prayed with him, and he miraculously made it to the last service. As he stood to the side of the stage watching Will preach, Isaiah 55:11 kept running through his mind.
“It says the Word of God shall not return to Him empty, but it shall prosper anywhere He sends it,” Tioco said. “I was praying that every word that we proclaim would truly tug someone’s heart. And when Will gave the invitation, a sea of people, moved by the Holy Spirit, rushed forward. I saw myself in that crowd as once lost and now found, because of His grace. I stood there with joy welling up in my heart.”
He was convinced of two things in that moment: the Word of God truly does not return void. And the Body of Christ in Manila is committed to following up with the thousands of believers who came forward just like they did with him 42 years ago.
“No words can describe the joy of seeing floods of people coming forward and surrendering their lives to the Lord,” Tioco said. “For all we know, the next Billy Graham is one of them. Or the next bishop of the Philippines.”