In a nation that has witnessed a number of firsts in the past five years, Myanmar’s small Christian population saw another first in November: The Yangon Love Joy Peace Festival with Franklin Graham was the country’s first evangelistic Crusade organized with the participation of all the country’s Christian denominations.
Myanmar, formerly known as Burma, is still adjusting to its newfound status as a democratic state following nearly 50 years of military rule. Since the military government was dissolved five years ago, the country has seen enormous political, legal and economic reforms, and it has become much more open to international relations.
Those changes opened the door for churches to invite Franklin Graham to hold a Festival in Yangon, the nation’s largest city. Christians who have yearned for their countrymen to find Christ were thrilled at what God did during the Festival.
“This is God’s timing,” said the Reverend Dr. Saw Mar Gay Gyi, who served as the Festival’s executive chairman. “This is the blessing from God. This is a time for harvest.”
Three hours before the start of the first meeting, thousands were already waiting outside the gate of the Myanmar Convention Center. When the gate opened, they flooded into the grounds in a steady stream and soon filled the 25,000 plastic chairs that had been set up. Thousands more stood or found spots to sit on the ground as the crowd grew to more than 45,000 that night.
Franklin proclaimed the Good News that Jesus Christ came on a rescue mission to save us from our sins: “Are you sure your sins are forgiven?” he asked. “If you’re not sure, be sure tonight. God loves you. He truly does, and He wants to forgive you. But the only way is through His Son, Jesus Christ.”
The message hit the mark with a 33-year-old man who drives a three-wheeled “trishaw” (a bicycle with a sidecar attached for passengers). He told his counselor that he hadn’t known the Festival was going to take place, but while driving his trishaw past the Convention Center, he heard Franklin’s voice and decided to come in.
“I am a very sinful man,” he said. “But the pastor [Franklin] said that when I prayed, my sins were forgiven. I feel free, like a burden has been released from my shoulders.”
Franklin first visited Myanmar in the early 1980s with his mentor Roy Gustafson, one of Billy Graham’s associate evangelists. On that trip, Franklin met a pastor in Yangon named Tin Maung Tun. The two have kept in touch through the decades, and that pastor, known affectionately as Uncle Ronnie, served as one of the patrons of this Festival.
After seeing the size of the first night’s crowd, organizers brought in thousands of additional chairs for the second and third nights. It still wasn’t enough. People filled not only the large outdoor square in front of the Convention Center, but also the building itself, its steps and balconies, the areas along both sides and even behind it. Still others never even got in but instead pressed against the fences surrounding the grounds. It seemed evident that many in Yangon were spiritually hungry and hoped to find fulfillment at this Christian Festival.
Some who responded to the invitation said they knew nothing about Jesus; they had never been inside a church building before. Others were familiar with the Christian message but had never received Christ before. One teenage girl said she has attended church every Sunday, but after hearing Franklin’s message she knew she needed to commit her life to Christ.
A 20-year-old woman said she had struggled with doubts about her salvation and so had prayed many times to receive Christ without knowing if she was really saved. After praying and talking with her counselor, she said she finally understood that she really does belong to Christ.
As the Festival drew to a close, Christians marveled at the way God had answered prayer. During three days, more than 170,000 people attended the meetings, with more than 7,600 registering decisions for Jesus Christ.
“This is more than we expected,” said the Reverend Dr. Saw Mar Gay Gyi. “The Holy Spirit is really here working and using Franklin. So this is, I think, God’s amazing grace for our people, and we hope that because of this, our country will be blessed richly.”