Miguel Jerónimo stood next to Franklin Graham behind the pulpit, facing the hundreds of people coming forward in response to the Gospel invitation. It was the second of four services for the Festival of Hope in Lisbon, Portugal, last month.
Miguel served as Franklin’s interpreter for the Festival, and they had paused to wait before leading responders in a prayer to receive Christ.
Suddenly, as Miguel looked out into the crowd, he noticed that one of the people moving toward the front was his 12-year-old daughter, Daniela.
“I was thrilled—and filled with emotion,” said Miguel, who is director of the Portuguese Bible Society. “Franklin and I had stepped back from the microphone, so I told him about it. He nodded at me and said, ‘Wow, that’s great!’
“I had to get ahold of myself because I knew that [Franklin] would still have to pray for people. I had to really struggle not to cry a lot because I knew I still had some sentences to [interpret into Portuguese].”
Miguel’s wife, Juliana, accompanied their daughter to the front. They were joined by Daniela’s 12-year-old friend, Isabela, and her parents, Carlos and Lua.
Daniela prayed to receive Jesus as her Lord and Savior. So did Isabela and her parents—an answer to the prayers of Miguel and Juliana, who invited them. Carlos and Lua were divorced about a year and a half earlier, but had been considering reconciliation with the counsel and help of Miguel and Juliana.
The Festival was historic for BGEA and Portugal. It was the ministry’s first event since Billy Graham’s passing on Feb. 21 and marked the first time BGEA had held a Crusade event in the country.
Billy Graham was invited to lead a Crusade in Portugal in the mid-1970s, but the Carnation Revolution, a coup that brought democracy to the West European nation, made the environment too potentially volatile.
For Orlando Luz, the Festival of Hope was the realization of a dream dating back more than half a century.
“We have wished for this for a long time,” Luz said. “I am thankful to God.”
Luz, 83, was part of a delegation from Portugal that met with Mr. Graham during his 1966 Crusade in London, which forged a partnership with BGEA.
The Festival was held at Campo Pequeno, a 19th-century bullfighting ring. Originally, two services were scheduled, one each for April 7 and 8, but demand among churches was so strong that an extra service was added each day.
Two trains were chartered for the mid-afternoon opening service. More than 700 people made the five-hour ride from Porto in the northern part of the country, and another 250 traveled a slightly shorter distance from Algarve in the south.
One church, International Christian Mission, packed 800 people into three sections for the final session on April 8. Nine buses were chartered to help get the group there.
“People here have been very hungry for God to do something more than they have ever seen,” said Festival director Hans Mannegren, BGEA’s director of European affairs. “It’s not a shallow excitement. It’s a deep excitement.”
The Festival was packed to near capacity. Its four sessions had a combined attendance total of 27,800. There were 1,133 people who indicated spiritual responses, including 496 prayers for salvation, 219 prayers for assurance of salvation and 237 rededications.
In each of his messages, Franklin asked the crowds to deeply contemplate whether they were sure they were right with God and had salvation through Jesus.
Paulo Silvestre, 43, of Ponte de Sôr was not sure and slowly made his way forward, using crutches because he has only a left leg. He lost his right leg in a motorcycle accident in 2004.
Paulo put his hand over his heart as he described how God had spared his life and how he knew he needed to pray to be certain about his salvation.
Bruno Oliveira, 22, saw God’s hand in the timing of the Festival. Only one week earlier, he was released from jail after serving a six-month sentence. Franklin’s message spoke to him deeply.
“He talked about how God loves us and gave His Son for us and that even though we might fail, He is ready to forgive us,” Bruno said.
Going forward to surrender to Christ left Bruno with a newfound sense of freedom.
“God has rescued me and is going to be with me all the way until He comes again,” he said.
Filipe Scorpion and Jessica Campos, who had been dating for a month, walked forward together at the first of two April 8 services to repent of their sins and to receive Jesus.
“I want to have a new relationship [with God],” Filipe said. “I don’t want to go to hell. I want to spend eternity with God.”
César Mauricia, 18, was surrounded by friends as he prayed to receive Christ at the final service. Two of his friends, Sara and Beatriz, wept. Beatriz said they had been trying for a long time to share Christ with César, but it had been a struggle.
“It fills our hearts now to see him feel the happiness that we feel,” Beatriz said.
Festival executive chairman António Calaim said among the people who came forward during the Festival was a 17-year-old couple from his church who had recently had a baby from an unplanned pregnancy. The boy already was a Christian, and the girl prayed to receive Christ. The church is now rallying around them to help them in their journey with the Lord.
Luis Delgado, a local businessman, hosted 37 people he invited to the first of two services on April 8. He left enthused about the long-term impact the Festival would have in Portugal and was deeply impacted when he saw so many people respond to the Gospel.
“I was praying all the time,” he said. “People were crying down there. People were hugging. Lives were being changed. That’s our mission.”
Rodrigues Pereira, who served on the Festival leadership team as head of mobilization, said he believes the success of the Festival provided momentum that could spark revival.
“This is unprecedented,” he said. “We have never had an event like this in Portugal. It was amazing.”