When Olena fled the war in Ukraine, she knew that living as a refugee in Germany would be much more secure than remaining in her homeland. But it wasn’t until she attended the Essen 2023 Festival of Hope with Franklin Graham that she realized her soul was still not secure.
At the Festival that night, Franklin told the crowd at Essen’s Grugahalle: “God says, ‘Hear, that your soul may live.’ And I want you to hear tonight, that your soul may live. … If you’re not sure that your soul is secure in the hands of God, … I’m going to invite you to get up out of your seat, make your way down to the front, and by coming, you’ll be saying to God, ‘I’m a sinner, and I’m sorry for my sins.’”
Olena was one of hundreds who accepted that invitation and prayed to receive Christ.
“I gave my life to Christ today,” she said afterward. “This was my first time hearing this kind of message and being so convicted about all my sins. I would love to scream for joy because my soul is rejoicing for receiving Christ. I’m grateful that Franklin Graham came and gave this very special message.”
Franklin came to Essen at the invitation of nearly 260 churches from seven major denominations throughout Germany’s North Rhine-Westphalia region.
Local Christians spoke of their desire to see others put their faith in Jesus Christ.
“When I was first aware that this would happen in Essen, my hometown, I thought, This is something that I must support as a Christian, especially as someone who is dedicated to evangelism,” said Annette Derksen, who served as a volunteer counselor at the Festival.
Karsten Gräbnitz, who ministers with Z.I.E.L. e.V., a community of Christians who help marginalized and needy people, helped to pass out thousands of flyers about the Festival. Z.I.E.L. e.V. also brought two van loads of people to the Festival.
“Everything we do, we do for God,” Gräbnitz said. “And we do it because the Holy Spirit is guiding and leading us to bring people closer to Christ. Jesus is the One who is pulling people to the Festival; He is the One who can change lives.”
In the weeks leading up to the Festival, LGBTQ activists spoke out against Franklin and the event. Some churches were divided about whether or not to participate; others flatly refused to take part. On the day of the Festival, police said about 100 protesters gathered outside the Grugahalle, warning people about the “hateful preacher” inside.
But inside, the message was about God’s love and grace to rescue sinners from death. Every seat was filled, and some people sat in the aisles. Others had to be turned away—a surprising turnout after critics and non-supportive churches had predicted the famous Grugahalle would be half empty.
“Germany needs these kinds of meetings in all the cities,” said Sebastian Visenthy, pastor of Church of Grace, in Bochum-Leithe. “There are so many churches in Germany that could no longer be operated, so the buildings have been sold and torn down to build other things. People need to understand Christ and accept Christ.”
The meeting featured music from Dennis Agajanian; German worship leader Veronika Lohmer and her band; Newsboys; and the Tommy Coomes Band. Franklin’s message focused on the soul: “For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul?” (Mark 8:36, NKJV).
“All of us are going to have to stand before God one day and give an account to Him for our life,” Franklin said. “And it’s either going to be Heaven or hell.”
At the invitation, the aisles filled with people who came forward to put their faith in Jesus Christ.
Olivia Oliveira-Berner invited some of her neighbors to the Festival.
“One of them gave his life to the Lord,” she said. “He is very excited, and he asked me for a Bible. He loved the worship and told me on Sunday afternoon that he is listening to Newsboys music now at home.”
Roman, 15, also accepted Christ: “I found help here,” he said, “and I understood how I can go to God. … The preacher said if you feel attracted to God, you should come forward, so I came forward. I felt this pull to God.”
After the service, two friends, Heike and Alexandra, were standing together and looking at the materials Heike had received when she went forward to receive Christ. “Before the call was given, I was not really sure if this was for me,” Heike said. “But when the call came, I felt a pull to come forward, that this was the time to go. I’m happy that I took this step.” ©2023 BGEA
Photo: Thomas J. Petrino/©2023 BGEA