Evangelist Franklin Graham is in the south Indian city of Hyderabad where tens of thousands are coming to hear the Gospel message despite calls by rightwing Hindu groups to ban his four-day festival.
On the second night of the Hyderabad Festival Friday, about 50,000 people poured into Lal Bahadur Stadium in the capital city of Andhra Pradesh state, which was under a tight security cover. And on the weekend, the number was expected to rise even higher.
“I heard about the Graham family when I lived in Virginia, but I didn’t know what they did really – just something religious,” said Jayesh, a youngster who had just returned to India after attending college in the United States.
Jayesh was in Hyderabad due to an emergency. “I had to come home because my father is dying of cancer,” the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association quoted him as saying. And he was at the stadium with his brother who accepted Christ a few years ago.
When Jayesh heard Graham speak about sin and Jesus’ death for its forgiveness he was moved. “When Franklin called it sin, it made sense for the first time,” he said. “My own dad is always so forgiving … Maybe God is like that.” Jayesh said he couldn’t believe he came to the stadium and “this all made sense.”
“I never expected to give my heart to Jesus.”
Like Jayesh, hundreds were believed to have opened their hearts to Jesus.
On Thursday night, 43,500 came to hear the Gospel message and 1,240 responded to it. “The whole stadium is filled with the spirit of God – you can feel God in this place,” the Rev. Mohan Babu, a local Christian leader, said welcoming the crowd to the first night of the festival.
Indian Christian bands, such as Yeshua and Sounds of the Nations; singers including Anil Kant and Dayanidhi Rao; and musicians like Benny Prasad also played at the festival. “It is not about the songs we sing in worship. It’s about the heart we offer to the Lord,” Indian singer Anil Kant was quoted as saying. “God can use anybody and He uses us all, exactly where He has planned to use us.”
Anjushree, a 24-year-old woman born to Christian parents, said she could never feel the closeness of God. “We would go to church, but I was always bored.” She was looking for love, which she was seeking in her boyfriend. She even yielded to pressure for a physical relationship. “I am ashamed now, but I did many horrible things.”
On Thursday night, when Graham spoke about God’s love and how sex outside of marriage is a sin, Anjushree realized she needed to change. “When the preacher said that Jesus died for people who sin, that God loves me, I was so happy,” she said. “All I have ever wanted is to be loved.”
Hindu nationalists, who allege that Christian missionaries seek to convert Hindus by offering money and other material benefits, aren’t happy. Days before the Hyderabad Festival, groups like the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (World Hindu Council) and its youth wing Bajrang Dal, held rallies asking city and state authorities to ban the event.
However, local police have taken measures to prevent any unrest during the festival. All police stations in sensitive areas had been alerted “to maintain strict vigil and ensure that the mischief-mongers do not succeed in their disruptive plan,” The Times of India quoted a senior police officer as saying.