(Photo: Billy Graham Evangelistic Association)
Franklin Graham preached the Gospel of Christ to survivors of the Haiti earthquake Sunday, offering hope and compassion to a crowd of tens of thousands who had experienced devastation and death during the past year.
"We pray for you. We pray that God will cover you with His mercy. We know how difficult it is for you as you remember," said Graham, speaking at the National Soccer Stadium in Port-Au Prince.
The Festival of Hope was the first major evangelistic event for Graham in Haiti.
Graham, who heads the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association and humanitarian ministry Samaritan's Purse, last made a visit to the country last month when he and former Alaska governor Sarah Palin handed out shoe boxes filled with Christmas gifts to children of Haiti.
With the one-year mark of the massive earthquake approaching, Graham asked those in the crowd how many have lost family or loved ones in the earthquake. He comforted them, saying that God understands the grief of losing a son.
"God understands your grief. His son died for your sins. That's how much God loves you," he said.
The evangelist went on to preach a message of hope that is found in Christ alone, based on the beloved text of John 3:16.
"That God so loved Haiti that He gave his begotten son and that if Haiti believes in Him, Haiti will not perish but will have everlasting life," said Graham.
As he taught about creation, sin, judgment and salvation, the preacher compared the epidemic of sin to the recent outbreak of cholera in the country.
"Cholera has come into your country and infected your people. Many have died and many are sick. But sin has affected not only you but the entire human race. The entire human race has been infected and is under the death sentence," explained Graham.
"But if you are willing to receive Christ today by faith, God will forgive you and cleanse you of your sins," he continued. "Will you trust Him today?"
Hundreds came forward to the stage and responded to the invitation to receive Christ. Volunteers handed out Gospel tracts and prayed together with them.
Thousands more in Haiti and around the world also listened to the event by radio and live webcast.
The festival was organized by the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association in response to an invitation by 75 Haitian pastors for Franklin Graham to come speak. Nearly 500 local churches representing 93 denominations throughout Haiti banded together to conduct the event.
Before Graham took the stage, Christian music artists Michael W. Smith led the audience in worship, singing popular praise songs like "Hallelujah" and "Above All."
Christian rap artist Lecrae Moore performed a hip hop song inspired by his visit to Haiti last February. He also gave his personal testimony on how becoming a Christian changed him.
"My life was so bad that all I looked forward to was another day," said Lecrae. "But someone who was perfect died for my sins, paid the cost for me and that's why I do what I do. So now, I no longer admire the gangster, I admire the godly man."
Both Smith and Lecrae contributed to "Healing4Haiti," a compilation album by Integrity Music whose profits benefited earthquake survivors in Haiti. Smith co-wrote the song "Come Together Now" together with David Mullen and Cindy Morgan.
A Haitian worship team also led the audience in praise music, sung in both Creole and English.
The day before the festival, Graham had visited several Samaritan's Purse programs in Haiti, including a cholera treatment center and shelter and clean water projects.
The relief organization has provided medical treatment to more than 7,500 patients since the cholera epidemic struck the nation last October. Teams have also set up over 10,000 temporary shelters, 36 community water filters each providing 10,000 gallons of clean water a day and distributed nearly 9,000 metric tons of food. Additionally, at least 1,000 Haitians have received employment by joining as staff of Samaritan's Purse.
Chaplains belonging to BGEA, which had a Rapid Response Team on the ground in Haiti within 20 hours of the Jan. 12 quake, have been ministering to the spiritual needs of the people, reaching over 17,000 people. The organization is also training local churches for outreach.
BGEA is also preparing to launch its My Hope evangelism project in July 2011, which will provide translated Christian programming to Haiti viewers.
Haitians will hold a National Day of Prayer and Fasting on Jan. 12 in remembrance of the one-year anniversary of the earthquake.