The thousands of people who were met with devastating losses from Hurricanes Katrina and Rita saw a three-day outpouring of the gospel at the Ark-La-Tex Franklin Graham Festival, where many gained a new life in Christ.
Coming from cities more than 240 miles away and new homes now housing evacuees from the Gulf Coast region, a total of 27,099 people attended the three-day evangelistic event at CenturyTel Center in Shreveport, La., that concluded on Sunday.
Preaching the message of forgiveness and love, evangelist Franklin Graham spoke of the story of Zacchaeus on the final day of the festival. Crowds were drawn out of their seats to near the stage area as Graham described Zacchaeus' quick steps toward God.
"Obstacles were preventing him from coming to Jesus," said Graham, according to The Shreveport Times, as he applied those obstacles to today's sins of alcoholism, sex and drugs.
Assuring that God forgives all sins, Graham encouraged the thousands to not let those obstacles of sins block them from coming to Christ as Zacchaeus did so.
"It didn't stop him. He runs down the road and shimmied up that tree," he said. "What's holding you back?
"If you say I don't think I can quit, you come to Jesus and he'll give you the power. You turn your back on that past life."
Hundreds responded to the invitation and added onto the 320 who went forward the night before on Saturday. The second festival day had featured the S.O.A.R. slam dunk team's basketball exhibition and a special KidzFest before Christian artists, including Salvador, the Katinas, Alfie Silas and others made it out onto the stage.
The three-day evangelistic festival opened a path for storm victims to overcome racial and denominational lines that may have separated them as they came together in one hope during their struggles.
"I decree tonight that from this day forward, this generation will love one another unconditionally," said Shreveport Fire Chief Kelvin Cochran, chairman of the local festival planning committee, on the closing night, according to The Shreveport Times. "Racism has got to go. Hate has got to go. The next community crisis will not separate us."
Graham's message of hope proclamation was accompanied by a special tribute to hurricane victims and volunteer workers with 100 new mobile homes donated to the Shreveport area through the Christian international relief organization Samaritan's Purse, where Graham serves as president.