The Festival of Hope with American evangelist Franklin Graham held this past weekend was the largest Christian event in Uruguay's history, the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association reported.
Some 71,000 people filled Charrua Stadium in the capital of Montevideo on March 19-21. Among them, a total of 8,249 people responded to the invitation to commit their lives to Jesus Christ.
"This is historic. We've never seen anything like this and the church here is excited," said Ernesto Dueck, a missionary who was born and raised in Uruguay and who served on the festival's local executive committee, according to BGEA.
On Saturday morning, 25,000 people filled the stadium for "Festininos," a program that teaches kids about God's love through entertaining drama and music. Through the children-oriented program, 4,835 children and parents made the commitment to follow Jesus Christ.
Uruguay is the most secular and atheistic country in South America. The nation has high rates of depression and drug use.
"Since coming here I have learned that while this is a wonderful country, there are some problems," said Graham, president and CEO of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association and international relief organization Samaritan's Purse.
"About 81 percent believe in God but they don't trust god to solve problems. One out of four people in Uruguay suffer from depression and many turn to drugs to solve their problems," Graham said. "But I want to tell you tonight that God has the solution to your problems."
The evangelistic outreach was part of a larger effort by BGEA to share the Gospel with the people of Uruguay. For over two years, the ministry has used My Hope television broadcasts to lead people to Jesus Christ. Through the TV program - which aired in more than 14,000 homes from Sept. 27-29, 2007 - over 33,000 people committed their lives to Christ.
"Now it's time to follow up," said Dueck, who also helped lead the My Hope project in Uruguay, after the festival. "This week, every church in every neighborhood in Montevideo and surrounding towns and cities of Uruguay will make contact with the people who were saved at the Festival."
"As we follow up, these people will be connected to the local churches and the church will continue to grow and work together more and more in a united way, and we will see Uruguay come to know Jesus," the missionary envisioned.
BGEA will also continue to work with local churches in Uruguay to follow up with new believers from the Festival of Hope.
The Uruguay festival was organized by some 700 churches from 64 denominations. It was the first Graham crusade event of 2009.
Other Graham events planned for this year include festivals in Tallinn, Estonia (May 29-31); Baton Rouge, Louisiana (July 18); St. Louis, Missouri (Aug. 2); Quad Cities, Illinois/Iowa (Aug. 8); Minneapolis/St. Paul, Minnesota (Aug. 16); and Bogotá, Columbia (Aug. 27-29).