An evangelistic festival headlined by Franklin Graham ended Sunday in southeast India with an overflow crowd of nearly 85,000 people.
On the final night of the Chennai Hope Festival, held in the southeast coastal city of Chennai, more than 1,600 people came forward to accept Jesus Christ as their savior, according to the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association. Volunteers quickly mobilized to connect those who came forward with a new church home.
Graham on Sunday preached about the story of the prodigal son and how only Jesus Christ can fill the emptiness of our souls. The crowd responded to the message with prayer and by coming forward to accept Jesus.
Earlier in the week, Graham preached to about 23,000 people on Friday about the need for salvation through Jesus Christ using the story of Zacchaeus, the tax collector.
“Zacchaeus wanted to meet Jesus when He was passing through,” Graham said on the second night of the Chennai Hope Festival. “I think maybe Zacchaeus felt guilty. Maybe tonight you feel guilty. You wonder if there is any way you can be forgiven. Yes, tonight you can be forgiven.”
Graham explained that God is not far away but “He loves you so much He gave His only begotten Son to die for your sins.” And on the third day God raised His son to life.
“He is not dead. He is not hanging on a cross,” Graham declared. “He is here tonight. Tonight you can be forgiven.”
Like Zacchaeus, whom Jesus saw and called him by name to come down, Jesus is calling each person in the crowd to respond, the evangelist said.
Nearly 900 people responded to the invitation to accept Jesus on Jan. 22.
In addition to the evening messages, the Chennai Hope Festival also included a children’s festival on Saturday morning. More than 10,000 children accepted Jesus as their savior.
“We are thankful that Franklin Graham meets social needs but also that he is taking the Gospel to the downtrodden,” said the Rev. D. Mohan, festival executive general chairman, according to BGEA.
Graham is the president and CEO of Samaritan’s Purse, a humanitarian organization that has delivered more than 6.6 million shoe box gifts to the children of India through its Operation Christmas Child program.
“India is the greatest harvest field in the world,” said Mohan. “We pray millions of souls will be added to the Kingdom this week.”
India is the statistical center of gravity for the population that has never heard of Jesus Christ, according to Dr. Todd Johnson, research fellow and director of the Study of Global Christianity at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary in Boston. The term “statistical center of gravity” means there is an equal number of a people or type of people to the north, south, east and west of a specific point, which in the case of unreached people is found in India.
Johnson, who gave the presentation about the statistical center of gravity for unreached people at a frontier mission conference in 2007, also noted that research has indicated the most responsive people to Christianity are Hindu, Muslim and Buddhists, but most Christian outreach never reach non-Christians. More than 90 percentof all Christian evangelism is aimed at other Christians, and 86 percent of the world’s Hindus, Muslims and Buddhists do not personally know a Christian.
“I think it is an interesting irony that God himself has prepared the peoples for the Gospel message, but we tend to be slow in contacting and being incarnational witness among these peoples,” Johnson had said.
Dr. Paul Dhinakaran, who leads Jesus Calls Ministries in India, said, “It is God’s time for India.”
“Franklin has sown to meet the needs of people around the world,” Dhinakaran said to BGEA before the festival. “We pray during this Festival he will reapall that he has sown.”
Other Graham evangelistic festivals scheduled for this year include events in Brazil (May 27-29), Alberta, Canada (August), Japan (Oct.22-24) and Latvia (Nov. 5-7), which will be the former communist country’s first-ever evangelistic event.