Over 200,000 Attend Graham Festival in Paraguay

Over 200,000 people from 850 churches from 46 denominations turned out for the 3-day "Festival of Hope" in Paraguay from May 12-14, featuring speaker Franklin Graham.

The youth oriented event drew national and international artists, as well as other figures, including the nation's president, Nicanor Duarte and his cabinet members. In addition to preaching by Graham and local preachers, the event displayed, colorful choreography, and various musical groups with styles ranging from pop and rock, to classical and blues, according to newspaper Ultima Hora.

"The event was beautiful. I was really hoping for something like it ... I think it will help the country improve bit by bit. From here, many people will be changed. They'll accept Christ ... people will leave with a more positive attitude," said Daiana Vera, 15, one of the attendants.

To put on the festival, participating churches rented the Defensores del Chaco soccer stadium, located in the capital, Asuncion. Graham gave out the message through translator Galo Vazquez.

"Tonight, you can leave this place prepared to go to heaven," said Graham in his message on the first night. "We are all sinners, but the Bible says that God loved man so much that he sent his Son to redeem our sins. No one can come into God's presence except by the Son, by Jesus Christ. He gave his life on the cross and and gave his blood for us," added Graham, according to Ultima Hora.

He went on to explain that this was his first visit to Paraguay. The event was his 107th festival in cooperation with the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association (BGEA).

Throughout the "Festival de Esperanza," thousands in attendance approached the front of the stage to repent of their sins and and accept Jesus Christ as their savior.

For pastor Santiago Maldonado, the President of the Association of Evangelical Pastors of Paraguay, the Festival of Hope was something unprecedented.

"In the morning on Saturday, there were about 70,000 children in the stadium. Several thousand weren't able to enter. That is something without precedent in our country for listening to the Word of God," he said, according to newspaper, La Nacion.

He added that the overflowing result didn't happen by chance but rather by concerted preparation during the 10 previous months. He said that the churches involved will try to continue organizing similar events.

Although the stadium was the nation's largest, he hopes that next time, it may be held in an open space, like Nu Guazu, where the pope once visited. The event was carried via satellite across the country.

The stage where speakers and artists made their presentations was adorned with flowers, decorative plants and imposing giant screens on either side. Among those artists presenting was Spanish Christian singer Marcos Vidal, who says he has participated in festivals with Graham since 1998. He said that this event was one that left the greatest impression on him.

"This is the most numerous, not only in people, but also organization. I love the country, the people, and I have a good impression of everything," said Vidal.

About people's appreciation for his music, he said, "It's fascinating to see that people take songs one has written at home in solitude and that they have been able to make it part of their lives ... I'm happy that they can identify with the songs and that they can serve as blessings." He added, "Heaven is full of Paraguayans."

Other artists included Dennis Agajanian and Assiria.

One attendant, Alicia Torres, 14, expressed what stayed with her from the event and Graham's message.

"He brought a message of hope that will help the country a lot. After the festival, I really hope that changes can emerge in Paraguay that will help overcome many of the conflicts taking place."