American evangelist Franklin Graham concluded his third evangelistic festival in Brazil Saturday night, preaching to over 25,000 Brazilians in the city of Belo Horizonte.
Graham, who heads the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, has preached twice before in South America's largest country (and the world's fifth largest) – the first about 18 years ago and the second about nine years ago.
"The country has changed a lot," said the ministry leader after arriving in Belo Horizonte for the three-night festival.
"We've seen a lot of positive economic changes," he added.
In spite of all the benefits that Brazil has gained economically, however, Graham acknowledged the presence of a "great spiritual vacuum that economy, wealth, and material things cannot fill."
"[T]here's an emptiness in people that money cannot buy," said Graham, reiterating the words of the more than 900 churches that invited him to preach over the weekend.
"You can't fill a person with money. It's only Christ that can come into a human heart. It's only Christ that can make changes in the human life," he added.
According to Geremias Couto, the national coordinator for the festival in Brazil, only 19 percent of the people in Belo Horizonte - the country's third largest city - are considered evangelical. And Graham's Festival of Hope is the first-ever event of its type.
In the four months leading up to the festival, some 800 churches were trained and mobilized and 100,000 "Operation Andrew" cards were sent out - 20,000 of which were returned with 7 names on each of them.
Though the effort began one month later than planned due to "a number of situations," the May 27-29 festival still drew thousands each night, starting with 10,000 the first and concluding with Saturday night's 25,000.
As he does with each festival, Graham brought with him the gospel of Christ as well as inspirational music from popular Christian artists including Michael W. Smith, Ana Paula, and the Tommy Coomes Band.
Local musicians and a choir made up of volunteers from churches across the region also took to the stage in culminating the efforts of what grew to become more than 1,000 local churches from a wide range of denominations.
According to Graham, the number of churches that worked together to prepare for the Festival of Hope in Belo Horizonte was the largest he had ever seen.
"I don't think I've seen that at any crusade that we've had anywhere in the world that had that many churches committed to evangelism," he reported.
Since 1989, Graham has held an average of seven festivals each year as an evangelist for the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association.
Earlier this year, Graham held his first event of 2010 in Chennai, India. Along with Belo Horizonte, additional Franklin Graham events will be held this year in Vancouver, Canada (Aug. 7); Calgary, Canada (Aug. 21); Edmonton, Canada (Aug. 28); Osaka, Japan (Oct. 22-24); and Riga, Latvia (Nov. 5-7).
Graham, whose father is world renowned preacher Billy Graham, currently serves as president and CEO of the BGEA.