TBILISI, Georgia (BP) -- In the face of threats, arson attacks and protests, more than 15,000 Georgians turned out to hear the Gospel in the capital city of Tbilisi, Georgia, a small country on the Black Sea, nestled between Turkey and Russia.
|"There were powerful spiritual forces at work. But our God is stronger." |
-- Christian worker
During the Franklin Graham's Festival of Hope, more than 1,000 Georgians indicated a desire to follow Christ -- a reaction that sparked a fire of enthusiasm in local churches.
It was a flame that burned on the heels of intense opposition.
In the weeks leading up to the festival, the Orthodox Church became vocal in its opposition to the evangelical celebration, said George Green,* a Christian worker who serves with his wife Lily* and their children in Georgia. He said priests threatened congregants with excommunication from the church if they or any family member attended, a punishment tantamount to eternal damnation.
They also warned that any show of support would negate their national identity and they would "not be Georgian" anymore, Lily said.
Just days before the festival, arsonists destroyed the sports center reserved for the event, forcing the organizers to scramble for another location. Many parks and venues refused to host them, but a local church offered its parking lot as a solution.
Although the lot was only large enough for 2,000 people, about 5,300 gathered each night in a standing-room-only crowd, leaning from windows of neighboring buildings and sitting on the walls of the property.
The crowd gathered in spite of protesters, who rallied to try to block the entrance.
"I walked through [the group of protesters] and there was a dark spiritual oppression, but as I entered the arena there was peace," George said. "Every person who came to the festival had to walk through that and experienced that."
"There were powerful spiritual forces at work," Lily said. "But our God is stronger."
The result was more than 1,000 people responding to God.
The festival, June 6-8, was a pivotal time for Georgian churches that have been timid about sharing their faith and uncertain that God could work through them, George said. The active presence of Jehovah's Witnesses, he said, has tarnished the reputation of Protestantism in the country. That, along with strong opposition by the Orthodox Church has robbed evangelicals of their voice, he said.
But the Festival of Hope pulled together 150 evangelical churches and trained them to share the Gospel and lead people to Christ. This has helped spark a fire in Georgian believers, Lily said.
"They invited their lost friends hesitantly -- didn't want to pressure them or put them in danger -- but when they witnessed them hearing and getting excited and raising their hands to indicate they wanted to follow Christ, they were in disbelief. They thought this wasn't possible," she said. Read More