God Calls People of San Juan to a New Beginning
There's old San Juan and new San Juan. One part of the Puerto Rican capital is still outlined with aging fortresses built into rugged cliffs with Spanish-inspired architecture rising from brick streets. The other, frequented by cruise ships, boasts modern hotels, chain restaurants and paddle boarders.
The contrast between the old and new was a theme for San Juan Saturday as the second night of the Festival de Esperanza (Festival of Hope) with Franklin Graham got underway.
"This is 2017. Things have changed," Franklin Graham told a crowd of about 13,000 in Hiram Bithorn Stadium. "Perceptions have changed. Culture has changed."
"God's Word," on the other hand, "is the same yesterday, a thousand years ago, and it's the same today."
The Gospel has been around a long time, but Saturday night saw new people understanding and embracing it-realizing we're all imperfect people rebelling against God and in need of His mercy.
"God is willing and eager to forgive you," Franklin Graham said. "Tonight you can have a new life and a new beginning."
He took his time explaining this timeless Good News, then invited anyone forward who may be hearing Jesus speaking to their hearts.
"You've got to be willing to turn from your sins. You've got to be willing to change direction in your life," Franklin Graham continued. "That life and that new beginning comes through Jesus Christ."
He stood back from the podium, folded his hands and patiently waited as people flowed forward from every side of the stadium.
Gov. Ricardo Rosselló Nevares helped open Saturday's Festival: "With God before us, nothing is impossible for our island," he said.
Moments later, as he led them in a prayer to make Jesus part of their lives, one voice was heard above all the others. It belonged to a woman named Angie who stood toward the front in a crowd of a few hundred.
"Gloria a Dios! Glory to God!" she exclaimed after praying.
Growing up, Angie didn't know anything about God. Yet over the years, she's had various people tell her that God loves her and has big plans for her. She started going to church in 2006 and put her faith in Jesus shortly after that. But it hasn't been easy.
Angie's eyes were full of pain as she talked about the lack of love shown to her as a child and how people have always pushed her away. She shared her grief over not being able to bear children and the difficulties she's faced at work.
But Franklin Graham's message about a new beginning struck her. At God's prompting, she said, she came forward as a renewed step of faith in Jesus, trusting Him for justice and healing in her life.
"I felt the Lord was calling me."
-Enrique, who came forward Saturday
"Where are you in your life?" Franklin Graham asked the crowd earlier. "Are you broken in your spirit? Are you spiritually empty?"
He told about his rebellious years as a young adult-how he was the kind of Prodigal Son the Bible talks about in Luke 15.
Franklin Graham recounted the Bible story for those who didn't know it, sharing how the greedy son eventually returned to his father, filthy and ashamed, after splurging on a materialistic lifestyle.
After living a life apart from God in his earlier years, Franklin Graham said, God welcomed him with open arms when he surrendered everything to Jesus.
"Will you call upon the name of the Lord tonight?" he asked the audience. "Will you come home to your Father?"
That's exactly what Enrique needed to hear. As he wrapped up a conversation with his counselor, Alexander Rivera, Saturday night, Enrique said he grew up in a religious household but just recently felt God calling him back to church. In fact, it was the church he's been going to that invited him to the Festival.
"I felt the Lord was calling me," he said about coming forward. He added that God has been telling him to be more active in his faith, and that he wants to be obedient.
Wearing a "Team Jesus" T-shirt, Rivera said he has high hopes for Puerto Rico following this weekend's Festival. His prayer? "That every Puerto Rican comes to Jesus." Then, looking around at a stadium transformed into a place of evangelism, he said, "We need more of this."