Franklin Graham’s ‘Festival de Esperanza‘ Draws Thousands in Los Angeles


By Michael Ireland

At the 1957 New York Crusade, Dr. Billy Graham had a one-night meeting just for Spanish-speaking people.

Franklin Graham addresses Hispanic media (Photo: BGEA)

Then, in 1960, Billy had a 3-day crusade, again, in New York City — The Spanish American Billy Graham Crusade, from October 7 to 9, 1960, in what was part of the Madison Square Garden complex.

The international news magazine TIME, dated October 24, 1960, reported at the time: “Fresh from his tent outside Berlin’s Red sector where he wound up his successful German crusade, Evangelist Billy Graham moved into Manhattan’s Madison Square Garden last week. The message of repentance and salvation was much the same as in his New York Crusade three years ago-but the words were different.

” ‘Hispanos, Billy Graham con nosotros,’ the signs proclaimed in buses and stores and the old favorite hymns they sang would have startled many a Bible-belter: The Old Rugged Cross was La Cruz de Jesus, What a Friend We Have in Jesus was Oh, Qué Amigo!, and Wonderful Words of Life was Oh, Contádmelas Otra Vez.

“Billy Graham of Montreat, N.C. was making a special path to New York City’s nearly 1,000,000 Spanish-speaking inhabitants, mostly Puerto Ricans. Of the 43,500 who went to listen to him, 1,139 made ‘decisions for Christ.'”
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Now, a generation later, Billy’s son Franklin this past weekend held Spanish speaking meetings (Festival De Esperanza) – Festival of Hope – at The Home Depot Center, in Carson, California, where the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association’s Trevor Freeze says hundreds of Hispanic hearts were warmed and changed forever by the saving power of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Some 18,722 people gathered June 25-26 near Los Angeles for the first-ever Franklin Graham Festival de Esperanza. During the two-day event, more than 1,500 responded to the Gospel message.

In his online article for the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association (BGEA), Trevor Freeze says: “It was a night to remember for many Hispanics in southern California.

“And not because of the Mexico-U.S. Gold Cup soccer match at the Rose Bowl.”

Some 25 miles south, at another bilingual event in Carson, CA, there was plenty on the line at the younger Graham’s Festival de Esperanza, which was geared to reach L.A’s estimated 1,000 gangs and their members, Freeze stated.

While Mexico beat the U.S. 4-2 in Pasadena, the only outcome that mattered on Saturday night were the thousands of souls hanging in the balance as they heard Franklin Graham preach the Gospel message, Freeze writes.

“Tonight, at this Center, there’s a more important game, which is the destiny of your life,” Festival Festikids Director David Ruiz said.

Hundreds of Hispanics accepted Christ, an emotional scene in the cool of the night at the Home Depot Center, a 27,000-seat soccer stadium, Freeze stated.

“I’ve been to three futbol games here,” a Festival counselor named Robert said after watching a rush of Latinos flood the infield. “And this is way better than any futbol game.”

Last weekend’s Festival was one of the first of its kind in the 60-plus-year history of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, working specifically through the Hispanic churches of the L.A. area. In Los Angeles County alone there are 4.7 million Hispanics, making up 47 percent of the population.

But while the program consisted of Hispanic music, performed by guitarist Dennis Agajanian, and singers like Israel Houghton & New Breed, and Lilly Goodman, the Gospel message of hope and peace remained unchanged, regardless of the format or translation, according to information from the
BGEA website.

“Are you searching for personal happiness?” Graham began a message about the Prodigal Son from Luke 15. “Are you trying to fill your life with things that can make you happy?”

According to the BGEA, Franklin Graham has preached in all but one of the Spanish-speaking countries in Central and South America, with the lone exception being Guatemala.

Ironically, two teenagers, who came to Los Angeles three years ago from Guatemala, were among those making a decision to put their faith and trust in Jesus, Freeze stated.

“There’s a peace in my heart,” Santos, 18, said. “I give thanks to God for everything tonight.”

Santos came to the Home Depot Center by way of an invitation from his uncle, Agusto, also 18-years-old (and just 4 months older). Agusto heard about Festival de Esperanza on the radio.

Both come from primarily non-Christian families.

“I think God did something in my life tonight and I’m happy,” Santos said. “I know God lives in my heart forever.”

Honoring Her Grandfather’s L.A. Legacy, Cissie Graham Lynch Tours Billy Graham’s Ministry Sites  
Cissie Graham Lynch was standing on hallowed ground.(Photo Courtesy: BGEA website)

Days before Festival de Esperanza kicked off in Los Angeles, Cissie Graham Lynch, granddaughter of Billy Graham, visited several key L.A. ministry stops, including the site of the 1949 Crusade and the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

“He was just a preacher from North Carolina who has honored and obeyed the Lord,” Cissie Graham Lynch told Trevor Freeze for an online article on the BGEA website.

At the corner of Washington and Hill streets, just south of downtown Los Angeles, she stood in awe at the site of the “Canvas Cathedral,” Freeze reported.

Freeze stated: “Back in the fall of 1949, Billy Graham’s three-week Crusade was extended to eight weeks on this corner, packing the tent with revival Gospel meetings so legendary, a bronze plaque now marks that spot.

“Cissie could only marvel at what God did through her grandfather over 60 years ago, sparking a revival that is hard to imagine in today’s southern California,” he wrote.

“I try to think of the anointing he must have had from the Lord,” Cissie said. “The energy and the stamina to be able to do this . to preach for eight weeks straight. It would never happen in today’s time.”

But in two months of nightly meetings, an estimated 350,000 people came to hear this new preacher, compared to “Billy Sunday” at the time, Freeze stated.

Cissie took a walk down her grandfather’s memory lane a few days before last weekend’s Festival de Esperanza in Carson, CA.

It’s the first time Franklin Graham has held a Spanish-speaking Gospel proclamation in the United States, and it was just 13 miles south of the now-famous “Canvas” Crusades.

Other spots Cissie visited included the Worldwide Pictures Studio in Burbank, opened in 1951, and Hollywood’s Walk of Fame, where Mr. Graham was recognized with a star in 1989, right in front of the Hard Rock Café.

“There’s Alan Jackson and Ryan Seacrest — and then there’s Billy Graham,” said Lynch, daughter of Franklin Graham, who preached on Saturday and Sunday nights at The Home Depot Center for the Hispanic Festival of Hope.

“He was just a preacher from North Carolina who has honored and obeyed the Lord,” Cissie said of her grandfather.

He Was There in 1949

Augie Lopez was only 17 at the time, but he still remembers the excitement that swarmed around the 1949 Crusade, according to Freeze’s online article.

“It was totally packed every night,” Lopez said. “He’d have a simple message but it was a message that would get through to people.”

Lopez, 79, a Los Angeles-area real estate agent, has always been involved in ministry, including serving on the National Committee in the 1985 Anaheim Crusade that drew 134,000 people.

Lopez recalled the same fire and zeal in Mr. Graham’s messages even 36 years later. But throughout his preaching ministry that spanned 26 California Crusades, culminating at the Rose Bowl in 2004, the one thing that Lopez remembers most is that faithful invitation song “Just As I Am.”

“It’s the same song. Everybody knows that song,” Lopez said. “I was so blessed by watching all the people come forward (in 1949). Just throngs of people came in to be saved.”

Pulling Down Strongholds in L.A.

One pastor in South Los Angeles recalls his own turbulent youth as he prays for the weekend’s first-ever Hispanic Franklin Graham Festival, according to Janet Chismar on the BGEA website. He has been praying Franklin’s weekend Festival would penetrate the darkness of the stronghold gangs have on the city.

David Trujillo was driving to church when his best friend Henry, who was seated beside him in the car, had his head blown off by twin blasts from a 30-30 rifle and a 9 mm handgun.

“We were only 17,” Trujillo recalls.

Henry had been trying to help Trujillo escape the gang lifestyle. When he asked his friend to go to church, Trujillo reluctantly agreed, provided they stop by the old neighborhood to party first, Chsimar writes.

“We never made it to church,” says Trujillo. “We were set up by rival gangs and they shot up the car.”

Now the pastor of Calvary Church South Central Los Angeles, Trujillo had seen this scenario repeated far too often on the streets where he ministers.

“That is why I am so thankful that Franklin Graham is coming here to share the Gospel. L.A. is the stronghold of the enemy and I believe that what Franklin is doing is awesome, because not only is he reaching the Latino population, but he’s doing it in the heart of the city.”

Trujillo has been praying for years that God would send laborers who are not afraid to come to inner city areas like South Central, Watts or Compton.

“The Festival is an answer to prayer for the whole area,” adding: “This is hard ground. It’s like the enemy has a stronghold over all of L.A., with everything that it offers.”

Trujillo knows a thing or two about the “offerings.”

Chismar says Trujillo grew up in South Central Los Angeles and, although his parents were Christians, he developed a rebellious attitude toward God after Henry was shot.

“I thought, ‘Lord, How dare You? He was my best friend and he was trying to reach me for You, and here You take him away from me.’ From that point on, my heart turned cold toward the things of the Lord,” Trujillo says.

A couple of years later, a friend who jumped into the middle of a gang fight to preach the Gospel, finally helped to soften Trujillo’s heart. God led him to Calvary Chapel Chino Valley where he received the Lord and was saved at the age of 19.

In 2003, Trujillo planted Calvary Chapel South Central Los Angeles and started to preach the Gospel and teach the Word, with a special burden to minister to gang members and drug addicts.

Why do so many kids feel compelled to join gangs? Chismar asks.

Trujillo says that for him the lure of money, drugs and women was irresistible. “I had an uncle who was an original gangster and he used to sell heroin. I would see the power and the respect that he had.”

Many kids join gangs because they feel they need to be accepted. Sometimes they join for protection.

“Some join because they think the party life is cool,” Trujillo explains.

“But once they get in, they get pulled in deeper and deeper. When you see your best friend getting killed or when 17 kids in your neighborhood die in one year-when you see that happen, you want to retaliate and get pulled into the darkness and blindness.

“Some kids join because they don’t have a dad. They grow up in single parent homes and start hanging out in the street and, the next you know, they are into the gang life.

“But mainly,” Trujillo adds, “they want to be accepted and they want to feel like they can rely on someone to back them up.”

His passion to help Hispanic kids escape the gang lifestyle-or prevent them from joining in the first place-fuels his excitement for this weekend’s Festival.

“Our church is bilingual,” says Trujillo. “Half of the church is Hispanic. We’ve been inviting people and announcing it in the church to get the Spanish-speaking people out there and take their loved ones.”

He believes even hard hearts can be softened by the Gospel. “When I was in the street and we heard of Billy Graham down there, something inside me said even then, ‘There’s something up with this guy. He’s well respected.’

“Now for Franklin to do what he’s doing, I think it’s a blessing. I think it’s going to impact a lot of people’s lives here, and we are blessed.”

Why Los Angeles?

As Franklin Graham stood on the balcony overlooking southern California Friday before the Festival, he was flanked by English and Spanish-speaking media standing side-by-side, his bilingual outdoor press conference giving a flavorful taste of what was to come over the next 48-plus hours, Trevor Freeze wrote on the BGEA website.

“People are wanting to know what kind of hope they have,” Graham said.

On this weekend, that hope was pronounced “Esperanza” — as in Festival de Esperanza or Festival of Hope.

“I believe that hope is in the Lord Jesus Christ,” Graham said.

Embarking on what many believe to be a new avenue to reach souls for Christ, Graham hosted a Spanish-speaking Festival at the 27,000-seat Home Depot Center in Carson, CA, just south of Los Angeles.

While this bilingual event was somewhat different than many other events in the 60-plus-year history of the BGEA, the message was not lost in translation, Freeze wrote.

“The message we have come to preach is not my message but it’s God’s message,” Graham said. “My hope and my prayer is that the people of Los Angeles will put their faith and trust in God’s son, Jesus Christ.”

Graham was asked: “So why Los Angeles?”

The Graham organization believes that when you consider that 47 percent of Los Angeles County is Hispanic and that Spanish is the main language spoken in 40 percent of the homes, it makes perfect sense.

“This has been on our hearts for a number of years,” said Graham. “It’s an extremely important segment of our society. It’s one of the fastest growing populations in this country.

“Hispanic pastors have been burdened for their communities, that they may come to know Jesus Christ.”

Graham’s message was translated into Spanish, and most of the musicians also performed in Spanish.

“When we talked about the program, I told our guys that we are going to do this all in Spanish,” Graham said. “This is for the Hispanic churches and our team is 100 percent behind it.”

And if this model works?

“We are praying that if this is something that God wants to do, that we could do this in other cities,” Graham said. “San Antonio, Houston, Fresno . areas of the country with large Hispanic populations.

“And of course Miami is another city that has such a huge population, but (which also) reaches throughout all of Latin America.”