By Stefan J. Bos, Chief International Correspondent BosNewsLife reporting from Budapest, Hungary
BUDAPEST, HUNGARY (BosNewsLife)-- American evangelist Franklin Graham is to visit Hungary next year for a three-day evangelistic festival in the country's largest indoor sports stadium in hope to spread "the Good News of Jesus Christ" to as many people as possible, the preacher and organizers said.
The 2012 'Hope Festival' in Budapest comes over two decades after his famous preaching father Billy Graham wrote history here by holding his first ever open-air arena meeting in Eastern Europe.
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In the summer of 1989, crowds packed the nearly 70,000-seats 'Budapest People's Stadium', now known as 'Ferenc Puskás Stadium', an unprecedented event in what was than a Communist-run nation.
Though Billy Graham praised Hungary's first "efforts at democratization" at the time, he cautioned that "The issues which face our world are fundamentally moral and spiritual, and they cannot be satisfied by economic or political solutions alone."
"How tragic it would be if Hungary fell into the same trap as many in my own country, and gained the whole world, but lost its soul. Material progress is important, but it can make us forget God and His will for our lives," Graham said in 1989.
"All too often economic progress and expanded freedom have been accompanied by moral and spiritual decay, leading to a host of social ills such as alcoholism, drug abuse, disintegration of families, loneliness, crime and lack of compassion for others."
Fast-forward, his son Franklin says he wants to carry the same Gospel message to thousands of people in the 12,500-seats indoor László Papp Budapest Sports Arena, just next door to where his now elderly and hospitalized father held his historic open-air rally. Ironically, the elder Graham also evangelized in the similar indoor stadium in 1985, before it burned down and became the current Arena and Hope Festival site.
The Hope Festival, backed by Catholic and different Protestant churches, wants to explain that “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners," Franklin Graham said, citing Bible verse 1 Timothy 1:15.
"No one knows how long the door of salvation will remain open—the life of any person may end unexpectedly. And I believe there are many signs that the return of Christ is near. God wants lost people found and rescued before it is too late, and He calls us to remain faithful to this task," he added.
"That is why we proclaim the Good News of Jesus Christ at every opportunity we have in every place possible," including in Hungary, a heavily Catholic nation of 10 million people.
The announcement, monitored by BosNewsLife Thursday, December 1, comes just shortly after Franklin Graham preached to tens of thousands of people in Lithuania which he called "a small Baltic nation formerly part of the Soviet bloc."
"Out of this country’s entire population of 3 million, less than 3,000 have been attending an evangelical church on a typical Sunday morning. We held our [October 29-30] Crusade in the largest arena in the capital city of Vilnius, with seating for approximately 10,000 people. Considering the nation’s small number of believers, I wondered if the arena was too large."
Among the at least 1,000 people making a "commitment for Christ" on a Saturday night, he said an old couple in their 90s came "forward to seek forgiveness for sins and give their lives to the Lord."
He also visited India in November where he said 270,000 people attended his four-day evangelistic meetings in the the capital city of Andhra Pradesh state, with "thousands" making commitments for Christ. The rallies in Hyderabad were held despite reported threats from Hindu hardliners.
"There was even a question as to whether I would be granted a visa that permitted me to preach. Radicals who opposed Christianity threatened mass demonstrations. The police even came out in force. We rejoice that at the last minute I was given the visa needed, and the demonstrators failed to show," Graham said.
He said he would travel in December to overseas destinations Portugal and Spain, as well as the East African country of Zambia, with the 'World Evangelism Through Television' project. Next year besides visiting Hungary, his evangelism trip include festivals in Japan on the one-year anniversary of the earthquake and tsunami, Ghana, Bolivia, and "American cities from Texas to the Great Lakes."