The city of Cluj-Napoca, Romania, is a picturesque beauty.
Roman ruins dating back to the second century lay in the town square. Nearby sits St. Michael’s Church, a towering structure originally constructed between the 1340s and 1440s, whose steeple reaches some 80 meters into the sky.
Billy Graham had a burden for the believers in communist Romania and after years of diplomacy and prayer, held a seven-city Crusade there in 1985. Fast forward three decades, and Will Graham–who was 10 years old when his grandfather visited Cluj-Napoca–followed in his footsteps this past weekend.
The Cluj-Napoca that has welcomed the younger Graham is free from communism, but the atheism that was synonymous with the former government has in some ways been replaced by a general apathy toward God.
No longer are believers harassed and watched. In fact, Romania ranks as one of the most Christian nations in the world, based upon the percentage of the population that identify with the faith.
“But there’s a big difference between the talk and what you see on the streets,” said Paul Tuns, a Cluj-Napoca real estate agent who took time away from work to help prepare the way for Will’s visit. “You would offend someone if you would tell them that this is not being a Christian, the way they are living their lives.”
He added, “Among teenagers I think there is a more open mind society. It’s more like, we know there’s something there. They cannot deny the existence of God or something that created everything, but they’re like, ‘God is there with His own business and we’re here with our own business, and that’s it.’”
Celebration of Hope
Still, that hunger for hope, for peace and for purpose, remains. The same basic needs that drew massive crowds of people to streets outside Romanian churches where Billy Graham spoke—also brought overflow crowds to both nights of the Celebration of Hope inside Polyvalenta Hall.
Following energetic and powerful music from local bands, a massive choir made up of some 1,500 students, and well-known Christian artists Huntley Brown and Aaron Shust, Will Graham took the stage.
Will immediately launched into his message, proclaiming the Word of God and ensuring that those in attendance understood the loving sacrifice of Christ and their need for Him. The evangelist assured those gathered that God is not distant and minding His own business. Rather God’s in their midst, and loves them deeply.
“God knows each of your names. He sees your tears. He sees your brokenness. And He says I love you! I’m willing to die for you!” Will added, “Jesus died for your sins, but He didn’t stay in the tomb. He’s alive! He’s alive here in Cluj tonight.”
Everyone must make a decision about Christ, one way or the other, said Will.
Referencing his experience as a pilot, and the life-and-death importance of paying attention to the warning lights in the cockpit, he stated, “I’m here to give you a warning. There is no neutral ground with Jesus. If you make no stand for Jesus, you make a stand against Jesus.”
“Some of you are afraid to take a stand for Jesus, but I’m here to tell you Jesus is worth it!”
Will then issued an invitation for people to respond to Christ. To find that eternal hope and truth for which they’ve been searching.
What started as a trickle–one elderly man with a cane, being helped by his adult son–soon became a river. People streamed forward. Ushers scooped up chairs to make more room for the flood of people. Still the aisles were clogged, and counselors worked their way back to meet the people where they were.
“It was what we were praying for, and also it is what we really expected,” said Paul. “I think that every time people come to Christ or their hearts are opened and they are ready to hear what God has to say, then God will speak to them.”
Both nights of the Celebration, people streamed forward to make decisions for Jesus Christ. One of those who responded was 17-year-old Andrae, a shy high school student who grew up in the church but knew that he has not been living the way he should.
“I have a lot of sins and something in my consciousness said that it’s not alright, what you’re doing. You have to change,” said Andrae, explaining his decision to walk forward at the invitation to rededicate his life.
He understands that life still won’t be easy, but said, “It will be better because Jesus will help me.”
For Emanuel, a 28-year-old business recruiter and son of a pastor, the parable of the Prodigal Son–which Will preached about on Sunday night–struck a chord.
“I know the whole story of salvation, but although I made a choice for Christ at 17, I’ve gone astray, and through the battles and the hardship of life I found how this can happen,” said Emanuel.
“When Will made the altar call, I thought, I’ve got to do this because I want to rededicate my life for Christ and to live the plan that He has for me. That’s my purpose.”
One of the lasting images of the Celebration of Hope in Cluj-Napoca will be the massive 1,500-voice choir of young people behind the stage. During Sunday night’s invitation, Will turned around and called out to the choir, making sure they knew that the invitation was for them as well.
A handful of singers popped up and began making their way down to the floor. Among them was Anavlad, a 17-year-old high school student who lives two hours away, but is planning to attend one of the several universities in Cluj.
She also felt drawn to renew her faith, and sought prayer as well.
“I came forward and wanted to have another meeting with God. To rededicate. I’m planning to do something in my life that is going to be challenging and I felt like I really needed to come forward so someone could pray for me.”
She left confident that her Saviour is by her side and will remain there no matter what tomorrow brings.
The Days Ahead
While the Celebration of Hope has come to a close in Cluj-Napoca, organizers are hoping and praying that this isn’t the end, but just the beginning of what God is going to do in this city and country, on both corporate and personal levels.
“This event [brought together] many of the churches in Cluj and many pastors. We don’t want this to be the last event like this,” said Pastor Marius. “We want to do great things for our community. So I think that something changed in myself and I saw the change in other people.”
He’s excited to use the structure learned from working with the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association to continue doing evangelistic outreaches in cooperation with other churches.
There’s a more intimate component as well, as new Christians begin to impact their circles of influence with the hope they now have.
“I hope it’s going for more. It’s very important to understand you’re not just someone who gives your life to Christ, but this is just the beginning,” said Paul.
“I think it’s very important to understand that if you have a good relationship with Christ and you’re ensured about your eternal life, [you] must help others come to Christ too. And I hope that everyone that came to Christ will understand and do that.”
Whatever the future holds, it’s certain that God was at work this weekend in the historic city of Cluj-Napoca, and for that many are thankful.
Said Paul, “My faith is strengthened and restored. We see that all of our prayers and the time and everything we’ve prepared for is not in vain. I think the main thing is we see that God is alive. He’s working. He’s listening to our prayers. As a Christian, yeah, you have that amazing feeling.”
Are you sure where you’ll spend eternity? Be sure.