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Franklin Graham shares the Gospel in Carson

The son of famed evangelist Billy Graham speaks at Festival de Esperanza, his first major revival aimed specifically at Latinos in the U.S. Several organizers say they are disappointed with the turnout at the Home Depot Center.

June 27, 2011|By Kate Linthicum, Los Angeles Times
  • The faithful raise their arms and palms to the sky at Festival de Esperanza, evangelist Franklin Graham's revival at the Home Depot Center in Carson.
The faithful raise their arms and palms to the sky at Festival de Esperanza,… (Lawrence K. Ho, Los Angeles…)

Gloria Caceres lifted her arms above her head and opened her palms to the sky. She was standing in the late-afternoon sun at a soccer stadium in Carson, where a preacher with one of the most famous names in American Evangelical Christianity had come to share the Gospel.

Caceres, 60, was born in Honduras and raised in the Roman Catholic Church. Eleven years ago, after immigrating to the United States, she says she became "born again" when she accepted Jesus Christ as her savior during a Protestant church service.

"It was something beautiful," she said.

She is now among the growing ranks of Latino Evangelicals — an audience that Franklin Graham has made a special effort to cultivate.

Graham, the son of famed revivalist Billy Graham, doesn't speak Spanish. But with a translator's help he has preached to hundreds of thousands of people across Central and South America.

This weekend's event, held at the Home Depot Center on Saturday and Sunday, was his first major revival aimed specifically at Latinos living in the United States. Graham said that if the event was successful, he might hold similar revivals in cities such as Houston, San Antonio, Fresno and Miami.

Festival de Esperanza, or Festival of Hope, was advertised on Spanish-language television and radio and promoted at hundreds of local Latino churches. A Spanish billboard on the 110 Freeway invited motorists to come "transform your life."

On Sunday, though, less than a quarter of the 27,000 seats at the Home Depot Center were filled, and several organizers said they were disappointed with the turnout.

"We certainly expected better numbers," said Rudy de Leon, a member of the local committee that organized the event.

But the audience was spirited, clapping and singing along to a lineup of Christian musical acts who performed on a large stage in the middle of the stadium. The performances were projected on giant digital screens — a far cry from the first tent revivals hosted by Graham's father more than 60 years ago.

In 1949, Billy Graham's "Canvas Cathedral" in downtown Los Angeles launched his career as America's most influential preacher. Now 92, he was recently hospitalized with pneumonia and has largely passed the reins to Franklin, 58, who is now president of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Assn.

His son took the stage just before sunset on Sunday. Speaking through his translator, his face projected onto the screens, Graham told the audience that many in the crowd were guilty of sin.

"Our sins have separated us from God!" he shouted. But he said that everyone in the audience could be saved. He invited each of them to leave their seats and come join him in prayer on the grassy field. Dozens walked toward him, and then hundreds.

"You come right now," he said, and the translator repeated the message in Spanish. "Wherever you are, just come."

kate.linthicum@latimes.com

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