Graham's 'River City' Festival of Hope starts live tonight in Florida

by Joni B. Hannigan, Editorial Staff |

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (Christian Examiner) – Just up river from where Billy Graham preached his first sermon in Palatka, Fla. folks will gather this weekend in for a 3-day Festival of Hope in Jacksonville's River City.

"Jacksonville is ripe for the harvest and we're really excited about that," Festival Director Eric Boutieller said about event with Franklin Graham, beginning Friday and continuing through Saturday and Sunday.

Graham, who has held Festivals in Tallahassee and Gainesville, will bring the Gospel message at Jacksonville's Veteran's Memorial Arena which has a capacity of 15,000, according to a release from the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association.

Leaders reported 3,800 individuals from 17 Jacksonville-area churches took part in a three-week Christian Life and Witness course training earlier this year -- and 300-plus churches have committed to prayer over the weekend including 29 Jacksonville-area prayer networks.


More than 20 percent who participated in the training said they made decisions for Christ during the course, with 100 first-time commitments to follow Christ, Boutieller reported.

Jacksonville has been "sort of" a second home to Billy Graham who delivered his first sermon Easter Sunday 1937 at Bostwick Baptist Church in Palatka. The now 96-year-old worldwide evangelist was 18 years old.

A marker dedicating the site was installed by the Florida Baptist Historical Society in 2011, according to an April 21, 2011 article in a print archive edition of the Florida Baptist Witness newspaper.

The elder Graham preached at 15 Crusades in Florida, including two in Jacksonville, in 1961 and in 2000.

Tonight musicians The City Harmonic and Tenth Avenue North kick off the Festival, followed by Dae-Lee, Lacey and Newsboys on Saturday night. Sunday afternoon, Charlie Daniels and Tasha Cobbs will end the three-day event.

"Pray for the lost," Boutieller asked. "That Jesus Christ would be lifted high above the city of Jacksonville."

All three events can be seen live online at, beginning at 6:30 p.m. (ET) on Friday and Saturday and 3:30 p.m. (ET) on Sunday, according to the release.