VIENNA, Austria (BP) — I must admit, when organizers told me they were expecting 5,000 to 10,000 people to gather together in Vienna’s main square to proclaim the name of Jesus, I was skeptical. And when I was told a march around the central part of the city would conclude with a festival that included Christian music and preaching, I was even more doubtful about the impact this event would have.
How wrong I was.
Not only did the crowd expand to a record-breaking 12,000 people, organizers have said many came to faith in Jesus Christ as a result of the March for Jesus event.
The concept of March for Jesus began in 1950 as Christians rallied together and marched around the main road that circles Vienna’s central district. The march gained momentum in the early 2000s, but died off after 2006. When leaders of the evangelical churches in Vienna decided to resurrect the event this year it was hard to envision thousands of people flooding the streets of Vienna to participate.
The 2014 March, held Sept. 20, drew a variety of denominations from every state in Austria, as well as from a number of different countries.
As the march proceeded along Vienna’s main street, many carried brightly colored banners and signs proclaiming “Jesus Is Lord,” “Jesus Loves You,” “Jesus Loves Austria,” and more. Some groups played music from homemade stereo systems attached to wagons; others played guitars or drums while singing praise songs in a variety of languages. Most enjoyed the sun-filled autumn day, greeting those they passed with a smile.
Police estimated the 12,000-person crowd at more than a kilometer in length as they circumnavigated central Vienna. It was difficult to ignore the group as they filled pedestrian areas and stopped traffic — even public transportation — to accommodate the procession.
But even more impressive than the massive crowd of believers, was the response to the march.
Christian workers in Vienna reported that many who heard the messages of festival speakers following the march made public professions of faith on the street.
“I was shocked and amazed,” one worker said. “Things like that just don’t happen here … at least not often.”
Organizers of March for Jesus have been overwhelmed by the success of the event. In the days following the march, they continued to collect stories, photographs and other feedback from those who attended.
While it is good to enjoy the success, many are already focused on the future. Organizers are planning the next March for 2016.
I was most impressed with pastors who chose not to focus on the march, but on what comes next.
“But what will we do today?” asked one pastor from the pulpit on the Sunday morning following the event. “What will we do tomorrow? How will we continue to reach our city for Jesus?”