Sunday, October 9, 2005

More than 40,000 people braved mud and puddles on the Mall yesterday to attend the D.C. Festival, the multimillion-dollar evangelical Christian extravaganza hosted by evangelist Luis Palau.

The two-day event featured a skate park, a children’s stage, preaching and more than 10 big-name contemporary Christian music artists.

“We’re just here to support Jesus and have fun,” said Brian Sulc, 41, of McLean, who brought his four children to the festival yesterday. “We might have come out Saturday had rain not drowned things out, but it doesn’t matter. We’re here today; that’s all that counts.”

More than 900 churches and thousands of volunteers joined forces to put on the festival, which was expected to draw at least 100,000 people over the course of the weekend — but that was before the rain came. And came. And kept coming.

Most of Saturday’s events were canceled.

Kevin Palau, son of organizer Luis Palau, said crowds were good despite the weather.

“Usually, when part of it is rained out, you don’t get as many people coming. Yet we already have several thousand out here, and I would expect that number to get much larger by the time [Luis Palau] speaks,” he said.

About 100 U.S. Park Police officers patrolled the grounds yesterday.

“We haven’t seen any trouble,” said Officer Ken Donovan. “We don’t really expect any. This isn’t really a protest, where you’d expect to have trouble.”

At the festival skate park, several thousand watched professional skateboarders preform and listened to a message from semi-professional skateboarder and pastor Jay Haizlip.

At the main stage, several thousand more staked out spots on the damp grounds in preparation for the evening concert.

“We’re just kind of camped out here until the concert starts,” said David Narum, 43, who sat on a tarp in the mud. “They really like Jump5, and we are here to just enjoy things.”

“I’ve been to a bunch of these festivals, and it seems this one is having as much impact and drawing as many people as you could expect,” said Toby Mac, a contemporary Christian music artist who performed Saturday night. “When you’re talking a big city like D.C., where there is a lot going on, it’s hard to get people. But this is a rocking crowd.”

Organizers estimated several thousand people attended Saturday’s evening-only festival.

Mr. Palau’s organization, the Luis Palau Association, is based in Portland, Ore. He has been organizing similar festivals for six years.

The evangelist said he has 10 more festivals planned between now and this time next year, including an event in Beijing next month.

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