Weather Undercuts Turnout And Events at DC Festival

Sisters Natasha and Julie Roman, center, of Dumfries yell their appreciation for Christian rock group Kutless.
Sisters Natasha and Julie Roman, center, of Dumfries yell their appreciation for Christian rock group Kutless. (By Bill O'leary -- The Washington Post)
By Caryle Murphy and Sudarsan Raghavan
Washington Post Staff Writers
Sunday, October 9, 2005

The opening day of DC Festival, a Christian evangelical gathering on the Mall two years in the planning, was undercut by bad weather yesterday as heavy rain forced organizers to cancel many events and truncate their spiritual outreach.

The $3.4 million, two-day festival, which represents the Washington debut of evangelical preacher Luis Palau, drew a fraction of the 100,000 that organizers had hoped to attract. Early in the evening, festival officials estimated the crowd at 5,000 but increased the figure to nearer 10,000 by the time the festival ended about 8:30.

"I'm not discouraged. I'm perplexed that the Lord would allow this rain to come and despite all our prayers -- it's still coming," Palau, 70, said in a midafternoon phone interview from the Mall. "I do not doubt the goodness of God. When we get to heaven . . . we'll find out why this happened."

Festival spokesman Craig Chastain said officials would decide early today about additional changes in the scheduled program and announce them on radio stations and the festival's Web site, .

"With God's grace, we'll be able to do the whole package," Chastain said.

The youthful, multiethnic crowd of corporate executives, college students and families with small children stood on the grass of the Mall clutching umbrellas and wearing raincoats. Some sat in lawn chairs. They seemed oblivious to the almost continuous downpour.

"Rain is not going to stop God's power," said Emily Dahlkamp, 20, a junior at George Mason University. "There will be blessings out of this no matter how many people are gathered here."

Many said they came to show their faith in Christ and help others transform their lives. "I believe the message of Jesus Christ changes lives," said Loretta Inoni, 27. "The cause is way too important to worry about rain."

Palau's perplexity was perhaps understandable considering the time and effort his ministry put into preparing for the festival. Two years ago, his son Andrew Palau moved to Annandale with his family to begin laying the groundwork by contacting Washington area churches.

More than a year ago, a core group of area congregations formally invited Palau to stage his festival and promised to assist by supplying volunteers, moral support, publicity and financial aid. The festival eventually gained the backing of 899 area churches.

Palau also tapped former U.S. Navy secretary John H. Dalton to be festival chairman and to help with fundraising. As of Friday, almost all the event's $3.4 million cost had been raised from area churches, individuals and corporations. Chastain said he expected the $80,000 balance to be raised this weekend.

In a new approach to Christian outreach, DC Festival is modeled on outdoor musical concerts to attract young people unconnected to any church. The aim of this "festival evangelism," pioneered by Palau, is to create a spiritual atmosphere without such religious trappings as clergy, hymns, robed choirs and long-winded praying.

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