Thousands of people crowded the Hermiston Butte Park on Friday and Saturday, Aug. 27 and 28, to experience Greater Hermiston CityFest with Andrew Palau, a celebration of Christ and fun.

Attendees included the Hardcastle family of Pendleton. Scott and Terri Hardcastle brought their daughter and her four children to enjoy music, bicycle stunts and praise. Scott said he was looking forward to meeting Christian artist Danny Gokey at CityFest, while his wife, Terri, said she already had enjoyed her favorite part of the event — seeing her granddaughter Lily get up on stage and play a game.

This was a special event for them, Terri said, because they have rarely been able to get out of their home for fun. They have been able to do little more than go shopping, she said.

Chris Hankel, New Hope Community Church’s lead pastor, said creating this fun for the Hardcastles and others had been in the works for a long time. The Hermiston pastor had helped organize CityFest, and he said that people had been talking about it for at least three years.

“We wanted to do this a year ago and put this on hold,” Hankel said.

Organizers delayed the event because of COVID-19. The disease continues to hit Umatilla County, which has reported at least 17 COVID-19-related deaths this month. Still, they kept thoughts of the festival in mind, and they were seeing, more and more, the need for a message of hope.

“I’ve dealt with more suicides than I have ever dealt with in my over 30 years of ministry, this year,” Hankel said. He also said he has seen an abundance of marital problems and other signs that people have been struggling.

The message of hope comes at a good time, he said, adding God loves us and walks with us through difficult situations. People love us, too, he said, which should make us less isolated.

The message was not just for Christian believers. Hankel said he believes the church has not always shared the message of God’s love well, but believers “want to do this better.” They want to show everyone they are willing to love individuals regardless of their baggage or other troubles.

They also want to show they are present.

Believers were present the night of Aug. 27, for a “Fiesta Latina” preview of the event Aug. 28. This scaled-down presentation was in Spanish, with Spanish-language singers and Spanish translation of English speeches.

Dan Clark, church relations director for CityFest, said the first day was important as outreach to the Hispanic community.

“The good news should reach everybody,” he said. “It shouldn’t just be a certain denomination of people or ethnicity of people. It should be widespread.”

Clark added CityFest even tried to present at local prisons with bicycle stunts and music. Andrew Palau, the headliner for this event, even was planning to speak. The plan was canceled, though.

“This is awesome,” said Daniel Longhin, pastor of Hispanic ministries at New Hope, of the Aug. 27 festival. He said he loves music. Also, CityFest has an “interesting approach,” sharing a message of hope, which was also expressed in the gospel.

He said, “we live in crazy times,” with COVID-19, worldwide violence, and instability. Still, events like this make people feel encouraged.

In contrast to the smaller crowd on Aug. 27, the Aug. 28 event attracted thousands of people. Hankel said he was hopeful he and others would be able to reach out to people in need of mental health. Perhaps he could be a friendly voice to someone and share hope.

“I’m the guy who does the triage,” he said. Following his meetings with people, he planned to direct those people in need to proper mental health professionals.

He also was hopeful people would not get sick from COVID-19. He said his own church congregation includes people who have gotten sick with COVID-19 and knows at least one person who died of the disease.

As he made his rounds during the festival, he said he was most looking forward to Palau’s message. And many more people were enjoying the activities on Aug. 28.

Charles Hearn, Pilot Rock resident, said he was having fun and he was happy to bring his children to experience God.

Jason Estle, pastor of Desert Rose Ministries of Hermiston, was likewise impressed, saying CityFest was great and that it was “awesome” to see Christ touch lives.

He said he heard from people with many problems, including issues of addiction. The power of God was making them free, he said.

Estle was working at a prayer tent at CityFest, joined by Hermiston resident Amy Palmer. She said she was glad to be meeting people. People, who were desiring greater connection with God, had been visiting her to ask for and offer prayers.

“This is a wonderful place of prayer,” she said.

CityFest began the day Gov. Kate Brown’s mask mandate for large outdoor gatherings went into effect Aug. 27. The day after the festival, Levi Park, director of festivals for CityFest, said he had a good time. He added all volunteers were wearing masks, sanitation stations were placed at entrances and requests to mask up were made from the stage, as promised prior to the event.

“We did our part,” he said. He added he could not force anyone to wear a mask.

The crowd size, based on counts throughout the day, was an estimated 4,800 people. Masks were rare at the event, and social distancing was not followed, even among volunteers.

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