While 2008 will be remembered by more than 16,000 people as the year in which they committed or recommitted their lives to Christ through one of this year’s three Harvest Crusades, the lead pastor behind the evangelistic events will also remember it as one of the hardest years in his life.
“Of course, this has been the hardest year of my life because this is the year that my son, Christopher, died,” said Laurie before heading into the last Harvest Crusade of 2008 on Sunday.
The prominent evangelist’s 33-year-old son died in a car accident on July 24 on his way to Harvest Christian Fellowship in Riverside, Calif., Laurie’s 15,000-member church.
“I hate to even say that, but it’s true,” Laurie stated. “But in another sense, of course, he’s more alive than he’s ever been – in Heaven.”
Since the tragedy, many say Laurie’s messages have hit deeper into the hearts of the attendees of this year’s Harvest events, which organizers say reached around 167,000.
“I’ve heard of stories of a lot of people who have come to Christ specifically because Christopher’s unexpected departure sort of woke them up,” Laurie reported, “that a young man so full of life, so strong, so talented, only 33-years old, could suddenly be called to Heaven.”
“And I think it’s a wakeup call to younger people,” he continued, “‘cause, you know, kids seem to think they’ll live forever. When we get older, we know we won’t, but when you’re young, you think ‘Oh, I have years ahead.’ It’s a wakeup call for a lot of people.”
On Sunday, Laurie told some 13,000 people who attended the New York Harvest at Madison Square Garden not to think of him as a pastor, but as a regular guy.
“I'm just a father who misses his son,” he said, “but I'm a person who found that God's strength was there for me during the lowest moment of my life.”
“If I didn't have Christ in my life, I don't know how I could bear it,” he testified. “But because I am a Christian and because Christopher is a Christian, I know I will see him again.”
As he did earlier this year in Anaheim and Philadelphia – the sites of the first two Harvest Crusades for this year – Laurie illustrated Sunday the unpredictable nature of life but also the guaranteed gift that comes afterward to those who put their faith in Jesus Christ.
"Christopher is in Heaven tonight. Not because he is my son, but because he became God's son,” the megachurch pastor proclaimed. “There is no more important decision you will ever make than to put your faith in Jesus Christ, because it literally has life or death consequences attached to it."
More than 130 New York and New Jersey churches worked together over the past year to host the New York Harvest, following up a 2007 preview rally at The Theater at Madison Square Garden, which drew 9,000 people.
The Sunday evening Harvest outreach opened with a prayer from New York pastor A.R. Barnard, followed by music from popular Christian artists MercyMe, Relient K, and the Katinas, as well as a 300-member community-wide choir.
The highlight of the evening, as is with each Harvest Crusade, is the message delivered by Laurie, who has preached to more than 3.8 million people over the past 19 years through Harvest Crusades held in the United States, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand.
In addition to those in attendance at the Harvest events, Internet broadcasts of the events have been viewed by hundreds of thousands. This year’s broadcasts of the Southern California Harvest and the Greater Philadelphia Harvest received more than 45,000 hits to the live stream.
At the end of Sunday’s evening program, some 1,380 people stepped forward to make a profession of faith in Christ and were met with prayer counselors who ministered and prayed with them.
Prior to the event, Laurie testified how the results of each evangelistic crusade have given him strength in a year of tragedy and mourning.
“One of the things that has given me strength, of course, is knowing that I’ll see him (Christopher) again,” he said, “but it’s also in seeing the fruit that has come this year.”
Next year, Harvest Crusades will kick off with a three-night event in Rapid City, S.D., in May.
Greg Laurie founded the evangelistic Harvest events in 1990 and serves as senior pastor of Harvest Christian Fellowship in Riverside, Calif., one of the largest churches in the U.S. Laurie also serves on the board of directors for the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association and Samaritan's Purse.