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For the Sake of the Call: Harvest Crusade Set to Celebrate 30 Years

Chris Carpenter - Director of Internet Programming

From its humble beginnings in the early 1970s, Southern California’s Harvest movement has grown exponentially over the last five decades.  Paramount to their growth has been the Harvest Crusade, an annual event that has seen more than half a million people make a public profession of faith since its inception in 1990.

This year, Harvest will celebrate the 30th anniversary of the crusade, August 23 – 25, with three days of evangelistic preaching and musical performances from well-known Christian artists such as for KING & COUNTRY, Newsboys, and Chris Tomlin among others.

Hosting the event will be bestselling author and Harvest Christian Fellowship’s senior pastor Greg Laurie, who has preached the Gospel to millions of people in his nearly 50 years of corporate ministry.

I recently spoke to Laurie about his vision for what is now the longest-running evangelistic outreach in American history, why this year’s event is so vitally important, and his hope and prayer that it will spark a spiritual fire in our nation.

So, we are rolling up quickly on the 30th anniversary of your Harvest Crusade.  I’m sure you never thought it would go for 30 years.  What was your original hope for the event?

Greg Laurie:  We just hoped it would do well enough to maybe do it the next year.  And then other opportunities opened up and we started doing it, different parts of the country. And soon we'd done it through a lot of America. It's funny, when we first started, people said, ‘Well, the reason it succeeded is it's a California thing.’ They said it would never work outside of California. Then we did one in Oregon that was very successful. People then said, ‘Well, it's a West Coast thing. It would never work anywhere else.’ And then we did it in the south. We went to North Carolina and we went to Texas where we had very successful events. But people said it would never work on the East Coast. And then we went to Madison Square Garden in New York and to Philadelphia. Then people said it would only work in America, and would never work overseas. So, we went to New Zealand and Australia and had great success there as well.

What has surprised us is that, not that we've gone to other places, but that we're in the same place still for 30 years running. But here's the unique thing about California. In California, we always have people moving out and new people moving in. It's a state constantly in flux. And so every year when we hold this event, there are just literally thousands and thousands of people from around the world that have come to our state. Many of them end up at these evenings that we do at Angels Stadium. We know that because when they make professions of faith, we've talked with them and found that they come from every state in the Union and from many other countries. This has been surprising to us and as it turns out, it's the longest running large-scale evangelistic event in American history.

Having read your book Jesus Revolution, Chuck Smith obviously played a role in your spiritual nurturing and development.  Did Chuck have any influence in the first crusade?

Oh sure, it was Chuck’s idea.  I was doing Monday night services at Calvary Chapel, the church that he pastored in Costa Mesa. I was pastoring a church about an hour away, but he asked me to come and do Monday night services to reach younger people. And so a lot of young people were coming. We were packing it every Monday night with overflow. And a lot of people came to Christ every week. So, Chuck had the idea of going to a larger venue.  We went to the Pacific Amphitheater and I remember I said to him, “How many people does that seat?” And his response was around 15,000. And I said, “Chuck, that's a really big place.” And his response was, ‘Well, Greg, we serve a pretty big God.’ It did fill every night at the Pacific Amphitheater and then we broke the attendance record on the last night. The following year we moved to Angels Stadium and we've been there ever since. There wouldn't have been a Harvest Crusade without Chuck Smith’s original vision.

Reminiscing a bit, what can you tell me about that first Harvest Crusade? Are there any stories about that event that you could share?

The interesting thing is the Gulf War was happening that first year -- Operation Desert Storm. It was the first Gulf war with George H. Bush. This was the major news story obviously and Christians were concerned because people thought this could lead to an end times scenario. For that reason, there was a great interest in it. I did give a message dealing with that. There was a real fascination with the topic of the return of the Lord that helped to feed it. But there was a momentum that had built up. People had heard about it. People wanted to come and see it for themselves. I still meet people today that tell me they made their commitment to Christ at the first Harvest event. The original name of the event was Summer Harvest. Then it became Harvest Crusade. And finally it became simply the SoCal Harvest. That's what we call it now. I remember that we had a traffic jam that first year and they had to bring in law enforcement to help people get in and out. There were lines and lines of cars going up and down the freeways. It was kind of a phenomenon really that first year.

Does this year’s Crusade have any specific theme?  If so, what is it?

Three words sum up what we're going to be doing. Word number one: HOPE. Word number two: HAPPINESS. Word number three: HEAVEN. First of all, hope. People are very agitated and afraid right now. They're worried for good reasons. We have these horrible shootings that just happened. We have a nation like Iran, saber rattling and threatening war. We have so many uncertainties in the world today. Also, we have a generation of young people, Generation Z. They're different from the Millennials. Generation Z is the youngest generation. Experts have described them as the Hopeless Generation. So we’ve gone now from the Greatest Generation, that's the generation that survived and came through World War II. And now we have the Hopeless Generation. Their suicide rate is higher than any generation before them.  They're described as the loneliest generation. They use more pharmaceutical drugs, specifically antidepressants, than any generation before them. So, I think it's certainly important to give a message of hope. The answer is not in the newest gadget. It's not an experience. It's not in anything or anyone but Jesus Christ. Number two, happiness. I think deep down inside people want to be happy but they don't know how to be. The Bible has answers to that. And thirdly, heaven. Everyone gets around to wondering what's going to happen to me when I die? Is there a God? Is there a heaven? How can I know that I'll get to heaven? I'll talk about all those things and a lot more this year.

Your musical lineup this year is tremendous: for KING & COUNTRY, Lecrae, Chris Tomlin, Newsboys, Passion and Phil Wickham just to name a few.  How important is the role of music in these Harvest Crusades?

I think the role of music is very important and this goes back to our first crusade. It's changed a lot through the years. We've always tried to be current in the artists that we bring out -- meaning that we're very specific about who we ask to come. We feel they can make a great contribution. And a lot of these people are good friends of mine, so we have a good working relationship. We've ministered together. We understand what each other does. I think we can compliment one another and they can sort of set the stage for me to come out and bring the message of the Gospel. We're loaded for bear every night this year. It's probably the best musical lineup that we've ever had in our history.

Final question, what is your greatest hope for the event?

I would be so thrilled if it would spark some kind of a spiritual fire that would spread across the country. I think America is in desperate need of a spiritual awakening. And when we have these horrible events like the shootings in El Paso and Ohio and other events like them that happened previously, to me, it's a wake up call. What's it going to take for America to get on our knees and start calling out to God again? We can have endless debates about the answer to these tragedies and everyone always retreats to their political corner. But ultimately, these things happen because there's evil in the world, because there's a devil that is behind events like this. In the Bible, Jesus said of Satan, that the thief comes only to steal, kill, and destroy. I think the best weaponry we have as Christians against Satan is prayer and Gospel proclamation. I hope it's (Harvest Crusade) a reminder to Christians that we need to focus on what we do best. Our two secret weapons are not boycott and protest, nor are they even register and vote as important as that is. Our two secret weapons are prayer and the proclamation of the Gospel. I say the Church needs to get back into the prayer and Gospel preaching business again.

Watch a trailer for this year's SoCal Harvest Crusade:

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