The following post is authored by Executive Director for the Harvest Crusades and my friend John Collins. I hope you enjoy going on this “Behind the scenes” journey through 30 years of Harvest Crusades.
As the 30th anniversary of the Harvest Crusade approaches, a story comes to mind. When I was in fourth grade, after the recess bell rang, as we ran back toward our classroom, it seemed like a good idea to look back and see who was coming up behind. When I did, it was just in time to see that I was too tall to run under the pull-up bar. The knot on my forehead was about the size of a golf ball! Yes, looking back can be dangerous, but there are times when it can be helpful—especially when we are reminded of God’s faithfulness! After 30 years of crusades, there are a few things I look back on and smile . . .
Looking Back at the Harvest
I remember the very first meeting with pastors around Orange County where Pastor Chuck Smith cast a vision for these crusades. He challenged us all from a passage in 1 Samuel, where Jonathan and his armor-bearer faced overwhelming odds against the Philistines. “Let’s go up and see,” Jonathan said, “It may be that the Lord will fight for us.” It was a battle cry for faith back then that has echoed across the pages of the Old Testament to impact every one of our crusades since.
I recall the first night of the original crusade at the Pacific Amphitheatre in 1990, walking out to the stage to see an assortment of balloons that spelled out the name “Jesus” and an airplane flying past with a banner that read “Summer Harvest.” I had no clue as to who arranged those things, but they were indicators of how God’s people would do small and extraordinary things to make these events special.
At the Harvest Crusade in Florida on the first night in an outdoor baseball stadium, we faced a rainy downpour that left eight inches of water around the stage, submerging all the power cords. I remember the relief I felt when we turned on the power and didn’t electrocute the Praise Band! And I remember that in that rain and mud, hundreds of people came forward to receive Christ!
I remember a power outage during a heatwave in August at the SoCal Harvest Crusade that took out our sound system, right in the middle of Pastor Greg’s invitation for people to come and receive Christ. The Kry used a megaphone during one of their songs, which Pastor Greg was able to use and finish the invitation. And I remember thousands coming to the outfield to receive Christ.
I remember the Aussie pastor that invited us to come to Australia for a crusade and his comment after seeing the video of “weepy Americans” responding to the invitation. “Aussie’s will respond,” he said, “but don’t expect to see any weepy Australians, we’re a stiff upper lip culture.” On that first night of our crusade in Australia, I remember sitting on the platform with that pastor as people flooded forward to receive Christ—tears streaming down their faces! And I remember saying to him with an elbow in his ribs, “Looks like there may be some weepy Australians!” It was a reminder for us both that the gospel cuts across all cultures.
I remember walking into AT&T Stadium in Dallas and looking at all those seats and thinking,
“We’ve never done a football stadium, are we nuts?” And I remember on that night when 82,000 filled that stadium thinking, “How did this happen?”
Yes, I remember God’s faithfulness and I remember how He has worked despite the obstacles we’ve faced.
We’ve witnessed skunks in the outfield and a crazed individual trying to rush the stage. Fortunately, he only got as far as home plate where he was “called out” by one of our alert security men. (Not the skunk, the crazy man!)
That Awkward Moment
We’ve encountered city authorities that attempted to prevent our event, crazed picketers insisting we were leading people to Hell, and political activists using our platform to proclaim their message. Still, God worked through it all and people were saved.
I remember funny and awkward moments like when I walked off the stage and into a pair of handcuffs—supposedly under arrest for missing jury duty. I wasn’t alone when it came to being pranked by Greg Laurie.
Then there was the time Dennis Agajanian was boot-stomping his way through “Lord, Give Us America,” and a sinkhole opened up on our fabricated wooden platform. Thankfully, a few of our quick-thinking stage crew were able to prop up the sagging floor with two-by-fours before Dennis disappeared into the abyss.
Another time, I was standing on stage in a freezing wind in Colorado Springs and watched a well-known artist hold his toupee in place—with both hands! No one laughed harder than the singer himself.
There were some great fireworks moments as well, though they did pose some problems. On one occasion, to celebrate the invitation, a volley went up and then came down, nearly torching a few new believers! Welcome to the family of God!
Harvest Musical Memories
I also remember moments when platform guests said things we wished they’d given more thought to, like the well-meaning pastor who sought to help us out with the offering by saying, “Now reach into the pocket of your neighbor and grab his wallet!” Yikes!
Thirty years also means some inspiring and heartrending testimonies from people like former Major League pitcher Dave Dravecky, war hero Louis Zamperini, and a man with no arms and no legs but a ton of heart, Nick Vujicic.
And there have been great musical moments. Chris Tomlin provided a magical moment performing “Sing, Sing, Sing” at our 25th anniversary with fireworks lighting the sky over Anaheim Stadium. Years earlier, on another Fourth of July with 72,000 people in the stands, Crystal Lewis sang “Shine Jesus Shine” under a similar banner of fireworks.
The Kingdom of God Benefits
No one will ever forget Lou Gramm of Foreigner singing “I Want to Know What Love Is” from Tom Sawyer’s Island in Disneyland to thousands crowded around the lake and that last stanza when he changed the lyrics to say “Now I know what love is.”
Nor can we forget the all-African American choirs in Philadelphia and Los Angeles singing “Tell the World,” and Mercy Me singing “I Can Only Imagine” in Madison Square Garden, and the beautifully blended harmonies of the Katinas singing “Thank You” as thousands streamed onto the field in Anaheim.
At the Sacramento Harvest Crusade, a candlelight vigil was held in honor of the victims of 9/11 as “I Can Sing of Your Love Forever” played. In Chicago, David Crowder blew the roof off at a packed Allstate Arena following the invitation as he closed out the night with “How He Loves.”
For me, the greatest memories don’t all come from hundreds of crusade nights we’ve been part of, some come from working shoulder to shoulder with thousands of pastors and church leaders who set aside their provincial attitudes and distinctive doctrines in order to plant a flag for proclaiming the gospel. I remember one Baptist pastor who got up in a meeting of local pastors and leaders, many of whom weren’t sure a crusade would benefit their church, and said to them “It doesn’t matter if my church benefits from this crusade, what matters is that the kingdom of God benefits!” We’ve witnessed that type of kingdom mindset all around our country and God has honored it.
The Crusade Team
A joke going around our first crusades, included a list of things needed in these outreach communities. The top two being an invitation from local churches and a Starbucks. By the time we got to Seattle, we were tripping over Starbucks. But on our first trip into Philadelphia, there were none, or so I thought. I told one pastor I’d “kiss him on the lips” if he could find a Starbucks. On the next trip into town, he took a detour on the way to a church meeting. When he pulled into a parking lot I saw two things, a Starbucks and Jerry’s puckered lips. He got his coffee but not the kiss.
I fondly remember my team and Thursday nights on the eve of a crusade finding ways to relieve the tension, short-sheeting beds, team meals, watching Seinfeld in somebody’s room, guessing at the number of people that would come, wondering, praying—mostly praying.
It’s impossible to forget the crusade directors over the years that have carried so much of the load in mobilizing churches: Mike Brazeal, Ron Case, Mark Finnigan, Chris Camden, Mike Jonker, Rick Doucette, Mark Arenas, and Carmen Rieg and his faithful stage crew. Mark Ferjulian did a great job lining up fantastic musical acts and David Riley provided exquisite campaign designs. And a faithful secretary, Kathy Ripka, who served with me for 26 years.
I remember . . . well, there’s too many people and too many moments to mention and my memory is too faulty to assimilate all the special times we’ve shared around these Harvest Crusades.
Most importantly, I remember how God dramatically changed lives before our eyes. Addicts delivered from drugs, marriages restored. Families reunited, hope for people considering suicide, and conversions that led people to work on mission fields or enter the ministry. Stories upon stories of desperate people finding a new life, finding new hope, finding a personal relationship with their Creator.
After thirty years of proclamation evangelism, there are a few things I know now with greater certainty. First, I know it, the simple gospel, is the power of God unto salvation. And secondly, I know we, as believers in Christ, must never back down from presenting this simple message. God honors both our meager efforts and our bold efforts to make Him known.
And finally, because of all of these things, I know the Harvest must and will continue!
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