(Photo: Harvest Christian Fellowship)
Evangelist Greg Laurie never misses an opportunity to preach the Gospel and invite people to accept Jesus Christ, even as he mourns the death of his oldest son.
"You don't expect ... for something like this to happen," Laurie, senior pastor of Harvest, said Friday during his son's memorial service, which was aired over the radio and Internet.
With the passing of his son at a young age, the well-known evangelist said he now has a heart more for younger people.
Directing his words to the "prodigal sons and daughters," nonbelievers and especially young people, he said, "Do you know you have eternal life? Will you go to heaven when you die? You say 'I don't know.' Let's resolve that now."
He led those who were listening in a prayer to be forgiven of their sins and accepted into the family of God. The same invitation was given on Sunday, just days after his son's death.
"This would thrill Christopher because he's in heaven," Laurie said.
Christopher Laurie, 33, was the young father of daughter Stella and had one more girl on the way with his wife, Brittany. It had just been several years since he really committed himself to Jesus Christ and served in the church. His death shocked family members, friends and people around the world, thousands of whom sent emails, made calls or left notes on Greg Laurie's blog.
On Friday, the Laurie family and thousands of others filled the main sanctuary of Harvest Christian Fellowship in Riverside, Calif., to say goodbye to Christopher Laurie whose life came to an abrupt end in a car accident last Thursday. It was a time of mourning, comfort and celebration.
In a note of condolence, one church member wrote: "Please take comfort and know that God was there ... My wife and I were traveling on the 91 [freeway] and we started praying. There were Christians all around your son praying for him. God was there.
"Your son who is so special to God that He sent His people to care for him. God said, 'This one is mine,' [and] rolled out the red carpet. 'I'm bringing him home,'" read Skip Hietzig, senior pastor of Calvary of Albuquerque as he fought back tears.
"Even though we know what the newspapers said – we read 'Christopher Laurie died' – we know better. Christopher Laurie didn't die," said Hietzig on Friday. "He moved. He moved suddenly. But he is still ever more alive [and] he's taken into safest place – the loving arms of Jesus."
The memorial service was held just two weeks before Greg Laurie is to face tens of thousands of people at Angel Stadium in Anaheim, Calif., where he would – for the 19th year – preach the Gospel and invite the crowds to let Jesus Christ into their lives.
Although grieving the loss of his son, Laurie had said earlier that he would "continue on" with his evangelistic work.
"I have a task to do and I want to do it," he assured.
Some believe this year's Southern California Harvest Crusade may draw record crowds.
"It's usually a pretty full event, but I imagine this year it will be even more full, if such a thing is possible," said Richard Flory, research associate at the Center for Religion and Civic Culture at USC, according to The Los Angeles Times.
"People are going to want to come and hear what he says" in the wake of his son's death, Flory said. "I think there's a resonance there that he'll be able to tap into between his recent family experience and evangelical theology – 'I miss Chris, I love him, but I know where he is: in heaven.'"
As Pastor Chuck Smith of Calvary Chapel mentioned at the memorial service, "Death is not a time of memories only. It's a time of questions ... questions about life, questions about death, questions about life after death."
Christopher Laurie will also resonate in another way at the event. As Harvest's art director, Christopher had designed this year's crusade bumper stickers, posters, invitations, fliers and the Harvest Web site.
Those who attended Friday's memorial service were asked to "continue to pay tribute" by taking with them the Harvest bumper stickers.
"I don't think there's anything more that we could do that would honor Christopher and honor God by making sure people know there's an opportunity to hear the Gospel," said John Collins, an administrative pastor at Harvest.
The 19th annual Southern California Harvest Crusade will be held Aug. 15-17.