Through tears and sometimes broken voices, three prominent Christian leaders on Sunday night declared they still trust in God despite ongoing pain from the death of young loved ones.
Evangelist Greg Laurie and singer/songwriter Steven Curtis Chapman spoke candidly about their ongoing struggle and pain from the deaths of their children – 33-year-old, Christopher Laurie, and 5-year-old, Maria Sue Chapman – who both died in separate car accidents two years ago.
"It's hard to lose grandparents. It's hard to lose parents. But to lose a child, it's just not the way it's supposed to be," said Laurie, pastor of Harvest Christian Fellowship in Southern California, to a crowd of over 16,700 at the Allstate Arena on the final night of the Chicago Harvest event.
"It was the hardest day of my life," he declared. "But let me say something else. On the hardest day of my life, God was there with me."
Laurie, whose eldest son Christopher died just months after Chapman's daughter's passing, emphasized that he is a normal human being who feels pain just like anyone else.
"Look, being a preacher doesn't give me some advantage," Laurie said. "All those services I preached don't necessarily help me. But I want you to know that God was there and God has been there."
"[I]f God had not been there with me, I wouldn't be here tonight, trust me when I tell you that," he said. "I would have probably given up preaching."
The theme of the final day of the Chicago Harvest was "An Evening of Hope." Chapman and singer/songwriter Jeremy Camp, whose first wife Melissa died of cancer at the age of 22, joined Laurie on stage to share about their pain and to testify that God has been faithful to them despite their great loss.
Chapman's youngest daughter, Maria Sue, who was adopted from China, died just eight days after her birthday. She was accidentally hit by the car her older brother was driving into the driveway of their home in Franklin, Tenn.
"The Gospel is true. These are the moments where that anchor has to hold. If it doesn't hold then we're gone because the tsunamis are hitting," said Chapman during a Q&A session with Laurie. "But that anchor did hold and it continues to hold, the hope that I will see heaven in the face of my little girl again."
The multi-Grammy-award winner said that after two years, there is a new normal in his family life. But every day now is defined by that tragedy and there are still very hard days.
"There are still those days. I am being honest, but today is one of those days," said Chapman, whose voice broke several times while singing songs from his latest album dedicated to Maria Sue. "I'm needing to hear [this message] tonight."
"We have this hope as an anchor and we drop it whenever we need it," he added.
Later in the night, Camp took the stage and shared that he cried about five times that night while listening to the speakers on stage share about losing their children. Camp, whose first wife died nearly 10 years ago, said that he still has scars from his first wife's death.
But he declared with conviction, "God's hope is real; it's real." He said he felt God's presence the strongest in his life immediately after his wife's death.
That evening, 1,203 people on site accepted the invitation to follow Jesus Christ, while another 577 online viewers made the same decision. In total, 47,600 people attended the Sept. 24-26 Chicago Harvest event, and 4,758 people made decisions to dedicate or recommit their lives to Christ.
It took 18 months of planning and the help of more than 220 Chicago-area churches to organize the three-day outreach. The event was the first large-scale evangelistic event in the Chicago area in nearly 15 years. The theme of "hope" ran throughout the evening programs.
Founded in 1990, the Harvest events with Greg Laurie have drawn more than 4.1 million people around the world.