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I remember when: A look back at 30 years of Harvest Crusades

harvest crusade
A total of 115,000 attended the 2011 Harvest Crusade in Anaheim, Aug. 12-14. More than 12,000 people made decisions for Christ over the three days, led by evangelist Greg Laurie. |

As we just marked the 30th anniversary of the Harvest Crusade, 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 in Southern California, there are a few things I look back on and smile.

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.

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!)

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 Laurie’s gospel presentation. One of the musical groups had used a megaphone during a song, which Pastor Greg was able to use and finish the invitation. And I remember thousands coming to the outfield, responding to the invitation to follow Jesus.

There have also been some tense moments. We have 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. Pastor Greg had a sense of humor.

Then there was the time Christian country music artist 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.

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.

But for me, the greatest memories don’t all come from hundreds of crusade nights we’ve been part of. They 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 . . . 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 and people who were considering suicide finding hope. Stories upon stories of desperate people finding a new life, finding new hope, finding a personal relationship with their Creator.

After thirty years of Harvest Crusades in Southern California, there are a few things I know now with greater certainty. First, I know the simple gospel is the power of God unto salvation. And secondly, I know we, as followers of Jesus, 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.

John Collins is the executive director for the Harvest Crusades. The organization’s 30th anniversary crusade, SoCal Harvest 2019, is Aug. 23-25 at the Angel Stadium of Anaheim.

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