The Orange County Register | Harvest Crusade and Pastor Greg Laurie to kick off SoCal Harvest for the 30th year

When the SoCal Harvest, a three-day gathering widely regarded as one of the largest evangelical outreach events in the world, began 30 years ago, the world was a different place.

Pastor Greg Laurie, who founded the event with the late Pastor Chuck Smith, longtime spiritual leader of Calvary Chapel Costa Mesa, said in a recent interview the event, in its first year, drew about 90,000 people over five days.

“George H.W. Bush was president. ‘Pretty Woman’ was in the theaters. And the closest thing to a tweet was a bird in the backyard,” Laurie recalled days before the 2019 event kickoff Friday, Aug. 23.

Since the Harvest Crusade moved to the Angel Stadium in 1991, it has drawn about 6.2 million people and more than 500,000 professions of faith, said Laurie, who leads congregations in Riverside and Irvine.

SoCal Harvest is also live-streamed and watched by hundreds of thousands around the world, the pastor said.

There’s much that has changed over the years — the technology, the music, and social media. But, Laurie says, his essential message has remained the same: “Come and listen to what Jesus said because it could change your life.”

Over the years, what he has modified is the manner in which he delivers his message, Laurie said.

“I’ve simplified it so it’s very clear to anyone who is listening to it — an adult, a teen or a child,” he said. “I found that my listeners don’t quite understand when I say you need to accept Christ into your life or you need to be saved. They go: What’s that?”

So, he breaks it down to the basics. What if you’ve been caught in a riptide? You call for a lifeguard who will rescue you.

“If you call out to God, he will rescue you,” Laurie said.

This year, he plans to address the sense of fear and hopelessness that appears to be plaguing young people.

“Generation Z has been described as the hopeless generation,” he said. “We’ve gone from the greatest generation, our World War II veterans, to the most hopeless generation. Technology has made it worse. We get so much information in real time that people are glued to their phones, and in the process, lack human contact and become isolated.”

The theme of Laurie’s sermon this year is: “God’s answer to fear, anxiety and worry.” On Sunday night, the pastor will interview former Dodgers right-fielder Darryl Strawberry. Some of his former interviewees at SoCal Harvest have included actor Mel Gibson and World War II hero Louis Zamperini.

Laurie said there is a reason he interviews sports stars, Hollywood icons and other colorful personalities in front of this large audience. The pastor has also authored two books, essentially tales of redemption, about Steve McQueen and most recently, singer-songwriter Johnny Cash.

McQueen, Cash, and Strawberry had money and fame, but struggled with addiction and other personal issues, Laurie said. With these interviews, the pastor said, he is trying to show the public that Christians are “not always who they think they are.”

“Christians are seen as ultra-conservative, buttoned-down, uptight people,” he said. “But here, you have colorful, creative people living vibrant lives. McQueen, Cash, Strawberry, singers Alice Cooper and Bono. They’re all Christians, but they don’t fit into the cookie cutter molds we put them into.”

And people like Strawberry, who struggled with drug addiction throughout his career, might not even be alive if not for their faith, Laurie said.

“Christ comes to give light,” he said. “He comes to bring joy and peace. And that’s always the message of SoCal Harvest.”

If You Go

What: SoCal Harvest by Harvest Christian Fellowship

When: 7-9:15 p.m. Friday, Aug. 23, and Saturday, Aug. 24; 6-8:15 p.m. Sunday, Aug. 25

Where: Angel Stadium of Anaheim, 2000 E. Gene Autry Way, Anaheim.

Admission: Free, parking is $15


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