The Orange County Register | Pastor Greg Laurie to address racist ideology at SoCal Harvest starting Friday in Anaheim

Adam Evans was 8 when he first attended the Harvest Crusade as a volunteer and participant — 22 years ago.

“I did whatever a little kid could,” he said. “I picked up the trash, wrapped cables, picked up decks. I enjoyed it, but I could also see how the event affected a lot of lives — lives of people I didn’t even know.”

The Harvest Crusade, known now as SoCal Harvest and in its 28th year, is widely regarded as one of the largest evangelical outreach events in the world. Over nearly three decades, it has drawn several generations of Christians.

Evans, now 30, will be one of 100,000 to attend the event this year, Friday through Sunday, Aug. 18-20, at Angel Stadium in Anaheim.

Pastor Greg Laurie, who founded the Harvest Crusade in 1990 with the late Pastor Chuck Smith, says the event’s ability to adapt to changes in culture, music and technology has been critical to its longevity and continuing popularity.

“When I look at people who came to the Crusade as children and continue to be involved as adults, it reminds me of the passing of time,” Laurie said. “But, it is also important to remember that the message of the Crusade remains timeless.”

The big questions — about the meaning of life or what happens after we die — never change, he said, adding: “Nor do the answers.”

This year, Laurie said, his message will include the need to denounce racist ideologies, particularly in the aftermath of the violent events in Charlottesville, Va.

“There is no place in our society for prejudice and racism,” he said. “When people carry crosses to defend a racist ideology, that is a complete contradiction of scripture. Nazis were anti-Semitic and anti-Christian and to invoke any imagery from that era is reprehensible.”

His message is that Jesus Christ can break down all barriers.

“At the Crusade, you’ll see folks that differ in race and yet stand united in Jesus,” he said. “We’re part of a global family.”

Laurie, who has ministries in Riverside and Irvine, repeatedly says he’s only a messenger bringing forth a timeless message. But, his ability to break down some of life’s eternal questions in a simple, relatable way has been key to the event’s success.

The pastor has also been able to connect with his audience by being open about his own struggles in life — a broken home, an alcoholic mother, a long line of stepfathers and falling in with gangs.

A preacher with no formal theological training, Laurie provides liberal doses of pop culture references during his sermon. He is known for his engaging preaching style, often casually attired when he appears at the Crusade.

Last year, he interviewed Mel Gibson on stage during the Crusade about his past and upcoming film projects including “The Passion of the Christ.”

During his sermon, he talked about Steve McQueen, “the king of cool,” and how the pop icon found Jesus Christ during his final days, right before he was diagnosed with terminal cancer.

Laurie called the 5,000-or-so volunteers who help stage the event, “the unsung heroes” of the Crusade.

Nathan Shockley, 49, of Anaheim, has been a volunteer usher since the second year of the Crusade. Now his two sons, Judah, 16, and Josiah, 13, are also involved.

“The one thing I absolutely love about the event is how we’re all there with a common love of Christ,” he said. “I feel like our efforts are totally worth it, even if we help one lost sheep.”

Mike Pelissero comes each year all the way from Idaho to help with logistics and to set up the stage.

“I can’t preach and I can’t sing,” he said. “But God blessed me so I can work with my hands.”

This year’s Crusade will feature free concerts by artists such as Lecrae, Jeremy Camp, Phil Wickham, Jordin Sparks, Danny Gokey, Andy Mineo and Crowder. Also featured will be 15-year-old Brennley Brown, one of the youngest contestants and finalists on season 12 of TV’s “The Voice.”

Brown attended the Crusade in 2005 with her mother. “It’s really special that she’s singing this year,” Laurie said.

Read more at Pastor Greg Laurie to address racist ideology at SoCal Harvest starting Friday in Anaheim.