VAN NUYS — A total of 45,100 people attended the five-day Luis Palau evangelistic crusade that ended Sunday--a figure that one crusade official said "was nothing short of miraculous" since the San Fernando Valley has few large churches and no arena to hold major rallies.
The Sunday afternoon crowd of 9,100 at Birmingham High School's football field pushed the Valley crusade's total attendance slightly above the audience Palau drew in Fort Worth, Tex., last year. But in Fort Worth, the Palau crusade was backed by 500 churches, whereas organizers here--with many fewer congregations to draw from--could attract support from only 200 churches.
"We feel this was our best U.S. crusade, especially in terms of acceptance from pastors and church members," said crusade director Colin James of the Portland, Ore.-based Luis Palau Evangelistic Assn.
"The enthusiasm here was superior to any city we've worked in," said the Argentine-born Palau, a U.S. citizen who has preached in 60 countries but has increased his domestic crusades in recent years.
Pastor Jack Hayford, whose Van Nuys' Church on the Way was instrumental in organizing the Valley's first-ever mass evangelism crusade, said he expects that the friendships that developed "will be significant for further cooperation" among the largely evangelical and charismatic churches in the area.
The two largest crowds were not, as expected, at the opening and closing rallies. The biggest turnout was 11,200 for a Christian rock concert featuring the Newsboys at Saturday's youth night and on the second night, when 9,600 showed up to hear singer Smokey Robinson.
Through the first four nights of the crusade, 1,292 people made "decisions for Christ," either recommitting themselves as Christians or making first-time conversions.
As the Sunday crowd filed onto the high school's Tom Bradley Field, they encountered apocalyptic warnings in leaflets that "Satan rules America" and "Armageddon is imminent" from a fundamentalist church and a "Christian prophetess," respectively.
Those messages were very different from Palau's sermons. The evangelist talked Sunday mostly about heaven, made no mention of political issues and personalities, and paid tribute to the many soldiers who died during the D-day invasion of Normandy during World War II.
"The only way from the San Fernando Valley to heaven is to have Jesus Christ in your heart," said Palau who described heaven as a "happy, eternal home." Palau said he does not try to scare people with visions of hell and damnation in order to win converts. "I wish I could (scare them), but I don't think that (tactic) works," he said.
Only the Rev. Jess Moody of Shepherd of the Hills Church in Porter Ranch, who spoke before the offering buckets were passed, raised the specter of hellfire: "We're trying to keep people from going where it's hot, really hot."