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Harvest Crusade Draws 99,000 for 3-Day Event

July 15, 2002|JEFF GOTTLIEB | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Monica Hernandez's 15-year-old son died in January, and she had a specific reason for coming from Riverside for the final night of the Harvest Crusade at Anaheim's Edison Field.

"I'm here to find out what happens when you go to the other side," she said.

Among the 10 people Hernandez had come with was Wayne Thomas. The back of his T-shirt read "C.O.P.S. Christians Obediently Preaching Salvation."

Why did he come? "It's one of the largest gatherings of Christians we know of," said the 37-year-old owner of an investment firm.

Thomas and Hernandez were among the estimated 32,000 people who filled the stadium Sunday night where the main tenants are Angels--the baseball variety. There were youth groups, churches and families--even 45 men from a Christian drug and alcohol rehabilitation ranch in Perris, who came to the crusade's 13th annual gathering.

Total attendance for the three-day event was estimated at 99,000, organizers said.

"We're here to worship the Lord," said pony-tailed Tony Udell, 39, of the U-Turn for Christ rehab program.

The star of each night's program was Greg Laurie, Harvest Crusade's evangelist and founder, and senior pastor of Harvest Christian Fellowship in Riverside, which calls itself the eighth-largest church in the country.

Laurie's crusades offer Christian pop music in a nonchurch environment, hoping to pull in people who might not consider going to religious services.

Once they're there, Laurie delivers informal sermons laced with quotes from celebrities.

But the heart of the three-day crusade are the 4,500 volunteers.

They staff the booths where Harvest T-shirts, sweatshirts and Laurie's books and pamphlets are sold.

About 1,100 of them--as young as 12--go through a three-day training course so they can help those who come down to the playing field to accept Christ.

Around 10% make the profession of faith, said Kevin Lough, the follow-up team supervisor and a heavy-equipment mechanic for the Riverside County Department of Transportation.

The Harvest Crusade has become a well-honed operation.

Once someone declares for Christ, he or she is given a version of the New Testament that includes commentary and explanations. Children 12 or younger are given the "New Believer's Growth Book," written by Laurie.

Next they fill out a follow-up card that is sent to a sorting room near first base.

The card is routed to a volunteer from the church nearest the person's home.

That same day, a letter from the church is sent to converts inviting them to attend services.

Harvest Crusade holds from two to six similar events each year as far afield as Australia.

In September, the crusade will spend three days in Winston- Salem, N.C.

Once local churches request a crusade, it can take as long as five years to take place, said Mike Brazeal, the crusade's events coordinator.

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