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A Christian Celebration That's Big on Change

August 08, 2003|William Lobdell | Times Staff Writer

In an attempt to keep a 2,000-year-old message wrapped in a fresh package, this year's Harvest Crusade at Edison International Field will offer a four-minute preview of Mel Gibson's "The Passion" -- an unfinished film about the death of Jesus -- along with an exhibition of extreme sports, rock bands and a 1,000-member choir.

The three-day event, an Orange County summertime tradition of 14 years, is designed to convert the curious to Christianity without their having to step inside a church. It begins tonight at 7 in Anaheim.

Among the many who say the crusade has changed their lives is Mike Barnes of Riverside. Like many, he was badgered into going by a friend. After hearing Christian rock bands, worship music and a message by crusade founder Pastor Greg Laurie in 1995, Barnes, then a manager at Boeing Co., and his 10-year-old son surprised themselves by walking down to the field with thousands of others to commit themselves to Christianity.

"I remember waking up the next morning thinking, 'This is going to be interesting,' " Barnes recalled.

He is now executive pastor of Grove Community Church in Riverside and will be on the field this year, praying with newcomers to the faith. He said his career U-turn hasn't always been easy, but the 46-year-old has no regrets.

"I never wonder if what I do makes a difference," Barnes said. "It makes an eternal difference, and that's really cool."

Harvest organizers said they expect the usual capacity crowds at the ballpark all three nights, with about 10% of the spectators coming forward to profess their new faith.

If traditional patterns hold, 50% of those will attend a church within the next month, according to crusade statistics.

To increase the attendance figures, especially among the younger generation, a "Summerfest" has been added for Saturday afternoon. The event will feature extreme motocross and skateboard exhibitions and rock bands in the stadium's parking lot.

"You'll see pretty much everything you see at the X Games," said Jimmy McGuire, one of several freestyle motocross riders who will be performing tricks while sailing 75 feet through the air.

Summerfest will be followed by Harvest Jam that evening, featuring the Christian rock groups Delirious? and Audio Adrenaline. A night of worship music is scheduled for Sunday.

Tonight will be the first public showing of a preview from "The Passion," the movie directed by Gibson and scheduled to be released on Ash Wednesday next year. Showing on the Jumbotron will be graphic scenes from what Gibson has called an unflinching and historically accurate depiction of Jesus' death.

"It's a very moving presentation about what Jesus went through and the suffering he endured for us," said John Collins, executive director of the Harvest Crusades. "It helps to paint the picture of what happened on Calvary."

In recent months, the film, which uses only Aramaic and Latin dialogue, has generated controversy among some Christian and Jewish leaders who worry that the movie will promote anti-Semitism.

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