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Evangelists hope to pack arena

Christian team hits beaches, malls, shops to publicize annual revival in Anaheim.

August 03, 2007|David Haldane | Times Staff Writer

Michelle Quintanilla had a death-defying experience last week. She lost control of her car, which rolled off the road and onto its side.

"I walked away with a scratched foot," the 19-year-old from San Bernardino said. "The Lord kept me safe. I know he has a plan: some amazing appointments for me this weekend."

Some of those "appointments" took place Thursday as she and nearly 50 other young evangelists combed the beaches of Orange County for lost souls.

Their goal: to begin the process of salvation by inviting the people they meet to the Harvest Crusade.

"It's our hope that people will just come and give a fair hearing to what the Bible says about what it means to follow Christ," said John Collins, executive director of the annual event, which is expected to draw more than 100,000 people to Anaheim's Angel Stadium over today, Saturday and Sunday.

Now in its 18th year, the crusade features Christian rock, podcasts and nightly revival sermons by evangelist Greg Laurie, pastor of Riverside's Harvest Christian Fellowship.

About 10% of those who attend, Collins said, make public professions of faith.

"It's a huge step of faith every year," he said.

The event costs $930,000 to put on. About half the money, Collins said, comes from corporate and individual donations, with the rest from offerings and sales of books, tapes and T-shirts.

"We start off with no resources in the bank and no guarantee that anyone will come," he said.

"All we have is a message of the Gospel that we know will change lives and a desire to get as many people into the stadium as possible."

Part of that effort is the work of young "SWAT" team -- Students With a Testimony.

Members, mostly from Riverside, San Bernardino and Orange counties, descend on beaches, malls and coffee shops to spread the word.

"We have a huge task today," youth pastor Steve Wilburn, 48, told the members, ages 15 to 22, gathered for a pre-mission prayer meeting at the Costa Mesa Marriott, where they are staying.

Later the evangelists piled into two white buses bearing the Harvest Christian logo and were chauffeured to Huntington Beach and Newport Beach.

"When we lay our heads on the pillow tonight," Wilburn said, "I hope we will have handed out 3,000 invitations and somewhere between 20 and 30 people will have made commitments to Christ."

The invitations moved quickly after Quintanilla stationed herself at the Huntington Beach Pier.

"Where would you go if you died today?" she asked an earnest-looking young woman in a bikini.

"Heaven," the woman answered, a trifle lacking in conviction.

"How do you think someone gets to heaven?" Quintanilla asked.

"By doing good things?" the woman offered.

"Only by accepting Jesus can you get to heaven," Quintanilla asserted without pause.

"Have you ever made a personal commitment to Jesus Christ?"

Some thus approached seemed perfectly in tune. "I thought it was great," said Jenny Dominguez, 16, of Garden Grove, adding that she planned to attend the Harvest Crusade.

Others were tougher customers.

"When you have your own beliefs, you don't need somebody else telling you," said Ashley Lynn, 17, on vacation from San Francisco. "Especially when you're here to relax."

So how does she handle such proffered invitations?

"I just say no," she said.

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