Pastor Greg Laurie of Harvest Christian Fellowship has long ministered to the faithful. He has been holding his well-known evangelical events, called Harvest Crusades, for more than 30 years on campuses in California and Hawaii, and he has a strong online presence as well.
Today, especially, when so many Americans are suffering through extremely challenging times as a result of the coronavirus, this dedicated faith leader says we must turn to God above all else and remain focused on our personal relationship with him.
“Our faith is so important at this time in our culture,” he said, “and it seems that, more than ever today, even nonbelievers are asking spiritual questions.”
He noted that, because of COVID-19 lockdowns and limits, instances of depression, suicide, and drug use are up, and marriages are unraveling. “We’ve never been through a time like this that I can recall, certainly not in my lifetime,” he said.
‘Best of Times, Worst of Times’
But Laurie, speaking in his clear and resonant voice, points to the silver lining for all.
“Remember the opening line of ‘A Tale of Two Cities,’ ‘It was the best of times, it was the worst of times’? Well, in many ways, that is the case today,” he said. “It’s very bad times right now, yes, but there are good things happening as well. We find that when God closes one door, he then opens another.”
Laurie and his fellow ministry leaders had to, quite literally, close the doors of their church for a number of weeks last year due to COVID-19.
“Then we went outside to the big tent on our campus in Riverside [in California] and in our parking structure at Harvest in Orange County. And we’ve been having services there. But what also happened is that we found a brand-new audience online,” he said. “Where we would have, on average, perhaps 9,000 people watch our service online in pre-COVID times, now it’s about 400,000 people who are watching. And we’re having thousands of people come to faith in Christ.”
Last year alone, he noted, some 150,000 people made a profession of faith to follow Jesus through the Harvest ministry.
“So this is the open door,” Laurie said. “While COVID has brought so many bad things, there are some good things to keep in mind as well. People are spending a lot more time at home with family. That’s a good thing. It’s also challenging for all of us. But we need to remember that we have a relationship with God. And we shouldn’t worry. Instead, pray to God. The Bible says: ‘Don’t worry about anything. Pray about everything and God will give you His peace, which surpasses human understanding.’
“So I encourage people: Turn your panic into prayer. Turn your worry into worship. And look to God, who will give you the strength to get through what we’re all going through together.
“With so many people spending so much time on their phones and tablets and screens in general—there is a whole new audience to reach, and people are coming back to God.”
Laurie shared the history of his Harvest Christian Fellowship ministry with The Epoch Times. “For 31 years, we’ve been doing our stadium events, our Harvest Crusades. And for the first year in our history, we couldn’t hold them because of COVID. So we did what we called a cinematic crusade. We created ‘A Rush of Hope.’ We took the elements of a crusade and put them into this film—that way, we’ve reached more people than we would have reached in a usual stadium event. Oh my goodness, it was an audience of perhaps 2.5 million people—maybe more—who have viewed it so far. Then a huge number—20,000-plus people—made a commitment to follow Christ.”
The faith leader urged all of us, no matter where we live or work, or what our station in life might be, to reach out to others—and to share faith. “There may be neighbors, or family members, or coworkers, or friends, that you’ve tried to have spiritual conversations with before that haven’t gone all that well. Now, all of a sudden, they may be coming to you with problems they’re facing, or challenges, or a sense of despair or depression. We can point them to God. There is a God who cares about them.”
He noted that many young people who have been isolated from their friends and communities especially need our attention and care. “People need personal interaction. They need communication and friends. They need others who care about them, someone to say to them: ‘You know, you are loved. Your life matters. I care about you.’ So I think this is a great moment for believers and the church in general to step into that gap.”
‘A Deeper Compassion for Others’
Laurie experienced great tragedy in his life when he lost one of his children—his firstborn son, Christopher—in a car accident in 2008. He doesn’t shy away from discussing the grief and the pain that he and his family went through due to that tragedy and still are going through—but he comes back, again and again, to the blessings of Jesus Christ.
“When our son died in an automobile accident 13 years ago now, our life changed forever. It changed permanently,” he said. “We grieved then, and we still grieve now. But the Bible says we don’t have to grieve hopelessly. We have hope—and as believers, we know we will see our loved ones again if they’ve died in faith. And my son was a strong believer in Jesus Christ, so I don’t grieve hopelessly. I grieve hopefully.
“Yes, I still miss him, and I mourn him—and that’s an important process we have to go through when we’ve lost a loved one, because communication is now cut off, and so many dreams and aspirations and hopes that you had are shattered. But we believe, as Christians, in the afterlife—and we believe that there will be opportunities to have more conversations, more adventures, more time together in the future.”
He also realized early on that “there was no manual to get me through what I was going through. But there was Immanuel. And that meant leaning into my faith. And I’ll be honest with you: If God did not come through for me during that time, I would have given up preaching. I needed God. He helped me. And now I’ve been preaching for almost 50 years.”
When his son died, he said, “it wasn’t like I was a pastor dealing with it; I was a father dealing with it—a father like any other father who experiences loss and pain and grief in his life.”
“And I know that God the Father understands what it’s like to lose a son. And He was with me, and He is with me—and He helped me through it and helps me through it today, as I know He will in the future, too.
“The experience has given me a deeper compassion for others who have lost loved ones, especially children. I know that sense of devastation that people experience when they hear the worst news imaginable.”
Laurie says he takes the time to reach out to those who are suffering “to talk to them. They’re dealing with the same pain. And I can help comfort them because I myself have been comforted.”
The most important thing, when offering compassion and help to another person, isn’t to try to explain tragedies or offer to “fix” the situation, he said, since no one can “fix” it. Instead, it’s best to simply say, “I’m sorry. I love you. I’m here for you.”
“Just be there with the person. Walk with that person. Be present,” he said.
“The good news is, God has not forgotten us. He is always there for us. He says in Scripture, ‘You are calling me and I will answer and do wonderful things for you.’ Sometimes, when you’re on your back, the only way you can look is up. So, look to the Lord and call upon Him—He’s there, and He will help you and encourage you.”
In addition to his ministry work, Laurie is the prolific author of more than 70 books. His latest book, published in September 2020, is “World Changers: How God Uses Ordinary People to Do Extraordinary Things.”
“It’s about how God can use you to change your world,” he said. “I ask the question, ‘Are you a thermostat or a thermometer?’ A thermometer tells you what the temperature in the room—but a thermostat sets the temperature. So my question is, Are you a world changer, or is the world changing you? I base the book on the great men and women of the Old Testament who took bold steps of faith—and how that made all the difference.”
They were very “flawed people who made a lot of mistakes and sinned,” he added. But it was their faith that motivated them to make a difference.
Laurie also has a new book due out in April about the life of the great evangelist Billy Graham, called “Billy Graham: The Man I Knew.”
“I wanted to introduce Billy to a whole new generation, to younger people who have heard his name but may not have known the role he played in our culture. He was a pastor to every president from Truman to Trump—and he shared the Gospel with more people than any other man in human history,” Laurie said.
Laurie knew Graham personally. “I’ve been on his board of directors, at his request, for 25 years, and I spent a lot of time with him privately,” he said. “It was my privilege to learn evangelism as taught by the greatest evangelist who ever lived. But what I show in the book is the human side of Billy—and what you discover, as you get to know him, as I did, is that the private Billy was even more impressive than the public Billy. He was a humble, gracious, caring guy, and the most godly man I’ve ever met. So I wanted to share my stories and insights.”
Maureen Mackey is a digital content executive, writer, and editor based in the New York City area.