When 33-year-old Chris Laurie was killed in a car crash July 24, some wondered whether megachurch pastor Greg Laurie, Chris's father, would cancel his massive three-day Southern California Harvest Crusade, scheduled three weeks later in Anaheim.
But according to Harvest officials, there was little internal debate at Harvest. The only thing that changed was Laurie's nightly messages.
"I've talked about heaven my whole life, and I've given many messages on life after death," Laurie told an estimated 29,000 people at Angel Stadium August 15, the opening night of the crusade. "And I've counseled many people who have lost a loved one, and I thought I knew a little bit about it. But I have to say that when it happens to you, it's a whole new world."
Much the same can be said of Laurie's Harvest Crusades, a nationwide series of revivals that, according to crusade officials, have been attended by 3.6 million people since 1990. Chris's death leaves both a personal and professional hole in Harvest Crusades and Laurie's church, the 15,000-member Harvest Christian Fellowship in Riverside, California. Chris had served as Harvest's art director for the last three years and had been a part of Laurie's ministry since he was a toddler.
"The initial reaction of the staff was just to deal with the trauma," said John Collins, director of Harvest Crusades. When the ministry heard the news, a handful of Harvest pastors, including Collins, went to Laurie and his wife, Cathe. Others gathered the staff to pray and mourn.
But no one, according to Collins, seriously discussed canceling the Anaheim event. An unprecedented wave of people volunteered to help with the revival after Chris's death — a sign, Collins believed, that going forward was "what God would have us do."
Laurie declined to speak to CT, but said during the crusade's opening night that the day Chris died was "the hardest day of my life." He and his family received notes from Billy Graham, James Dobson, Rick Warren, and more than 22,000 others.
On his blog, Laurie wrote that the opening day of the revival was a "hard day, missing Christopher, with a lot of tears." But he knew he had a job to do, and he prayed for the strength to get through it.
"As I mentioned, one of the reasons I was speaking at our crusade this year— especially so close to Christopher's early departure to heaven — was so I could not only preach the gospel to others, but also to myself," he wrote. "Just saying those beautiful words of comfort from the Bible about where our loved ones in the Lord go when they die encouraged me."
According to Collins, the focus of Harvest will not change. Laurie and his staff will continue to rely on "no-nonsense preaching," taking the message to the masses through huge rallies. But Chris, and his talents, will be missed. "Chris's role as art director, in a very real sense, will be impossible to fill," he said.
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Harvest's website has a memorial section for Chris Laurie.
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