Evangelist and pastor Greg Laurie, who lost his son in a car accident less than a month ago, received a standing ovation from nearly 30,000 people who attended the first night of his annual Harvest Crusades, Friday.
While still mourning the loss of his son, Laurie decided early on to continue with the scheduled three-day evangelistic event in Southern California, held this weekend. His son Chris, who died July 24, had helped with the event as a graphic designer.
"I've talked about Heaven my whole life. And I've given many messages on life after death," Laurie said Friday. "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," he said.
More than 109,000 people attended the annual crusade, held August 15-17, up from last year. And more than 11,000 people worked their way down to the stadium field to answer Laurie's invitation for salvation - also an increase from last year's "harvest."
Laurie admitted that he missed his son terribly, but assured the audience that he still has had no doubt that his son entered into heaven the moment he died.
"I've been studying Heaven. And my desire to go there has even increased," Laurie said. "And Heaven is more real to me now than it's ever before because I have an investment there, you see. And some of you do as well."
Laurie's personal tragedy emphasized his message on the uncertainty of life, and resonated with the crowd.
"Death - it comes unexpectedly," he said. "Now when you're old like me, you know it's coming. But when you're young, you think you're invincible. When you're young you think 'Oh, not now. Maybe in 50 years. Maybe in 60 years.' And that may be true, but death knocks at every door."
Chris Laurie, 33, was killed July 24 in a freeway accident involving a state-operated truck. He is survived by his wife, two-year-old daughter, and unborn child.
He is also survived by his brother, Jonathan, who opened up the crusades in prayer Friday night.
Laurie, who pastors the 15,000-member Harvest Christian Church in Riverside, Calif. began holding his popular Harvest Crusades in the 1990s. The annual event has drawn more than 3.6 million people.
The three-night crusade ended Sunday with a first-time Harvest appearance by award-winning Christian music star Michael W. Smith among other musical guests.
*Original posting August 18, 2008.