ANAHEIM, Calif. — A steady stream of stories from those who made decisions to commit their lives to Jesus Christ at a Harvest Crusade with Greg Laurie over the last three decades include dramatic transformations that have led to Christian leadership and ministry.
At an annual pastors and leaders' luncheon held earlier this year to announce the 2016 SoCal Harvest lineup of worship bands and plans for the three nights of outreach at Angel Stadium of Anaheim on Friday through Sunday, several in attendance shared how they began their journey at Harvest.
"When I came to the Harvest crusade it was the last place you would expect me to be, but obviously God had an appointment for me there," said Thomas, who now serves as a ministry leader for a team at his church that engages new believers with follow-up. "I came to the Harvest in 2008. That's where I received Christ. I was 43 years old. Up until that point, I had been a methamphetamine addict for over 20 years."
He said he listened to Laurie intently, including the Harvest church pastor's sharing from the stage podium about recently losing his son in a car accident.
"After the message I was just compelled to come forward and onto the field and to receive Christ into my life," Thomas said. "Of course, I was still a drug addict at the time."
He explained, "I kind of relate it like this: If God was [to the] north then my sin was [to the] south. I was literally chained to my addiction, so when I received the Lord I was kind of chained to the south, but I was looking at God to the north and it's a very uncomfortable place to be. So, either I was going to turn back to my sin or God was going to find a way to break those chains so that I could turn fully towards Him."
Over the next nine months, Thomas said, God took away "all those things" that were hindering him from having a relationship with Him.
"I lost my job. I pretty much lost everything. At some point, I actually came to the place where I had to beg my mom to move back in with her," he said. "She had every reason to tell me 'no' based on my lifestyle and all the things I had done to her over the years as a methamphetamine addict.
"But she said 'yes' and it was at that point that I moved back in with her [and] I had found the Bible that I received at the Harvest Crusade and I started to read it."
Thomas said he believes he read through the whole New Testament in about three days and for the entire time, simply read and prayed.
"It was about the third day that I felt that I suddenly had victory over my addiction," he said. "It was on that day back on June 3, 2009, that I quit using methamphetamine, I quit smoking cigarettes, and another strange thing occurred, all the four-letter words that used to pour out of mouth suddenly felt uncomfortable and I couldn't use them anymore."
God delivered him from "all these things" at the same moment, he said.
He began to attend Calvary Chapel San Jacinto (now 412 Church), go to a Bible study there, and become involved in a foundations class and ministry work.
"I was an usher. I worked in guest services," he said. "Now, I coordinate the follow-up at the church — [for] those who come forward to receive Christ at our church, I am one of the first people that they meet. I have a team that I work with and we do follow-up together.
"God has just blessed me with ministry and my life and I can't even hardly remember the life that I had before because God is so good."
When asked what it was that helped him make his decision to follow Jesus on that Harvest Crusades night, Thomas said, "It was just Greg's passion and that he was compassionate. I felt that it was authentic. It was Greg's authentic demeanor and the Gospel — the truth of it was what compelled me to come to the Lord."
Having been a methamphetamine drug dealer and addict, he said he was "entering a whole new world" as a Christian.
"At first, it was foreign. But when I began to develop relationships with the different people I met at church I just felt comfortable with them. And so not only was my life transformed but the lives of the people that I interacted with around me, that was another transformation," Thomas said.
The 2016 SoCal Harvest comes on the heels of Harvest's largest outreach to date — a one-night event held on March 6 called Harvest America that drew an overflow crowd of 82,000 people to AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas. The event attracted another 180,000 participants to remote venues in all 50 states and 123 countries. In addition, another 95,000 viewers participated in the live Harvest America webcast.
All three nights of the 2016 SoCal Harvest will be broadcast live via the internet at www.harvest.org and daily blog accounts of the crusade will also be made available. Updates about the Harvest outreach will be posted on Facebook (www.facebook.com/harvestcrusades), Instagram (harvestcrusades or search #HarvestSoCal) and Twitter (www.twitter.com/harvest_org).