Student volunteers at Harvest share gospel with non-believers
Following up with those who made commitments to follow Christ, sophomore Melissa Manzo, member of Harvest, lights up as she hands out Bibles and encourages new believers in their faith. | Emily Arnold/THE CHIMES
Dodgers Stadium at the end of the Harvest Crusade looked dramatically different than it did at the beginning. For one, the stands were virtually empty — the thousands of people that once filled them now stood on the field. But more importantly, thousands of hearts were now committed to following Jesus.
This past weekend, about 100 Biola students spent their time volunteering at and attending the 2012 Los Angeles Harvest located at Dodger Stadium, according to Biola student and Harvest Crusade volunteer, Tony Castorena.
Harvest Crusades events are held every year as opportunities for Christians to invite family and friends to hear the message of the gospel in an environment that is “entertaining, yet non-threatening,” according to the Harvest Crusade website.
Sophomore sociology major Melissa Manzo has been volunteering with her family for the Harvest Crusades since age 12.
Her favorite part of being involved is participating in the staff devotional on the Saturday morning of the event.
“You get to interact with all these people who started planning this Crusade like a year, two years in advance, and you get to see how it all came together.”
Worship draws thousand to Dodger Stadium
Saturday evening began with music and worship by the Katinas, David Crowder, Jeremy Camp and the Newsboys. Sophomore sociology major Candice Loberg cited the musical guests as her primary reason for attending.
“I decided to go because my roommate from last year was going to go … and we were really interested in the artists that were going to be there, so that’s the main reason that we went,” Loberg said.
Last year’s outreach, the first-ever held at Dodger Stadium, drew 50,000 people. It was hosted by 435 area churches, according to the media packet.
Kristen Bestelmeyer, a Biola alumna present at this year’s Crusade, was pleasantly surprised by the event.
“I liked it; I really liked the worship a lot, that was my favorite part,” Bestelmeyer said. “I honestly didn’t know what to expect. It was really cool for me to see such a diverse group of people all worshipping together.”
After the worship came an encouraging and gospel-centered message delivered by Greg Laurie.
“It’s Laurie’s ability to connect with people, intertwining messages from the gospel with pop-cultural references and direct talk, that has helped the crusade grow,” Eric Carpenter said the Orange County Register in 2010.
Speaker Greg Laurie calls audience to altar
Both the music and Greg Laurie are key ingredients in the Harvest Crusade.
“When Pastor Greg Laurie spoke it was really great, really powerful. I feel like it was leaning towards new believers, which is awesome because there’s so many people who needed that, I’m sure,” Loberg said.
Although the Crusade can be easily pinned as a Christian event, it is geared towards non-believers.
“Really, it’s an event for non-Christians. The whole purpose of the [outreach] is not for Christians to come hear Christian music and a Christian pastor. It’s for non-Christians to see what the gospel is,” Manzo said. “Eventually, the ultimate goal is to get people to come to know Christ.”
There is a large focus on the final part of Laurie’s message, which is a mass altar call where thousands of people empty the stands and enter the field to find volunteers ready to give them a new Bible and pray. Last Saturday alone, 3,500 people committed their life to Christ, according to Manzo.
“The altar call, the people coming down, it’s the same response every Crusade,” Manzo said. “This is why we do this, this is why we have to plan months and months ahead.”
Some question whether audience response is legitimate
One of Manzo’s duties as a volunteer this year was to be available on the field as a “follow-up” point person. She handed Bibles to three young girls and talked to them about their experience.
At the last Crusade in Anaheim, the older girls felt they were called to come down and to give their life to Christ, but they were too scared, according to Manzo. This year in Los Angeles, their younger sister also wanted to go onto the field. “Even though her sisters were … too scared, when the 7 year old says ‘I wanna go down,’ they say, ‘Okay, we’ll go with you!’”
In response to the large crowd of people giving their lives to Christ in one evening, some may question whether genuine decisions are being made. Bestelmeyer expressed this skepticism, but said that she saw the value in opening people up to have conversations with their friends.
In general, Biola students were able to see the positive nature of the Harvest Crusades and appreciate their experiences. Manzo stands by her perspective from so many years at the Crusades.
“I know a lot of people were just crying at how amazing it was. God is not dead, he is surely alive,” Manzo said, quoting a popular Newsboys song. “That’s probably one of my favorite parts of the whole [outreach], is that you can see God’s hand through everything.”