By Dan Wooding, Founder of ASSIST News Service
ANAHEIM, CA (ANS – August 23, 2017) – It’s been a busy weekend for Richard Garcia, Follow-Up Director for Harvest Crusades, following last weekend’s So-Cal Harvest Crusade with Greg Laurie, at Angel Stadium in Anaheim, California.
For, by the end of the three-night outreach, now in its 28th year, some 10,071 people made decisions of faith, including those in attendance at Angel Stadium and also those viewing the live SoCal Harvest program online, and it’s his task to arrange for all of them to followed up.
Garcia’s daunting job is to make sure they were properly followed-up, and assigned to local churches so they can begin growing in their new-found faith.
The event took place during a week when America struggled to make sense of the hatred and violence perpetrated by white nationalists in Charlottesville, Virginia, and saw more than 92,000 people gathered at Angel Stadium of Anaheim (Aug. 18 – 20), to hear a message of hope and unity in Christ presented by Pastor Greg Laurie at his annual Southern California Harvest Crusade outreach. Another 46,972 attended the Crusade via a live internet broadcast.
Laurie was joined throughout the weekend by top Christian music artists including Crowder, Grammy Award-winning hip-hop artist Lecrae, Jeremy Camp, American Idol winner Jordin Sparks, Andy Mineo, American Idol finalist Danny Gokey, NBC’s The Voice finalist Brennley Brown, and worship leader Phil Wickham.
As we talked on the first night of the crusade, Garcia told me what his job entailed.
“Besides, being the Follow-Up Director for Harvest Crusades, I’m also the Pastor of Follow-Up at Harvest Christian Fellowship in Riverside, California,” he said. “So I have the opportunity and privilege of being able to speak with new believers and help coordinates what happens to a person that accepts Jesus Christ or recommits their life to Jesus Christ either via a crusade or at church.”
Richard then revealed that there was a time in his own life when he was far from being a follower of Christ. “When I was 30, back in 1990, my life was a mess,” he admitted. “My marriage was a mess, as were my finances, and some friends had been asking us to come to Harvest for quite some time and I kept saying ‘No, no, no, no,” but my wife eventually said ‘Yes.’”
He admitted that at that time, his wife Terry, didn’t “like me very much,” and when she told him that she was planning to go to Harvest Christian Fellowship, he said he told her angrily, “If you go to church, then when you get home I’m not going to be here.”
He continued, “So, she still went to church and, to be honest with you, she didn’t care if I was going to be there or not when she got home. But when she did, Terry, who, by the way is very beautiful, had become a believer and I knew I had to watch out. I was still at home, and she had changed and told me that she now loved me again. Her life beamed so brightly that I wanted what she had, and could not wait to go to church with her the following Sunday night!
“I can still remember the date — July 15, 1990. She sat next to me and held my hand and I knew she was praying that God’s Word would pierce my very heart, and that, I too, would want to accept Jesus Christ like she did the week before. When the altar call came, I literally ran down to the front, along with Terry, with my two daughters following, and that night, I accepted Jesus Christ, along with my daughters. I knew that this was the only thing that was going to save my life and I realized that for the very first time. And I knew that this would not only save my life here on earth, but for eternity.”
He and Terry now have four children — Shannon, Celeste, Ashley, and Jake — and he revealed that Jake was born that next year and that “he’s grown up in the church and is part of the worship team now, and he’s marrying our worship leader’s daughter. They’re getting married in October.”
I then wondered how Richard was discipled at Harvest, and he said, “Well it’s kind of funny. I had a guy who called me and he just helped me out a little by answering any questions that I had, and then I got a letter from Pastor Greg, welcoming me to the family of God.
“And so now it’s kind of fast-forward to here, me doing the follow-up. I have the opportunity to take all what they did back then, and kind of sharpen it, and just add a lot more moving parts and components to it to what it is today.
“I’ve been working with Harvest Crusades for about 15 years or so, and I’ve attended every event. It began with the very first So-Cal Harvest, which was then called Summer Harvest and was held at the Pacific Amphitheater in Costa Mesa, where I was just an attendee. The next year, I was a follow-up worker and that’s all I’ve ever done. I’ve never ushered, or worked in the parking lot, I’ve only done follow-up. Initially, I volunteered for that position, and now I have the privilege of helping to oversee that position.”
With such a huge operation for each Harvest Crusade, I wondered how he was able to mobilize local churches to help with the follow-up.
“Well, actually we hold a bunch of rallies and we get them all fired with a kind of a preview of what’s going to be happening here tonight and the rest of the weekend,” he said. “We get them all excited and tell them that we need them to serve. We give them a taste of what it’s like to serve, and we want them to go running back to their church and say, ‘Here I am, send me.” So that’s a place where we get them fired up and we send them to serve as either a follow-up worker, an usher, or help set up, and tear down the stage.”
I then asked Richard Garcia how they protect themselves from people from Cults who try and infiltrate the follow-up team, and he replied, “We have on the back of the application form that they fill out, a statement of faith that they have to click through it, and so if they want to not be truthful about it, they can probably get through it, but for the most part we’ve been really blessed by the Lord’s hands upon it. So if they fill out an application and there’s always a reference from a local pastor that’s on there that they have to include.”
Garcia said that for this year’s SoCal Harvest, there has been close to 100 churches involved.
“They are involved in follow-up by sending out a letter each night from their lead pastor to people in their neighborhood that made a profession to follow Jesus Christ,” he explained. “But as far as the number of churches that are sending out people to serve, that is in the hundreds.”
What is the procedure once a person had made a commitment to Christ at the crusade?
“We have a decision follow-up worker that’s going to write their information down and they’re going to take a copy of that information and then they’re going to be texting and calling and e-mailing the people during the week,” he explained. “But that card is then dropped in a drop card box at every gate. There’s these boxes that are set up and they’re taken from there to a place we call the Card Sorting Room. When everybody goes home, we have these people counting the cards and presorting them. Tonight, we’ve got some 90-plus churches in that back room waiting after the event for these cards to come in.
“So we sort them by zip code and we give them to the volunteers and they hand-write the envelopes and they have letters from their lead pastor to send them out. They give those cards to their follow-up team that follows up with texts and e-mails and phone calls inviting them to their church.
“But also another portion of it goes to our computer system where we’re entering into data entry. So, on their way home, they’re going to get an e-mail from Pastor Greg welcoming them to the Family of God, and they also get put into our what we call our “Start Friends System,” which is a group of 475 people across the country that are Pastor Greg’s radio listeners that just want to help by e-mail. These are people who want to help disciple people, and they correspond via e-mail. They have no other agenda but to tell them about Jesus. So, at the end of the day, I think we kind of have it very well covered.”
I asked Richard about how people are assigned a local church.
“We’ll we break them up evenly,” he said. “We go fair and square and we give them evenly and, to be completely honest, there’s a place for the name of the church new convert attends or the name of the church of the person that brought them attends. That’s a little space on that card and no matter what church we give it to, they’re most likely going to go to the church that they attend or the church that their friend attends.”
Did he feel that the follow-up as important as the actual crusade meeting?
“I don’t want to say it’s more important because it’s taking away from the event, but it’s very important,” said Garcia. “You think about Phillip and the Ethiopian Eunuch who said, ‘How can you understand what you’re reading?’, and he said, ‘How can I, unless I have someone to tell me. So that’s what we want to be we want to be able to be that Phillip to these people and help them with better understand what they’re reading.”
When you made that decision all those years ago with your wife there and your kids chasing you down the aisle, could you have ever dreamed that you’d be involved in ministry like this?
“Never,” he said firmly. “Had you known me at that time, you would never think you’d be here interviewing me. I was a construction working guy and I talked like a construction working guy and I acted like one.”
I concluded by asking Richard how people could pray for him, and he replied, “I’ve been going through having esophageal cancer which entailed some big major surgery, so if people would just pray that I continue my health and all those things, because I feel like this is what God created me to do, and I feel this is exactly where He wants me to be, and I want to be in His will, so please pray for continued health and strength.”
With that, Richard Garcia was off to supervise the follow-up for the first night of the huge crusade, and like so many at Angel Stadium, after Pastor Greg had issued the invitation for people to come forward to receive Christ, he was rejoicing that so many had responded to the claims of Christ. For him, it is a feeling that he says never gets old. To see people being “born-again” and then followed up, is a something that is not really a job — but a calling from the Lord.
Note: I’d like to thank Robin Frost for transcribing this interview.
Photo caption: 1) Richard Garcia. 2) Mother and daughter at Angel Stadium. 3) Greg Laurie preaching at the So-Cal Harvest. 4) Tears of joy after receiving Christ. 5) Crowds coming forward to receive Christ. 6) Dan Wooding with Richard Garcia at the So-Cal Harvest at Angel Stadium.
About the writer: Dan Wooding, 76, is an award-winning winning author, broadcaster and journalist who was born in Nigeria of British missionary parents, and is now living in Southern California with his wife Norma, to whom he has been married for more than 54 years. Dan is the founder and international director of ASSIST (Aid to Special Saints in Strategic Times) and the ASSIST News Service (ANS). He is also the author of numerous books and has two US-based TV programs and also a weekly radio show. Dan’s most recent honor was a top humanitarian award at a film festival in Beverly Hills, California, for his long-standing reporting on persecuted Christians around the world. It was presented to him by his son, Peter Wooding.
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