It all began for Mike Jonker while serving in the parking lot of his church
By Dan Wooding, Founder of ASSIST News Service
ANAHEIM, CA (ANS – August 24, 2017) — During a week when the nation struggled to make sense of the hatred and violence perpetrated by white nationalists in Charlottesville, Virginia, more than 92,000 people gathered at Angel Stadium of Anaheim this past weekend, 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.
At the heart of each of Laurie’s messages during the 2017 SoCal Harvest was an invitation for those in attendance to begin a relationship with Jesus Christ.
“Deep down inside you’re longing for God, you’re longing for peace, for the forgiveness of sin,” said Laurie to the crowds gathered at Angel Stadium. “God holds the missing peace for you tonight, but you must come to Him and believe. You’re a sinner, but the good news is that Jesus Christ died on the cross for your sins and paid the price for you.”
By the end of the three-night outreach, 10,071 people made decisions of faith, including those in attendance at Angel Stadium and those viewing the live SoCal Harvest program online.
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.
The Sunday evening program concluded with a time of prayer for the nation, followed by a fireworks display over the stadium as Brennley Brown, sang, “God Bless America” and was then joined onstage for music by worship leader, Phil Wickham, Jordin Sparks, and Danny Gokey.
Standing by each night as the crusade unfolded and people streamed forward to receive Christ, was Mike Jonker, the Director of the Southern California (SoCal) Harvest Crusade with Greg Laurie, and a man who describes himself as a Kingdom Builder.
“Primarily what I do is help churches become involved in the crusade and then help them mobilize their own churches, and their own people, to not only attend the crusade, but to evangelize to tell people about Jesus,” he explained.
With so many responsibilities, I wondered if he got much sleep during the nights of a crusade, and he said with a smile, “Oh, a little bit, but you know, we can sleep later.”
Wanting to know about his background, I ask Mike about his background, and he replied, “My mom and dad were both very devout, committed Christians, raised in a Southern Baptist Church and I gave my life to Christ at seven-years-old. I still remember praying with my parents.
“But, you know, as some kids, you grow up in the church, and I guess familiarity breeds contempt, and so when I hit my junior high school years, and even college age, I was probably running more from God than to Him. Then at 20-years-old, I was experiencing a lot of the world and was very empty even though I wasn’t in crises in the sense that I had no major addictions or vices.
“I’d kind of accomplished the things I wanted to accomplish, yet I recognized that I needed to do something. And God brought a girl into my life that had recommitted her life to Christ and we started talking about Jesus, and she invited me to her church, Harvest Christian Fellowship in Riverside, California.
“There I heard Pastor Greg Laurie share a message about the sower of the seed parable and I realized that my heart was not fertile ground and I needed to do something about it.”
Jonker recalls that Pastor Greg shared the words that Jesus said, “You’re either for me or against me,” and to paraphrase, “You’re either gathering or scattering.” It was then that he felt that God was calling him out and asking him, “What are you?” And it was then that he decided that he was a Christian, a believer.
“So I fully gave my life to Christ at 20-years-old and have been walking with him ever since; and now I’m a pastor and a part of the Harvest Crusades and loving every minute of it,” he told me in our interview at Angel Stadium.
It turns out that the young lady he had been talking with eventually became his wife.
“Her name is Dianne, and God used her, and continues to use her, in a powerful way,” he said. “We now have two now grown daughters — Tiffany and Taylor — who are both Christians and are married to pastors, and both have two children, and so we now have four young grandchildren and God has truly blessed us. We also had a son, Dylan, who is in heaven.”
So how did he become the director of the So-Cal Crusade?
“Pastor Greg had started a Monday night Bible Study and, at that point, I was an elder at Harvest Riverside, and I was just serving wherever I could,” he explained. “When Greg started this Bible Study, I was asked to help out and I didn’t really know what that meant. So they asked me to go out and serve in the parking lot and I was a little bit shocked by that.
“But at that moment, the Lord ministered to my heart from the Book of Acts, where it says that they chose men of a good reputation, and full of the Holy Spirit and wisdom to served tables. They were basically waiters, and were serving the Hellenistic Jewish women who felt left out and the Lord just ministered to me and said, ‘You know, anything you do for me is going to be the right thing to do.”
Mike Jonker went on to say, “You can never be too small for God to use, but you can be too big for God to use. And I recognized that I needed to be small. So I started serving and then other opportunities opened up. Eventually, I was asked to come on staff with Harvest Crusade to help mobilize people and churches and then I was asked pretty quickly after that to become the Director of the Southern California Harvest Crusade.”
What does that entail?
“Really making sure all the promotion, the printed materials and all the churches get involved,” he said. “So we have a team that contacts churches, many of whom have been involved for years, but we re-engage them every year. Billy Graham went to a number of cities a few times, but in Anaheim, we’ve been here every year for 28 years. So some churches may get a little used to it, so we have to help stoke the fire a little bit, but really they’re great.
“They’re also busy — we’re all busy — so we stay in connection with them and there are some wonderful pastors here in the Orange County area, as well as in the Inland Empire and even in LA, that we work with. We have many churches that have been involved for a long time, but we also have new churches with new pastors that get involved every year. We make contact with them and tell them about the opportunity to get their congregation involved in evangelism and then being that safety net for new believers, because we have over 10,000 people every year give their life to Christ, and we need a place for them for those folks to go.
“They can’t all go to a church in Riverside, or in Orange County. There’s churches, there’s people giving their life to Christ that live in Lancaster, Burbank, and San Diego, so we’re trying to plug these people into a local church.”
Having been the son of a pastor who ran a church in Birmingham, England, I asked Mike Jonker how he persuaded those pastors who are rather inward looking, to join together with other churches?
“We share with them that we’re a global community,” he said. “Pastor Greg has a church, too, but the work that he does with evangelism goes in other states, as well several countries like Australia, New Zealand, Canada, and others. We understand how a church operates, and we just really want to be Kingdom Builders. We want to reach people for the Gospel. So we ask them to set aside some of their views for the sake of the Gospel. We’re all unified in Christ — the Bible already tells us that. So we share with them that we want to help fulfil the Great Commission.”
He added, “Jesus said, ‘Go and make disciples,’ and so that’s what we do, and most pastors get that, but they want to also be able to trust those who they’re working with, and Greg has such a great reputation because he is not only an evangelist, but he’s also a pastor himself.
“So they understand that and there’s an affinity and an understanding there. Greg creates a lot of trust himself, so pastors do like to work with him. Also, we don’t want to take anybody’s people we want to add to them. We want to add everywhere. So our hope and prayer is that that people come to Christ, and they wind up in a local church where they can be discipled and grow and use the gifts that God has given them and grow closer to Jesus.”
I told Mike that I had had the privilege of working with Billy Graham as a writer on some of his overseas crusades, such as those in Moscow, Russia; Essen, Germany; and San Juan, Puerto Rico, and it appeared to me that Greg Laurie has now taken over Mr. Graham’s mantle in crusade evangelism. What, I wondered, does Billy Graham think about Greg?
“Well, he’s always had high remarks and high regards for Greg and Greg is on the Billy Graham board as a director,” he said. “So he’s a part of that board and I think that Billy sees Greg as someone who can do, to an extent, what he has done. I mean, there’s never going to be another Billy Graham and Greg would be the first one to say that. But to do what Billy Graham has done, that’s preach the Gospel to the masses, Greg has a very similar and unique gift that Billy had; and not too many people in the church right now have that unique gift.
“There’s a lot of great speakers, and many great evangelists, but to do large scale events is unique and Billy Graham was the best and Pastor Greg is very, very good at it, and people come to Christ at the invitation. So Billy Graham’s remarks about pastor Greg are always very high and he praises what he’s doing. And, quite honestly, 90% of what we do is borrowed from Billy Graham. We’re just doing what was successful.”
Note: I’d like to thank Robin Frost for transcribing this interview.
Photo captions: 1) Mike Jonker. 2) Greg Laurie preaching at Angel Stadium. 3) Part of the audience. 4) Greg talking with the thousands who have accepted his invitation to follow Christ. 5) Girl weeks as she hears the message of Christ. 6) Dan Wooding in the media room in San Juan, Puerto Rico, for Billy Graham’s crusade there. 7) Dan Wooding interviews Greg Laurie 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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