South Bay preachers were dining with the nationally renowned evangelist Greg Laurie, in celebration of his popular Harvest Crusade finally coming to San Jose, when pastor Frank Perez started thinking: What about the Latino community?
Sprinkled amid the thousands of attendees, listening to interpreted sermons streaming through headphones, wasn’t good enough, Perez thought. He wanted the Bay Area’s Latino community to worship together, filling HP Pavilion’s 17,500 seats — starting tonight — to hear Laurie’s plain-spoken talk on God and salvation.
“I was born in the Spanish Christian community, I’ve never seen a movement for unity,” said Perez, a pastor with Iglesia Sobre la Roca in San Jose. “I thought: What better reason to come together than for the lost and the unity?”
Perez is about to get his wish as Laurie, who leads one of the nation’s largest churches, includes in his three-day crusade the first Spanish-language matinee in the event’s 17-year history. Saturday’s event will include Spanish-language Christian bands, a live interpreter behind Laurie and several watchful eyes.
“I’m taking four pastors with me to see how they do it,” said pastor Nino Madrigal, pastor for Harvest Christian Fellowship’s Spanish-speaking ministry in Riverside. The event in San Jose — with its 32 percent Latino population — may be a bridge for holding a Spanish-language crusade in Anaheim next year, he said.
If the Latino event is a success, it is expected to be replicated in cities across the country. North Carolina, which hosts a crusade event next year, is now also considering how to cater to its Spanish-speaking community, officials said.
As America’s Latino population booms, religious groups are increasingly accommodating Spanish-speakers. Though the majority of the Latino community is still Roman Catholic, nearly a quarter is Protestant, according to the 2003 report on Hispanic Churches in American Public Life written by the Institute for Latino Studies at the University of Notre Dame. The religious diversity extends to Judaism, Islam and various branches of Christianity, including the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and Jehovah’s Witnesses.
In Utah, Mormons are hosting a Latino cultural celebration — which will be interpreted via headsets into English and Portuguese. A Jehovah’s Witnesses Bay Area convention earlier this year included three sessions in Spanish.
Laurie admits that when a Spanish matinee was first proposed, he thought: Why would they want to hear from a gringo?
He wondered if another pastor, someone fluent in Spanish, should lead the service instead. But the community wanted no substitutes. So Laurie will cut his regular sermon in half, regularly pausing so an interpreter can deliver his words.
Since 1990, Laurie has drawn 3.4 million people to stadiums to hear his conversational talks on serious topics ranging from why we’re here to the meaning of life to the end of the world.
Laurie is still honing Saturday’s talk, which will likely focus on “the prodigal son, running away from home and goes to another country and finds his life empty. It’s a picture of us running from God and familia, which is important to the Spanish community,” Laurie said.
As with all crusade events, seekers are encouraged to learn about the gospel and accept Jesus Christ.
Saturday’s matinee is just one event in a long weekend that starts tonight and will include services for youth as well as Laurie’s regular crusade talk. His August crusade in Southern California drew 102,000 people, though events away from his home base attract fewer people, such as the 27,000 in Augusta, Ga., last year.
Signing for the deaf is regularly provided at crusade events, which are also simultaneously translated into Spanish, Chinese and Korean.
Still, Pastor Frank Baik said many members of his Bethel Korean United Methodist Church will miss it. Asked why, the Santa Clara pastor — who himself plans to attend — replied, “It’s in English.”
San Jose organizers are hoping to regularly fill HP Pavilion for each service. Nearly 270 area churches are working on the event; the last time so many came together was to prepare for the Rev. Billy Graham’s crusade in 1997.
Some churches have canceled services, encouraging members to attend the event instead and bring a friend. Pastor Dave Sawkins with South Valley Christian Church noted that a friend invited a cashier at Safeway who, in turn, told him she had already received multiple invitations.
“We still have the responsibility — the privilege — to share the message of Jesus,” Sawkins said. “There’s still a lot of people who haven’t seen that yet.”
Church leaders felt Laurie was the right person to deliver the message, said Sawkins, who is on the executive committee organizing the event.
While Graham — with his suit and tie and early messages of hellfire and brimstone — appealed to an older generation, Sawkins said, Laurie’s more casual tone resonates today.
Laurie’s approach impressed Perez, who had never heard of the evangelist before being invited to a pastors’ dinner last year. He was impressed by Laurie’s passion for the gospel, his straightforward talk, his ability to inspire so many people to work together.
Perez thought it was exactly the talk that the Latino Protestant community needed.
“ `Lord, let them come together so we can be one.’ That phrase was ringing as I listened to that man.”