As you may know, this Friday, July 24, will mark the one-year anniversary of the passing of our firstborn son, Christopher, to heaven. I appreciate all of your prayers, and I plan on writing about this in a day or so.
Here is an interview that my son Jonathan and I recently did with Dan Wooding of the ASSIST News Service. It sums up where we are at during at this time in our lives.
The agony and joy of Greg Laurie
He talks about the tragic death of his son Christopher; his younger son, Jonathan, shares movingly about how he recommitted his life to Christ because of the death of his brother.
By Dan Wooding
Founder of ASSIST Ministries
SANTA ANA, CA (ANS) — Thursday, July 24, 2008 was the most devastating day of Greg Laurie’s life. The unimaginable happened when his son Christopher, 33, was killed in a tragic car accident on the 91 freeway on his way to work as art director of Harvest Christian Fellowship in Riverside, California, where Greg is the senior pastor.
Now, almost a year from the tragedy, Greg Laurie agreed to talk about his heartbreak and his younger son, Jonathan Laurie, revealed how the car accident that took his brother transformed his life – for good!
Both father and son came into the studios of Southern California’s KWVE 107.9 FM to talk with me for my Front Page Radio program.
I began by asking Greg to relive that terrible moment when he found out about the accident.
“It’s been almost a year now, Dan, and it was the most devastating experience of my life,” he said. “In fact, of all the bad experiences I’ve had — and I’ve had a few – none came even come close to what this was like. It’s the news no parent ever wants to hear you never expect to hear it.”
How did he first hear about the accident?
Greg said, “It was really strange the way I found out. My wife was leading a Bible study for Christopher’s wife Brittany and her mom. I was babysitting my granddaughter Stella. Brittany mentioned that she’d called Christopher and he’d not responded. Then I got a call from the church. They were asking, ‘Where’s Christopher?’
“So I called him and he didn’t answer; I then sent a text to him saying, ‘Where are you?’ Again, he didn’t answer. Then, from that point on, we started making calls to try and find out where he had gone. After about 45 minutes, we knew something was not right, we didn’t know what.
“Obviously we were praying; we were concerned and worried. Then, Don McClure, a pastor friend, showed up at my house and said, ‘Christopher’s been in an accident.” But he wouldn’t tell me the extent of it. I was told that some of the pastors from our church were going to come and talk to me. At this point I knew it was bad, but I was still hoping that it was not fatal.”
Greg said that when the pastors from his church arrived, one of them told him, “Christopher is with the Lord!”
Greg closed his eyes and told me, “When I heard that, it was like time stood still and the air was sucked out of the room. I couldn’t comprehend what I had just heard, and it really was, in many ways, incomprehensible. It was so hard.
“I have to say that although it was devastating and crushing, and I fell to the ground weeping, the Lord was there with me. I sensed His presence and His peace and I have never, for a moment, doubted that Christopher’s in heaven.”
I then asked Greg how his wife Cathe responded to the shocking news.
“She wept and she may have screamed. I don’t remember,” he said. “Brittany was crying also, as we all got the news at the same time. We were all crying. But we were also praying at the same time, saying things like, ‘Oh Lord, we look to you. We call on you.’”
Greg went on to say, “How could anyone survive such news if they didn’t know God? I can’t imagine trying to deal with this: without one’s faith in Christ; without the presence of the Lord; without Christian friends surrounding you and praying; knowing what to say and, hopefully, knowing what not to say,” he said. “We were surrounded by some wonderful godly people that helped us through those first few moments, those first few hours and the first few days.”
I told Greg that for anyone, this was so traumatic, but because he was so well-known in Southern California and across the world, this must have made it even more difficult to cope with. I wondered if he had thought about just giving up and retreating from the world for the time being.
“Well, you know one thinks about retreating but, really, you want to be around the people you love. You want to hear their words of reassurance,” said Greg. “I was surprised at how public it was, not only in the Christian community, but it was on the front page of the local newspaper with the headline, ‘Son of evangelist killed.’ To read those words in print, though you know it’s true, and see a photograph of your son — that was really painful.
“Then people were talking about it and it was on the radio and TV news. Of course, it was an auto accident, so it was a very horrific thing.”
Greg said that despite it all, it began changing his attitude to people.
“I gained a new compassion for people who have lost children,” he said. “When a celebrity dies, everyone talks about it and people opine on it. But, I’ll tell you that every one of these people that die have a mom and a dad and they have a family. It’s devastating for them. I looked at the way some people spoke about it — so matter of factly — and I had to say to myself, ‘You know, that’s my son they’re talking about.’
“But then there were many believers that said such sweet things. My blog site was inundated with messages. I had some 15,000 messages on my blog. I, frankly, have never read all of them, but I’ve read many of them and they were very comforting to me. I still go back to them and read them and they have encouraged me along with the prayers that people offered.
“Here it is, almost a year later, and I’d like to say its all better, Dan. I feel fantastic and you know there are moments when everything aligns in my mind and my heart. I think that Christopher’s in heaven and he’s happier than he’s ever been and that I’m going to see him again. It’s glorious and I have peace and even a bit of joy. Then, five minutes later, a memory is triggered by something and the pain of missing him comes right back.
“Last night, I had dreams about him again and in them I’m having conversations with him. Usually, in my dreams, I’m with him and then he’s suddenly gone. He disappears. In one dream I had, while I was talking to him, I reached out to and he disappeared. So you can’t stop your subconscious from processing these things. It is still very painful but the Lord has been with us. We have the Lord, we have our friends, we have our faith, we have our hope for the future of reunion, we have our memories of yesterday and we have today. And today, we want to try to the best of our ability to glorify God through this and try to minister to others who are hurting.
“I’ve come into contact with many people who have lost loved ones, especially children, who’ve reached out to me. When I meet someone who’s lost a child, I stop what I’m doing and I take time for them. I listen a lot more than I used to. I used to be quicker on the draw with a verse or two. I still will share verses and encouraging words, but I’m quicker to listen and slower to speak when someone comes and tells me of their pain.”
Sitting next to his father and listening intently to the interview, was Jonathan Laurie, Christopher’s younger brother. So I asked him where he was when he first heard the news about the accident.
“I was working for a plating aerospace company in Santa Ana when my foreman came over to me and asked me how I was doing,” he recalled. “At that point, I didn’t know what had happened to Christopher, but apparently it was already going around on the channels. I didn’t have my phone with me at the time so I hadn’t heard anything. He left me alone for a few minutes with a Christian police officer friend who I knew quite well and who was a Christian man and he said, ‘You need to go home to see your parents.’ That’s when I knew something had gone wrong. When I got access to my cell phone, that’s when I began receiving text messages and phone calls. I just refrained until I got home. Actually, Don McClure, the same person informed me that told my Dad. He said that my brother ‘was with the Lord.’
“I went into shock immediately. I couldn’t comprehend it, or believe it. It took me probably an hour or so for it to really start to click — that this actually happened. It was almost like I went into a dream state. It was so surreal.”
I asked Jonathan to recall the last time he saw his brother.
“My last vivid memory of him was last Fourth of July,” he said. “We were in Montana and it was probably one of the best family vacations that I can remember.
“We were quite distant in age but, as we grew older, that gap began to close. The older I became, the closer I grew to him. We grew as friends and brothers. He was always looking out for my best interests. He kept me accountable a number of times.
“He kept his eye on me. You may think that being raised in a pastor’s home would make us instant Christians and followers of Christ. You know we always did have that faith in Jesus and we always believed in Jesus, but there was a time when I rebelled and there was a time when Christopher rebelled.
“He knew where I was at as he’d lived a similar lifestyle. He was just kind of living as a ‘prodigal son’ running from his Christianity for a short time. But we both always wanted to end up back there. It was just a matter of what it was going to take.
“Up until the time that he went home to be with the Lord, he had actually been very encouraging of me: to get my life right; to quit living this double life; to stop partying and doing all that lifestyle entails. In fact, the night before his death, I was out with friends, doing the party thing; smoking and drinking. That night I really thought about how I wanted to go see my brother the next morning and talk to him about how miserable I was. I told had him previously that I wanted to get back there and he’d asked me, ‘Well, what it is going to take?’ That next morning, I got my answer. Christopher going home to be with the Lord was my wake up call.”
Jonathan went on to say, “When I got the news at home. I just sat on my bed and looked at pictures of him. After I began to comprehend what had happened, I just began to weep. Then I went through my room and just ravaged it, grabbing all the stuff I knew that was bringing me down. I held it all in my hands, prayed to the Lord, and I said, ‘God, you know that I’ve proven to you and myself that I’m incapable of doing this on my own. I can’t stop using this stuff on my own strength so you’re going to have to help me, but I want to do this.’
“He’s been faithful to do that since I prayed that prayer and He’s been faithful to help me stay clean. I’m walking with the Lord now and I know that I honor my brother’s advice. That’s the best thing I think I can do for Christopher in heaven.”
Greg Laurie was close to tears as his son told his story.
“It is a great blessing and I have to tell you, Dan, that Jonathan has shared this testimony all over in our crusades that we’ve held in different places this last year,” said Greg. “He’s stood up in front of thousands of people and Jonathan was never that kind of a person that would want to get in front of a crowd and talk. Some people like attention but he was never that way. He was more of a quiet, soft spoken, young man. But because of this thing that has happened to him and what the Lord has done in his life, he’s gotten up boldly.
“We were just in Pennsylvania at something called the Creation Festival, a Christian event that’s been going on for over 30 years. I was speaking and I brought Jonathan out to give his testimony. He gave it before 70,000 and I’ll tell you what — those kids started listening. When he talked about the compromised life, there are just a lot of kids raised in Christian homes who know what’s right, but aren’t living it, and they’re in that miserable no man’s land.
“When one of them, like Jonathan, speaks and talks about how the Lord’s gotten a hold of him, there’s an authenticity. Not that the adults don’t have it, but they think, ‘Well, you’re an adult.’ But when it’s a fellow kid, a peer speaks, it means so much more to them.
“This is one of the good things that have come of this tragedy. There’s still a lot of pain and there’s a lot of heartache, but God promise is to work ‘all things together for good’ is true. We have seen how the Lord has brought glory to his name through Jonathan’s testimony and also through Brittany, Christopher’s wife’s testimony. We’ve all felt a greater determination to serve the Lord with even more intensity than we had before.”
“I’ve determined not to put a happy face on it, meaning I want to be real. I want to be honest. I want to be truthful about the difficulty, but I also want to be honoring to the Lord and tell people how He’s sustained us through this and how I still depend upon Him every day to make it through.”
Greg then shared the good news, that late last year, Brittany gave birth to Lucy Christopher Laurie, who joins Stella, the other daughter.
“Stella is going on to her third birthday and if a father ever doted on a daughter it was Christopher,” he said. “He was a great daddy, but he did not live to see little Lucy born, at least on earth. One wonders what people know in heaven. I think it’s entirely possible that he’s fully aware of Lucy there in heaven. But he missed the birth here on earth. She’s growing and she’s just a sweetheart, one of the happiest little babies I’ve ever seen. They’re both just sweet hearts. I love them both.”
Greg is now preparing for his latest Harvest Crusade, which have drawn nearly 3 million people to ballparks and arenas across the Southland since 1990, and will mark 20 years in Southern California with its annual evangelistic outreach at Angel Stadium of Anaheim, August 14–16.
Shortly after Christopher’s death, Greg somehow preached each night at Angel Stadium last year surrounded on stage by the designs of Christopher.
“He was the lead designer in our graphics department at Harvest and he’d done the entire campaign,” he said. “So I stood on a stage that was designed by him, surrounded by art that he’d done. Even our crusade campaign this year is sort of built off the template of what he’d designed the year before.
“When I see his art around me, it inspires me. One thing Christopher uniquely implemented in the campaign last year was an animated arrow going up to heaven. There were these little arrows constantly going up and so we kept that arrow in a lot of the design that we’ve done because it just reminds us of where Christopher is and that we are to keep ‘looking up’. As the Scripture says, ‘We are to be heavenly minded. Set your minds on things above,’ Paul says in Colossians 3, ‘not on the things of the earth.” Another way to translate that is to keep thinking heaven. I think we all need to think more about heaven because we’re all headed there as followers of Jesus.”