Throughout the three decades we’ve done crusade evangelism at Harvest Christian Fellowship, we’ve seen over half a million people from all over the world make commitments to follow Jesus. It’s a staggering number of people, and we thank God for that.
But for me, evangelism is all about individual stories. Today, I think of a young man who attended the SoCal Harvest crusade at Angel Stadium in 2016. His name was Lance Cpl. Kareem Nikoui, and his father was determined that all his children would one day come to know Jesus as their Savior.
When I gave the invitation that night in 2016, Kareem came down onto the field and gave his life to Jesus. Not long after that, at the age of 18, Kareem joined the U.S. Marine Corps, something he had been looking forward to ever since he was a little boy.
Tragically, Kareem was one of the 13 U.S. service members who died in Kabul, Afghanistan, on Aug. 26 when an ISIS-K suicide bomber detonated outside of the Hamid Karzai Aiport while evacuations were underway. In the final moments of his life, Kareem was getting Afghan families to safety. He had just helped a young child and returned to save more Afghans when the blast occurred.
I was asked by Kareem’s family to hold his memorial service at Harvest Christian Fellowship. It was a sobering but powerful time as we honored a true American hero. During the service, his father said, “That’s the only thing that mattered to me, him coming to Jesus. Nothing else mattered. I was so proud of that moment.” As I later remarked, the motto of the U.S. Marine Corps is “Semper Fi.” It means “always faithful” in Latin. Kareem was both faithful in his service to our nation and full of faith in Jesus.
Scripture tells us “Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom. 5:7-8).
Kareem emulated the love of his savior when he paid the ultimate sacrifice for strangers. He more than deserves recognition and accolades for his selfless actions. And because of his faithfulness to Jesus, Kareem has received his reward in heaven.
For those military families who are grieving the loss of a loved one today, for those military families who are awaiting the homecoming of their brave service members, for those military families asking the hard questions, know that I am praying for you.
During his time on earth, Jesus experienced the full gamut of human emotion. He felt joy. He felt sorrow. He felt anger. John’s Gospel tells us, “When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in his spirit and greatly troubled” (John 11:33). Jesus was angry with death itself, and he wept. Death breaks God’s heart just as it breaks our hearts. According to the prophecy in Isaiah 53:3, Jesus was “a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief.”
So on this Veterans Day, let’s show our gratitude for all those who have paid the ultimate price for our freedom, and for those who continue to serve, every day. If you see a service member today, thank them. And thank God for their faithfulness, that they emulate the love of Jesus in so pure a form, to the point of laying down their lives for a stranger. Every day, our veterans put themselves in harm’s way for you and me. May we never forget the cost and the power of that sacrifice.
Greg Laurie is the senior pastor of Harvest Christian Fellowship with campuses in California and Hawaii. He began his pastoral ministry at the age of 19 by leading a Bible study of 30 people. Since then, God has transformed that small group into a church of some 15,000 people. Today, Harvest is one of the largest churches in America, and consistently ranks among the most influential churches in the country.