By JOHN FORTMEYER
BEAVERTON — If Thanksgiving Day, which falls this year on Nov. 27, was marked globally and not just in the U.S., many prayers worldwide would perhaps include thanks that on that very date 80 years ago, Luis Palau was born.
There is no disputing that in those eight decades of life, the Argentine-born, Portland-based international evangelist has been a blessing to countless people around the globe. Estimates are that Palau has presented the Good News of Jesus Christ in person to 40 million people in 70 nations, both through crusade events and more recently by pioneering the festival format for evangelism. Many millions more have been reached through radio and television broadcasts, books and literature, More than 1 million decisions for Christ have been tallied. Palau has also counseled business leaders, political leaders, and heads of state worldwide.
Today, one of his four sons, Kevin, leads the ministry, which has broadened not only through the evangelistic efforts of Kevin’s brother, Andrew, but also through the work of partner evangelists in the Palau team’s Next Generation Alliance.
But even after eight decades of life, the ever energetic and always quotable Palau still isn’t finished.
“There’s still 6 billion to go,” he quipped in that by-now-well-Americanized but-still clearly Argentine accent.
In an almost two-hour interview with Christian News Northwest at his ministry headquarters in Beaverton, Palau looked back just a bit on what he says God has accomplished thus far in his life, but he was clearly more inclined to express his optimism about what is yet to come.
Palau came to faith in Christ as a boy, and initially worked in banking in Argentina. He arrived in Portland in 1960 to attend a graduate program at what is now Multnomah University. There he met his future wife, Pat. He became a U.S. citizen in 1962 and several years later launched his own evangelistic ministry.
So impacting were his initial years of outreach in the Latin American world that he was soon compared to Billy Graham, who Palau considers a friend and mentor. “I learned so much from Mr. Graham,” he said.
Graham has famously said for years that he doesn’t believe retirement is a biblical concept, which is why Graham’s work has extended well into his 90s even today. But as Graham has had to acknowledge with the passing years, aging does have its impacts, and at age 80 Palau admits with a smile “to feeling maybe 25 inside, but not 18.”
He said he maintains a youthful attitude by purposefully being involved with those who are young at heart. He admits to being irked when he is around fellow senior citizens who dwell too heavily on their age: “When I meet with a bunch of old guys who just want to talk about their aches and pains, I run away as fast as I can.”
Regarding retirement, Palau is less convicted than Graham on whether it is biblical. “I’m preparing my economics as if I was (eventually) retiring, but emotionally I’m not. I don’t believe retirement is for me … If you’re healthy, and the mind seems to be working, why would you give up?”
Another similarity with Graham is a shared realization that the years have flown by quickly — perhaps more quickly than expected. “Why? Because we’ve been so active,” Palau said. “I really have minimal regrets on the ministry side, but I want to tell pastors — take advantage of every opportunity.”
Palau said his wife deserves recognition for having let him do just that. “Thankfully, I married the right kind of woman, with a ministry spirit,” he said.
There is one aspiration Palau has long held that he now acknowledges may not be fulfilled in his lifetime.
“One of the few regrets I have is that we weren’t able to have a massive campaign in China,” said Palau, whose inroads with that nation have been limited. He expressed hope that perhaps Andrew will eventually realize that goal.
Regarding Andrew, Palau said it gives him immense joy to see his son living so strongly for Christ and carrying the Gospel today. That wasn’t always the case. As outlined in his own book, The Secret Life of a Fool, the younger Palau for years rejected his family’s Godly upbringing and lived a life of rebellion and recklessness before committing his way to Christ at age 27.
“It brings tears to my eyes,” his father said, his voice choking with a mix of relief and pride. “He’s (now) a man of God.”
Andrew is pursuing his own calling as an evangelist with the same vigor as his father.
“He’s almost anxious to make up for the lost years,” said Palau.
Palau is similarly proud of his other sons. Kevin’s twin brother, Keith, also is on staff with the Palau team, working in fundraising. Steve is a teacher at a Beaverton elementary school.
With wisdom he says he has acquired over the years, Palau is pacing himself and is delegating more to his team, Yet his schedule remains very full. This year saw Palau, often joined by Andrew, doing major outreaches in Alaska, Argentina and the Dominican Republic, with the younger Palau also hitting Colombia, Jamaica, Britain and this month, Burkina Faso.
Looking ahead to a similarly busy 2015, big preparations are underway by the team for a New York City festival this summer and a related CityServe outreach.
“We hope to win thousands of people to the Lord,” Palau said with the same anticipation that he expresses regardless of the location of each outreach.
Despite all the birthday candles he has earned, Palau is pleased that his efforts have been well received by much younger generations. One of the big reasons for the success of the festival format, he said, is that “it got the attention of the young people.”
Palau’s insights on evangelism are continuing to find favor today among God’s laborers. Hundreds of pastors locally asked him the best way to give an invitation to meet Christ. “Young pastors are coming to me more and more,” he said.
He said one of the best qualities young people have today is their disdain for superficiality. Palau said that gives him hope, despite what he says is a “frightful trend” of increased secularization here in his adopted nation.
“I believe that here in the States, under the surface, revival is happening,” he said. “And the young ones are the ones that are on fire … I see that everywhere. Young guys have a hunger to be Godly and to lead people to Christ.”
Palau still shares that hunger, which is why he’s nowhere near calling it quits.
“As long as people think I can still communicate to this generation, I will still do it,” he said.