Home April 2021 Luis Palau: 1934-2021 — Oregon’s famed evangelist impacted millions globally

Luis Palau: 1934-2021 — Oregon’s famed evangelist impacted millions globally


PORTLAND — The evangelistic work of the Portland-based Luis Palau Association will proceed with the same fervency displayed for decades worldwide by Palau himself, who died last month at age 86.

After a three-year battle with lung cancer, the famed evangelist died peacefully early March 11 at his Portland home.

For more than 65 years Palau played an influential role in Christian missions and worldwide evangelism as a powerful speaker, teacher, and author. His work took him to more than 80 nations and his campaigns allowed him to present a clear case for Christianity to an audience of more than 1 billion people through television, radio, print, and live events.

Palau was laid to rest March 16, and a memorial service took place four days later at Beaverton Foursquare Church. Set as a private event and kept small due to COVID-19 regulations, the 90-minute service was livestreamed worldwide on Facebook and on Palau’s memorial website at luispalau.org.

It included music from popular worship leader and singer-songwriter Matt Redman, words from close family and friends, and a performance by the Gospel choir from Salem Baptist Church of Chicago, Ill.

The Palau family invited sharing of testimonies or memories of the evangelist online, and thousands responded with personal mesages and videos, many currently highlighted on the website.

Robert Jeffress, pastor of  First Baptist Church in Dallas, Texas,  remembers introducing Palau to a gathering in that city.

“I just remember what a godly demeanor he had, what a powerful speaker he was,” Jeffress shared. “And truthfully, there’s no telling how many hundreds of thousands of people are in heaven or will be in heaven because of the great ministry of Luis Palau.”

Originally from Argentina, Palau was born on Nov. 27, 1934, in a small town outside that nation’s capital of Buenos Aires. He became a follower of Jesus Christ at the age of 12, just two years after his father’s untimely death.

Palau began preaching on street corners as a teenager and hosting his own Christian radio program by the age of 19. He was invited to the United States in 1960 by Ray Stedman, a pastor and missionary leader from Palo Alto, Calif., who met Palau while in Argentina and began mentoring him shortly thereafter.

While studying at Multnomah School of the Bible — now Multnomah University — in Portland, Palau met his future wife, Patricia Scofield, and together they embarked on a life of missions — first going to Latin America and eventually to more than 80 nations around the world.

“I have no regret in pouring out my years, from the time I was a boy, for the sake of the Good News,” Palau once said. “If I was given a thousand lifetimes, I would dedicate them all to the same calling.”

Early on in ministry, Palau served as an intern with the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, occasionally helping as the late Rev. Graham’s Spanish translator. Graham and his team played a significant role in opening doors of opportunity for Palau as he launched out with his own ministry efforts, and eventually helped him start his own evangelistic organization in 1978. Throughout their lives Palau and Graham stayed close friends.

With a special heart for his home country of Argentina, and Latin America as a whole, much of Palau’s work over the years focused on the Spanish-speaking world. His two daily radio programs in Spanish, Cruzada con Luis Palau and Luis Palau Responde, have aired in millions of homes for decades. He had the opportunity to share the Good News of Jesus Christ personally with dozens of Latin presidents, dictators, and heads of state. His  Spanish-speaking festivals and gatherings throughout the Latin world will forever be known as some of the largest, most historic of their kind.

Palau’s heart for the world and passion for sharing the life-changing message of Jesus pushed him beyond Latin America as well. Over his decades of worldwide ministry, Palau and his team have held more than 500 evangelistic campaigns, festivals, and rallies in more than 80 nations, including historic campaigns in leading world cities such as New York City, Buenos Aires, London, Madrid, Singapore, Hong Kong, Cairo, and Mexico City.

During the 1970s and 1980s, Palau was one of the few foreign preachers allowed to hold spiritual campaigns within the old Soviet Union, and when the Iron Curtain came down in 1991, he was among the first to hold open-air stadium campaigns in the region. Similar campaigns in seemingly “closed” nations in the Middle East and Asia also helped break down barriers and set new standards for mass evangelistic efforts.

In addition to citywide evangelistic festivals — including two Portland events that drew massive crowds in 1999 and 2000 — Palau’s worldwide ministry has grown to include three international daily radio programs in both Spanish and English, reaching more than 48 nations; a Global Network of Evangelists, inspiring and encouraging thousands of evangelists around the world; a City Gospel Movements effort, focused on training and equipping city leaders to better engage with their community; extensive television outreaches; and a digital evangelism effort reaching millions each year through social media.

As an author, Palau published dozens of books and booklets throughout his lifetime. Some of his most well-known books have been translated into dozens of languages and distributed into the hundreds of thousands. His Bible commentary in Spanish is recognized as one of the best in the field. His video courses in Spanish have helped train tens of thousands of pastors and church leaders. And more than 10 million copies of his most popular booklet, What is a Real Christian?, have been distributed in more than 60 nations.

In 2019, Palau published Palau: A Life on Fire, a deeply spiritual and intimate biography tracing his faith journey from humble beginnings on the streets of Buenos Aires to sharing the Good News with millions around the world. In the same year a feature-length movie about his life was also released in theaters throughout North and South America. For the past several years, Palau’s sons have run the day-to-day operations of the ministry. Kevin Palau serves as the president and CEO. Keith serves on the development team.

Palau’s third son Andrew, who was himself led to Christ through one of his father’s campaigns in Kingston, Jamaica in 1993, has held the role of co-evangelist with Luis  the past 15 years. The two have often partnered together on citywide campaigns, including massive efforts in New York City, Grand Rapids, Alaska, Argentina, Chile, Spain, Vietnam, and beyond. Andrew has also led many of his own festivals, including historic efforts in Uganda, Jamaica, Burundi, Malawi, Haiti, Tanzania, Indonesia, Ethiopia, and Colombia. The two have shared the work of the team’s extensive radio ministry, while An-drew and his wife, Wendy, have taken the lead role in Palau’s digital evangelism efforts known as Hope with God.

Palau’s youngest son, Stephen, is a local elementary school teacher.

Just days before his father’s passing, Andrew Palau was in Brevard County, Fla., working with more than 200 churches on a Space Coast CityFest event that reached thousands of individuals with the Good News of Jesus Christ.

Displaying the same passion for reaching souls that his father demonstrated, Andrew during the live-streamed memorial service gave an invitation for the many people viewing to follow Jesus Christ.

In addition to his sons, Palau is also survived by his wife of 65 years, Patricia; daughters-in-law Michelle, Gloria, and Wendy; four sisters and one brother; and 12 grandchildren.

Addressing his mother during the memorial service, Kevin Palau said she was his dad’s “partner in ministry” through many decades. “The two of you couldn’t have been more different, but you fit together so perfectly,” he said, his voice breaking with emotion.

He added that his father’s compassion made him winsome to others. “Dad was easy to love, because he loved people so well,” he said.

Rick McKinley, pastor of Imago Dei church in Portland, remarked during the service how Palau used his illness the past three years “to point people toward the hope of heaven.”

“We’re not going to grieve without hope,” McKinley said. “Luis is in heaven right now, cancer free and rejoicing with the Lord.”

Before singing, Redman, who is from Great Britain, explained how he was led to faith in Christ at a Palau event in London in 1984.   Thirty years later, he saw Palau preaching in New York City’s Central Park. “It was with the same passion,” Redman said.

Josh White, lead pastor of Door of Hope church in Portland, noted that almost a million people were led to Christ last year through the Palau team. “The legacy of Luis is that he showed the world the simplicity of the Gospel,” said White.

Palau also touched lives with his Christlike attitude, White added. “The thing that Luis had is the ability to look at every person and treat every person with the same gentleness and humility. He loved people with a singular eye. He saw people as loved by Jesus.”