At the age of 83 in January 2018, international bilingual Christian evangelist Luis Palau was diagnosed with stage four lung cancer. That startling revelation was the impetus for him to reflect on his adventure-filled life of trusting God from his humble beginnings on the streets of Buenos Aires, Argentina, to filling stadiums and declaring the good news of Jesus Christ with tens of millions globally and personally counseling world leaders. How as a teenager, he heard Billy Graham speak and decided to follow in his steps.
How is your book—a “spiritual memoir”—different from other types of memoirs?
Luis Palau: It isn’t overly focused on me, but rather on the people that God used in my life: to bless me; to challenge me; to change me into who I am today. I want this book to encourage everybody—whether you are a missionary or evangelist. I want it to encourage all Christians. God wants to use you in an extraordinary way!
How did your Christian faith begin?
Luis Palau: I’ve been asked this question often on the radio, or when we had a TV show and people would call in. People ask me often why I believe what I believe. How did I learn to believe in God? In one way, I learned from my parents. My father and mother demonstrated that God was everything. And even before I “officially” became a Christian at age 12, I intellectually understood and believed that God was God.
What impact did the death of your father and your mother’s struggles have on your faith?
Luis Palau: It strengthened my faith on every level. My father died singing and clapping his hands, pointing to Heaven and taking off suddenly after saying, “I am going to be with Jesus, which is better by far” (from Philippians 1:23). It’s very defining. I was ten. I wasn’t “officially” a Christian at the time but I understood Dad was with the Lord. My mother used John 14:1-6 to encourage us about where our father was. The confidence of both my parents about Heaven marked my life then and still impacts me today. I proclaim the assurance of eternal life because I saw my father die with the absolute assurance of eternal life.
We struggled a lot after my dad died and I witnessed my mother’s faithful living through the struggles. We went from being well-off to having very little in just three years. I watched her trust the Lord. She absolutely never spoke against God or showed anger toward him. And she believed what the Bible said. She believed God would provide and, in one way or another, he always did.
What was the turning point in your spiritual life?
Luis Palau: Well, of course, the first major turning point was my salvation when I was 12 years old. It was two years after my father died. But another experience that really affected me in a profound way was when I was 25 years old at school at Multnomah University. I was listening to Major Ian Thomas give a talk. It changed me forever and I’ve never forgotten it. He reminded our class that it’s not we who live, but Christ living in us (Galatians 2:19-21). Of course I knew this verse at the time. I had read it many times. But Major Thomas moved the concept of God dwelling in me away from a metaphor (as I had originally thought of it) and to reality. I realized Christ really does live in me (and you too). That’s power. And when you learn to trust him, it will be revolutionary.
Colossians 2:9-10 reminds us “for in Christ all the fullness of the deity lives in bodily form, and in Christ you have been brought to fullness. He is the head over every power and authority.” I understood from this talk that there was no reason to hold back being bold and committing my life to proclaiming the gospel. The Holy Spirit was in me—there was nothing to worry about in dedicating my life to evangelism.
What was the first encounter with Billy Graham and how did he influence your ministry?
Luis Palau: The first encounter was in his book titled Revival in our Time which featured some of his revival sermons from the 1950s. Billy was 29 years old and hosting massive campaigns all over the world. One campaign in the Hollywood, California area lasted nine weeks! The location that held 3,000 people was packed every night. It not only encouraged me about how God was using Billy—and could use me—at a young age, but also showed me the value of a team as I read about how the Graham team worked so tirelessly and unified. It also influenced me by reminding me that publicity is not something to apologize for.
Then later, I met him. I served as a translator at one of his crusades in Fresno (and then later internationally). Pat and I were just newly married then. Billy asked me what I wanted to do and I told him I wanted to lead campaigns like he did. For years he continued to invest me and give me new opportunities that grew me and challenged me. I am so thankful for the impact he had on my life and how he invested in me.
One aspect about Billy I will always admire is that he never missed a chance to share the gospel. I remember one prayer breakfast we attended—Billy was just scheduled to give a benediction, but used that time to share the Good News. He was bright. He was single-minded. He knew much more theology than many people but he stayed away from conflict; he kept it simple and he shared the gospel as often as he could.
Please describe your Bible reading and studying routines.
Luis Palau: I learned early on watching my dad read the Bible every morning to make it a routine. Romans 12:1 reminds us to present our bodies as a living sacrifice. I read the Bible every morning and night, and have made a habit to read a proverb every single day. I encourage you to do the same! God has a funny way of blessing the proverb you read each day to guide you in decisions that same day.
What place should the Bible hold in people’s lives?
Luis Palau: The first, second, and third top place in your life. The Bible should be everything to us. Whatever you’re dealing with, turn it to Scripture. It’s not just a book, it’s the mind of God. Every decision you make should be checked with the Bible. The Bible puts your mind, your emotions, and your decision-making process in line with God’s will.
Some have criticized mass evangelism. Why did you embrace it and how have you seen God work through it?
Luis Palau: Mass evangelism is the only way to really fulfill the great commission in any generation. We’re told through Scripture to proclaim the Good News to everyone. If you’re going to touch multitudes, how else are you going to do it? One-on-one evangelism is great—and we should all do it—but it’s a slow process. We have to have ways to touch a city, a nation; to wake up people who are asleep. And as long as there is freedom to do so, it’s the best way to get the attention of a city.
And while there has been criticism, there’s nothing unbiblical about it. The Bible doesn’t talk about methodology. It just says to do it. Whatever you need to do in the culture of where you are to share the Good News, do it. And every method can be used in a wicked way. If somebody does something wicked with a car, we don’t say the car is wicked. It’s the driver that’s the problem.
Mass evangelism is just a method to share hope to as many people as we can. People get so caught up in arguing about methods when we just need to be focused on doing the job.
What about Heaven do you look forward to most?
Luis Palau: Seeing the face of Jesus. Seeing my Dad. And all the famous people I’ve read about in church history. Even those I disagreed with—we’ll chat perfectly and not argue “I told you so.” And I’ll get to introduce those who criticized mass evangelism to the thousands that came to know Jesus through the campaigns.
What is a favorite Bible passage of yours and why?
Luis Palau: The book of 2 Corinthians is one that the Lord has used powerfully in my life. It’s particularly practical for vocational Christians as it talks about goals, living a Christ-centered life. It’s very personal to how we should all look at life and godliness.
I’ve also been reading a lot from Revelation in the last year as I prepare for Heaven myself. It’s fun to read and learn what the Bible really says about it—and dream of what Heaven will be like.
I also love the book of Hebrews and how it speaks to peace with God. Here’s a fun activity: count how many times the book of Hebrews uses the term “Once for all,” and consider the depth and freedom that can be found in those words.
What are your thoughts about Bible Gateway and the Bible Gateway App and Bible Audio App?
Luis Palau: There’s no better ministry than opening the gate for people to know the Bible—and as a result, leading people to true joy and success. As long as our team has been doing what we do, we’ve looked for the most modern and innovative ways to reach people. Bible Gateway gets that and uses modern technology to get the Bible in the hands of everybody, meeting them where they are, and pushing them toward Jesus.
Palau: A Life on Fire is published by HarperCollins Christian Publishing, Inc., the parent company of Bible Gateway.
Bio: Luis Palau and his ministry have shared the gospel with more than 1 billion people through evangelistic events and media. He has spoken in person to 30 million people in 75 countries, with more than 1 million registered decisions for Jesus Christ. Luis Palau festivals have produced some of the largest audiences ever recorded in cities from south Florida to South America. His radio broadcasts in both English and Spanish are heard by millions on 3,500 radio outlets in 48 countries. Among other top-tier programs, Luis currently hosts Luis Palau Responde, an international Q&A program in Spanish, and Reaching Your World, a devotional-style program emphasizing biblical wisdom. He has authored close to 50 books, contributed articles on issues of faith to countless publications, and counseled business leaders, political leaders, and heads of state around the world.
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