Nick Fish, a city commissioner who oversees Homeless Connect and other social-service programs of the city, says, "We are maturing as a community. I don't want to dwell on our differences. Let's emphasize our common values. We need all hands on deck. For too long we have viewed the faith community with suspicion." When asked whether activist critics might raise a stink about the city working with churches, he pointed out that the mayor, the mayor-elect, and the housing commissioner all stand firmly in support of the alliance. "If you come against it, you have to deal with us."
The festival crowd pledged to provide 24,000 volunteers next year. The Palau Association seeks to integrate Season of Service into all of its festivals—including scheduled outreaches in the U.S., Mexico, Chile, and Scotland.
A Unified Public Witness
Luis Palau remains old school. He admits that he was a reluctant convert to the festival format, if only because it meant preaching to an audience that is constantly in motion. The Season of Service also makes him itchy, for fear that the verbal proclamation of the gospel will become neglected. "We run the risk of going full circle and becoming like the liberals. We mustn't water down the gospel because we are having lunch with politicians. I'm committed to preach the blood of Jesus and the cross of Jesus."
Yet his personal friendliness brought on the Season of Service. Mayor Tom Potter likes to tell the story of Palau asking, "What can we do for you to help our city?" A mayor rarely hears that kind of question, Potter says, especially from someone who actually follows through.
Palau was pained by the way politics had skewed the public perception of Christians. "Antagonism was real. They thought we were nuts, and we acted like nuts," he says. Palau wasn't the only one feeling the pain. "Kevin said, if we don't do the Season of Service, there will be no festival. Half the churches won't do it. They are tired. The pastors are discouraged."
By the time of the festival, that discouragement was gone. An enormous crowd heard Palau, watching him on huge video screens. He preached on the plight of the fatherless, telling of his own struggles after his father died. God, Palau said, wants to be our Father. "God will change our names. He will call us children of God. He wants to adopt us into his family. … If your conscience troubles you, receive Jesus. Through his blood you will be forgiven forever, and ever and ever."
The dynamics of other cities may be different. Churches may be unwilling to submerge controversial issues like abortion or homosexuality, and civic leaders may not choose to make public cause with churches. Portland, however, has found a way for Christians to live in harmony with their city while being themselves—people who make a unified public witness in word and deed.
Tim Stafford is a senior writer for CT.
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The Luis Palau Evangelistic Association has more information about its ministry.
Other Christianity Today articles about Luis Palau include:
Beach Blanket Rebirth | Luis Palau to take Fort Lauderdale spring break festival nationwide. (January 16, 2003)
Downtown Evangelism Makes a Comeback | Luis Palau "tweaks" crusade model into evangelistic festivals. (December 21, 2000)
Evangelistic Circus in a Box | Festival con Dios links with Palau organization to expand work of proclamation. (October 1, 2002)
Palau Crusade Last in Hong Kong? | Evangelist Luis Palau, holding the last evangelistic crusade in Hong Kong before the British colony reverts to Chinese sovereignty, preached a message of hope to those facing an uncertain future. (May 19, 1997)