At a recent gathering in Portland, Oregon, hundreds of local pastors cozied up in a packed church gym to hear grizzled evangelist Luis Palau share wisdom gleaned from a lifetime of gospel preaching. Pastor Rick McKinley had questions for Palau—both on "dreaming big dreams," and the difficult details that such a lofty aspiration demands in a culture that squints at proselytizing.
McKinley: Twenty-five years ago, I heard you preach on "dreaming great dreams." At that time, you were going to preach the gospel to the Queen of England—something you'd dreamed of your whole life. How is God growing that desire for great dreams in you?
Palau: I still quote the missionaries. You know? They taught us "the whole world." That is a great dream. But probably half the world still has not heard John 3:16 properly explained. So, I keep looking forward for more opportunities, more open doors, more possibilities.
That dream is not just way out there in Asia or Europe, but around us here. I carry a load of guilt for my neighborhood just like anybody else. I look at my neighbors and I think, A lot of these people—I haven't clearly given them the gospel. They know who I am from the papers and all that, but we talk about their dogs that they're walking on the street. I go to church a mile-and-a-half from my house, and yet some of my neighbors are sweet pagans.
So my dream is that the Lord keep using me in the local area. It's easy to exhort other believers to do it. But is it what I'm doing? So we do it. We try. In our own neighborhood, firing up our own church.
So I am still dreaming. At home and abroad. From my angle as a mass evangelist, the Lord hasn't given me the big cities. I still dream Paris. We've got to do Paris. We've got to do Beijing, but their government won't let us. Pennsylvania. Miami—we've had one or two there, but they were puny.
So keep dreaming until the Lord gives you life. Keep the fire going.
You often preach to demographics that don't seem like they'd respond to a simple invitation to faith—the young, the urban. What have you learned from a lifetime of gospel invitations?
Well, I started out leery of invitations. At my particular church they never gave an invitation. They felt it was manipulative. You know? Somehow, we get the idea that people don't want to hear it.
But in fact, many of them are waiting for somebody with humble authority to tell them, "Give your life to Christ now, man. You don't understand it all? Don't worry. You'll understand it later."
Yes, the young, the urban. But tougher people than that, too. One of my dreams when I was a kid was to evangelize presidents, military people. We had lots of dictators in Latin America—they still have them all over the world. I used to think these guys would accept me only because there were crowds when I came.
But then I went to talk to the president of Bolivia. This guy's a killer. A murderer. He's a right-wing … well, you know. I went in all nervous. I remember talking to him. He said, "So you're an evangelist?" "Yeah." He said, "What are you coming here to tell me?" I thought, Well, he knows what an evangelist wants to do. I said, "Well, I got good news for you." He said, "Really?" I said, "Yes, sir. I got very good news." He said, "Well, my son was killed by the communists at the university. I hate them to death, and I'm willing to kill any communist I ever come across. They killed my oldest son. What can God do for me?" I said, "Well, I think God will forgive your hatred for the communists. He will help you forgive the killers of your son." He said, "Never," and he swore big time. I said, "He can do it for you." He said, "I don't think I'm ready." And suddenly he's asking me what I think Jesus Christ can do for him. He didn't receive the Lord that day, but he did the second time we spoke.