It may be remembered as the week evangelist Luis Palau invaded Mad City. Mad City is what students affectionately call the host community of the University of Wisconsin at Madison (UW). The town and its school are not known for their tranquility. UW was notorious in the late 1960s as one of America’s most agitated campuses. One man was killed in an explosion. Bombings were threatened at the administration building; and on the hillside beneath it, under the stony gaze of an Abe Lincoln statue, collegians demonstrated daily.
Madison remains every bit the eccentric college town. It has a strip of bars and pizza parlors, record shops, and kiosks trumpeting everything from lessons in Buddhistic meditation to lectures on space settlement. An ordinary evangelist repeating a simple, old story could get lost in the din.
But Palau, a 47-year-old Argentinian who has been called the “Latin Billy Graham,” went anyway. For a week in February, Palau headlined a student-organized evangelistic event called Madison ’82. He was intent on touching student needs, addressing such topics as sexuality, loneliness, and the fear of failure. The approach was low-key, soft-pressure, but clear, always culminating in this declaration: “Whatever else you do, student, you must face the claim of Jesus Christ on your life.”
It was, as they say in the South (but probably never in Madison), a hard row to hoe. The results of any evangelistic mission are hard to judge. The numbers at Palau’s talks were less than sponsors hoped for—beginning with 600 on the first night and building to 1,400 on the last night. Fewer than 100 students made a first-time commitment to Christ, according to a tally of “comment cards” available. Still, Palau’s team came away from Madison ...1
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