CT asked Christian leaders who knew Luis Palau, who died today at 86, about his theological impact on the evangelical world, what set him apart from his peers, and meaningful conversations they shared with the beloved evangelist:
Lee Strobel, apologetics author and speaker:
Luis Palau was my friend and hero. I marveled at his authenticity, his passion for the gospel, his fidelity to Scripture, and his warm and encouraging personality.
I recently interviewed him for a book I’m writing. We talked about heaven. Frankly, he was ready—even anxious—to get there. He actually gave me his handwritten preaching notes for a sermon he had written about heaven—a treasure I will always cherish.
But his main concern was to make sure the gospel was clearly articulated in my book. He wanted the focus to be on Jesus, not on himself. That was very much like the Luis I have known for decades.
Seize every opportunity, he would urge me, to tell others about the hope they can find in Christ. I loved that about Luis! In fact, I loved everything about Luis—and I long to reunite with him someday in heaven.
Luis Bush, missions strategist, originator of 10/40 Window movement:
Luis Palau reminded the evangelical world that at the core of what we believe is the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and life eternal. Luis elucidated the biblical truth that a committed Christian is called to share the gospel of Jesus Christ. He shared the conviction that “the heart of the king is in the hand of the Lord. Like rivers of water, he moves it whichever way he wishes” (Prov. 21:1).
One meaningful conversation I had with Palau took place in 1977 while completing my Master of Theology at Dallas Theological Seminary. He invited me to join him on his Welsh Crusade to reach out to rugby friends from my past school days in Great Britain. I took time out from my studies to visit with several old schoolboy friends. One of them, who had been the Welsh national under-18 rugby team captain, received Christ.
To God be the glory for the life and ministry of Luis Palau.
Franklin Graham, president and CEO of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association and Samaritan’s Purse:
Luis was a passionate evangelist who faithfully preached the gospel of Jesus Christ: his birth, his sacrificial death on the cross, his burial, and his resurrection. Millions have heard this truth, and untold men and women have trusted Christ, as a result of Luis Palau’s ministry. I thank God for his life and the example he set.
Luis was a close friend of my father Billy Graham throughout the years, and he was my friend as well. His voice will be greatly missed, but his life should inspire each of us to focus even more intensely on warning people of the consequences of dying without repenting of their sins and turning to Christ in faith.
Norberto Saracco, director of Facultad Internacional de Educacion Teologica, Buenos Aires, Argentina:
A big part of Luis Palau’s legacy is unity. In 1977, Palau was invited to Buenos Aires by a group of church leaders. When Palau learned that the organizers had marginalized Pentecostals, Palau confronted them and preached from 1 John 3 where the writer reminds his readers that “Anyone who hates his brother is a murderer.” It was a harsh call to repentance.
In 1979, the organizers decided to have a similar event and reached out to Palau. While visiting nearby Uruguay, Palau asked for a meeting with Argentine pastors to respond to their invitation. There he told them, “I reject your invitation because you have not learned the lesson and you have once again left out the Pentecostals. I will never again have a campaign if the whole body of Christ is not there.”
The church in Argentina has a special debt of gratitude to Palau for his work to bring the church there together. For many years, the Luis Palau Association allowed its staff to make themselves available to the work of unity. To this day, the president of Argentina’s evangelical alliance (ACIERA) shares his ministry with the Luis Palau Association, where he is also its director of festivals and Hispanic Ministries. This has strengthened ACIERA and helped it become one of the strongest and most developed alliances on the continent today.
Palau’s calls for unity also extended beyond fellow evangelicals. Remarkably, he evangelized in Latin America without ever preaching against the Catholic Church and was able to generate respectful and mutually appreciated relations with Catholic leaders on the continent, including the current Pope Francis. At times, this attitude caused problems with evangelicals who did not agree with his focus on dialogue. To his critics Palau used to say, “I have atheist friends and but I’m not an atheist; I have communist friends but I’m not a communist; I have Catholic friends and I’m not a Catholic.”
Bill Taylor, writer, mentor, longtime member of World Evangelical Alliance Mission Commission:
I first met Luis in Guatemala in the early ’70s. His Guatemala crusades were unique to the nation. I think he was discovering himself, his “voice” and what “worked” in Latin America. He challenged evangelicals across the then-main divide (non-charismatics and charismatics) to come together before he would continue cooperating with them. I belonged to one of the intransigent anti-charismatic groups, but I thank God for Luis’s standards. He had similar problems in Chicago.
His radio programs became required listening for both evangelicals and Catholics. He honestly answered questions. In 1982, he participated in the 100th Anniversary of Evangelicals in Guatemala, and nobody could have been a better gospel champion. Across Latin America he forged relationships with political and military leaders—which constantly got him in hot water. But his apologetic for those steps was close to the Apostle Paul.
This Argentine-born never lost his Latin American roots nor friends, but he became a global voice for the gospel, and creatively adjusted the methodology to the times. He became one of Latin America’s greatest gifts to the entire world.
Howard Dahl, businessman and board member, Luis Palau Association:
It has been a privilege to watch Luis Palau up close for 30 years, including being a board member in recent years. I believe glorifying God means to make God look good by the way you live. I could write an essay on how Luis reflected each quality of the fruit of the Spirit. Luis was so loving, making you feel special while he gave you his full attention. He was one of the most joyous Christians I have ever met, with a singular sense of self-deprecating humor, a manifestation of humility.
I would like to focus on his kindness. Luke 6 says that our Father in heaven is kind to the wicked and the ungrateful. In our world ripped apart in so many ways, Luis won the hearts of so many, including a liberal gay mayor in his city of Portland. Any city that he went to for an event brought people together. I observed in one city an African American pastor stand up and point at Luis and say: “Before you came to our city, I had never prayed with a white pastor before. God has raised you up to bring people together.”
As I read John 17 and the prayer of Jesus for his followers to be one, so that the world might believe by seeing genuine, loving, unified believers, I put Luis at the top of my list of leaders who have been faithful to this task.
Francis Chan, preacher, author, and missionary:
I don’t think there was ever a time that I met with Luis and didn’t leave deeply encouraged. Many leaders are eager to share their opinions and accomplishments, but Luis was eager to bless.
I had the honor of serving alongside Luis on several occasions. While I was impressed by his graciousness and charisma on the stage, I was far more impacted by the kindness he exuded in everyday life. He was warm, which ought to be true of those filled with light but often is not the case. What I remember most was the way that he shared with our taxi driver on the way to our venue. I kept thinking, “He’s so likable and winsome.” The gospel flowed so naturally from his lips. It wasn’t forced or spoken out of obligation. I thank God for his grace upon Luis, that he could faithfully preach the gospel for so many years—on large platforms and taxi rides.
What set Luis apart was that he showed signs of being Spirit-filled. Ephesians 5:18–21 describes a Spirit-filled person as “singing and making melody to the Lord” in his heart and “giving thanks always and for everything.” I’ve always thought that a person who could live that out would be a person that would bring life to every situation.
This is what I will always remember of Luis: He was filled with the joy of the Lord. Sadly, we don’t see much of this from Christian leaders. The struggles in ministry tend to squeeze the life out of many ministers, but Luis maintained a joy that made him so likable.
Paul Pastor, author of Palau: A Life on Fire:
Luis’s impact on the global evangelical movement is considerable. But in my opinion, one of his significant legacies has been his impact as a Bible teacher. His simple, memorable Bible teachings, often heard daily over radio stations worldwide, will be remembered by many, especially in Latin America. This grounding in practical and positive messages from Scripture—and more, the feeling that the Bible was accessible for anyone—has had enormous impact on millions of listeners over the decades.
Evangelism—especially mass evangelism at the scale and pace in which Luis specialized—has a patchwork history. On the one hand, it has a remarkable tradition, including some of the great open-air preachers of history, and has been responsible for great social movements in recent centuries. But on the other hand, it is difficult to think of another ministry (until the rise of the “celebrity pastor”) so prone to gaudy glitz, “puff,” and in extreme cases, the full range of charlatanry and abuse of which religion is capable. In this world, Luis stood apart.
His lifestyle remained comfortable but with a monkishly simple streak in a small suburb of Portland, Oregon. His library was surprisingly wide-ranging, flowing from his belief that a teacher of the Bible should never stop learning. For all his fire and persistent stubborn streak, he had spent a lifetime building a team of genuine partners rather than yes-men. Few living preachers had more to boast of than he did. I venture that few were more terrified of such boasting.
Luis lived in genuine dread of being perceived as something that he was not. He was fully aware of the tendency to elevate preachers to superhuman status. Several times before we began, he started to back out of the memoir-writing process, concerned it would encourage hagiography. (His Latin fire would show: “Last thing the world needs is more stupid Palau!”) Eventually he was persuaded to go forward with the work because of the suggestion to make each chapter focus on some person who’d been instrumental in his journey: his parents, mentors, wife, children, teammates, friends.
He was honest about the blend of faith and doubt that was assailing him in his journey through terminal lung cancer. He was very clear that while preaching to crowds in the tens of thousands was not such a big deal, he felt butterflies every time he shared “the good news” with someone one on one. He was tender, weeping openly as we discussed memories of the past. In short, he was human, full of all the little beauties and shortcomings we all carry in various measures, and never did I see him try to hide that humanity. This example of raw and simple faith informed his work and teaching, and has become one of his great gifts to me.
Matt Redman, worship leader and songwriter, United Kingdom:
I will never forget the moment I heard Luis Palau preach the gospel. I was 10 years old and had been brought along to “Mission to London” in Queens Park Rangers soccer stadium. Tens of thousands of us were gathered there that night in the UK’s capital city to hear this Argentinian evangelist convey the gospel message. He spoke of Christ’s saving love on the cross, and of the perfect Father heart of God. Having lost my own dad just a few years before, that part of the preaching was particularly meaningful to me—and I found myself surrendering to Jesus, a new-born Christian.
My next connection with Luis was maybe 15 years or so later. By then I was a full-time songwriter and worship leader, and had been invited to minister as part of a mission in the north of England—of which the Palau organization were also a part. It was a wonderful night in Manchester Cathedral, and I took note of how Luis had lost none of his fire. He preached the good news of Jesus Christ just as passionately as he had done so all those years before in London. Indeed, that passion and fire was the mark of the man. Luis always sounded enthralled with the love of Christ and overwhelmed to the core by the powerful grace of the gospel. Whether a one-on-one conversation— or preaching Christ on a factory floor, from a church pulpit, or on a stadium stage—Luis always invested his heart and soul into the moment.
Just over a year ago was the last time I heard Luis preach. This time his body was battling cancer. And yet that very same fervour for the good news of Jesus shone through. He spoke of heaven and all the glories that lie in store for those who choose to worship Christ. I am so heartened that he is now experiencing those glories he spoke of that day—and that he is face to face his beloved Savior.
I have heard it said, “Never meet your heroes,” but I am so glad that I did.
TobyMac, Christian hip hop recording artist:
I’ve had the honor of calling Dr. Luis Palau “Papa Palau” for many years now, as I am related to him through my wife’s sister Wendy and her husband Andrew Palau. I called him Papa because it always felt that way to me. A warm-hearted soul with a deep well of wisdom and spiritual maturity. He offered it freely, and I counted it a privilege to spend time with him.
Papa Palau had a love for the Bible and its principles, as much as any man I have ever met. And he was always the same—the same man at his home or on vacation as the man that stood on the platform in front of millions and millions. That test of character is the toughest to pass, but he lived it well. It has inspired me to try and live with that kind of consistency.
We will miss him, his smile, his grand enthusiastic personality. And his desire for everyone to hear the good news! And I will miss him. I will miss knowing he’s there, and I will miss the subtle reinforcement he offers that I am on the right path.
Diane Comer, author and cofounder of Intentional Parents International:
I had the privilege of knowing Luis Palau as more than the world-famous evangelist he most certainly was. I knew him as a spiritual father, a wise counselor, an occasional mentor—and even more, as a man whose life patterned for me who and how I wanted to be.
The Luis I knew and now grieve was a humble man. A man who carried his confidence in God to such lengths that it permeated his entire being. Everything for Luis was about a world that needed Jesus. Yes, he was an evangelist to hundreds of thousands, even millions, yet he saw those crowds as real people.
I know, because when I was in my late 20s and Luis heard that I was losing my hearing, his compassion brought healing to my grief. How did he even remember me—the wife of his sometimes worship leader? Yet over years and decades his concern never wavered. He prayed for me. He cared.
His impact on my life—on the life of our entire family—is immeasurable. Luis showed us what it looked like to live every day wholly devoted to God’s calling with absolute, complete dedication. And maybe even more important, Luis showed us that faithfulness over a lifetime is, in the end, the best possible way to bring honor to the name of Jesus.
Rick McKinley, lead pastor of Imago Dei Community in Portland:
The first time I heard Luis, he was speaking at a chapel at Multnomah University in 1989. I was a very new Christian, less than a year into my faith, with a huge desire to see others come to know the Jesus that was changing my life. I was struggling, though. I had a dramatic conversion and was consumed with the drama of Jesus and his kingdom as I read through the New Testament. The struggle I was having was acclimating to the church. It seemed that the dramatic encounter I had and had read about was … well, it was less than dramatic inside the church.
Luis passionately preached (from John 14), “Dream big dreams, pray big prayers, and attempt great things.” Not only did he preach it, he believed it with every vibrating atom in his body. When Jesus said, “You will do even greater things than these because I am going to the Father,” most of us move right past it, but Luis took Jesus at his word. As I sat there, the drama that had captured my heart when Jesus saved me was rekindled by Luis that day. God used Luis to fan the flame of big faith and big dreams for our big God.
Over the years, I have had the privilege of working with Luis and encouraging local pastors, not only in Portland, but in other cities as well. One of the most incredible testimonies, in my opinion, is that in every city in America and throughout the world, local pastors have great trust, respect, and admiration for Luis Palau. After years of ministry, his integrity to the gospel and love for Jesus have created spiritual favor from local pastors around the globe in a way that we may never see again in our lifetimes. Luis was an encouragement to pastors, had appreciation for what they did, and honored the local church. Luis was not about Luis, he was about Christ and others.
Over three years ago, when Luis was first diagnosed with cancer, many of us prayed that God would heal him. The doctors at the time had been talking in terms of months to live, not years. Our Lord gave Luis three more years to do what Jesus made him for: to share the message of our Savior’s love. I think of the people who have come to faith hearing Luis preach over these last few years. How God preserved his life that others might know the Lord. Luis didn’t waste much time during those last years, and he went about preaching as often as his body would allow him, and ministering to local pastors. It was no longer about doing ministry, Luis’s life was a ministry. He simply had to be himself, and people were blessed.
As a pastor, when I think of Luis Palau, I am grateful for how he modeled to so many of us what it means to finish well. Today, most ministry leaders don’t finish well. It’s a harsh reality and one that we need to reckon with. For many of us, ministry can be an idol, and when we get older and need to release our ministries to others, we find we have lost our identity. Many leaders pick up some other idol and put it in the place ministry once sat. We might start out running well but never finish the race set before us. But Luis never quit. The ministry wasn’t an idol for him. Luis ran all the way to the tape. The reason I think he finished well is because Jesus was always the point of everything for Luis. The ministry was a means to an end, getting the gospel out to the world. Ministry was never an end to itself. Luis finished well because Jesus was his goal.
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