Derek Morris: Where did you discover your passion for sharing the good news with the world?
Luis Palau: It goes back to my childhood. I spent the first years of my life in Buenos Aires, Argentina.2 Even as a child, I remember going to Sunday School and church. I memorized Scriptures, sang the songs, prayed the prayers. I remember singing many hymns in our church, which appealed to the lost and also called us as Christians to go and preach the good news. The preaching at our little church of 120 members was so biblical, so passionate. The preachers would tell stories about people dying without Christ.
I remember one illustration about the sinking of the Titanic. When the ship was sinking, some people were singing hymns and others went down screaming, not knowing the Lord. Those sermons, those dramatic stories, made an impact on me. I was 12 years old when I made a formal commitment to Jesus Christ.
My earliest memories of my parents are of my dad standing on a street corner giving his testimony and my mother playing a harmonium. My parents taught me by example that a Christian goes out and preaches the gospel. When I was about six, I went into my dad's office, which was attached to the house. It was early one winter morning. He was on his knees by his desk, covered in a poncho. I asked him what he was doing. He told me that he was reading the Word of God. And then for some reason, he said to me, "I'm reading the book of Proverbs. When you grow up, you should read it every day."
My father died when I was ten years old, but I never forgot his counsel. As a teenager, I began to read a chapter from the book of Proverbs every day. I believe that the counsel from Proverbs, by the power of the Holy Spirit, has saved me from a million troubles.
When I went off to boarding school, I dis covered that many of my fellow students were without Christ. I felt a deep sadness, even as a young man, at the lostness of my school friends. R. A. Torrey, in his book Haw to Work for Christ, mentions that one way to get a passion for the lost is to read what the Bible says about the present state and eternal destiny of the lost, and to commit to pray for them.3 I began to pray for the lost even as a teenager and I was convicted that the greatest work for the Christian was to fulfill the Great Commission.
DM: Your father certainly had a profound impact on your life even though you were only ten years old when he died. That is a real inspiration to Christian parents. As you look back over your life of sharing the good news with the world, who else has been an important mentor to you?
LP: First of all, the apostle Paul has been an important mentor to me. He suffered for the name of Jesus. He was beaten and put in jail. During my early years in Argentina, there was persecution. When the elders held tent meetings, people would throw stones at us, insult us, and try to bum down the tents. So reading the life of the apostle Paul, who also suffered persecution, was an inspiration to me.
Second, I heard the stories of great Christian men and women through the ages. The missionaries would loan us biographies and my mother would read to us. I heard about David Livingstone, who went to Africa, and Hudson Taylor, who went to China.
A man whose testimony had a great impact on my life was George Mueller. I feel like I've met him! I still read about his life from time to time when my faith needs strengthening. I remember reading George Mueller's journal and that was a great inspiration. I also remember the story of a young man who was preaching in the pub district in Glasgow. The drunks would make fun of him. An old gentleman was listening to this young man. When the young fellow was about to leave because of the mocking of the drunks, the old gentle man tapped him on the shoulder and said, "Keep at it, laddie. God loves to hear men speak well of His Son." I learned from that story that even if no one responds, we must commit our selves to speaking well of God's Son.
I was also influenced by Charles Spurgeon. The day I was baptized in water, my mother gave me a biography of Charles Spurgeon. That great preacher started preaching at age 16, which I found inspiring. I was 17! Spurgeon's stories and sermons were so powerful. I also read The Check Book of the Bank of Faith.4 Spurgeon inspired me to preach the gospel!
DM: When you share the good news with the world, many people ask the same question that a Philippian jailer asked almost two thousand years ago: "What must I do to be saved?" (Acts 16:30, NIV). How would you answer?
LP: You can't ever beat John 3:16. "For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that who ever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life" (NIV). There is the good news in a nutshell. You can't get any better than that. And then there's 1 Corinthians 15:1-6. We tell the basic story of the love of God, who wants us to have eternal life. That's good news! We deserve to perish. We are condemned because of our sinfulness, but God, in His love, wants to rescue us. On the cross, Jesus paid the price for our sin and the blood of Jesus Christ cleanses us from all sin. That's the good news. An evangelist has one job: to proclaim the good news. Simply stay with the basic good news. Lift up Jesus Christ.
DM: In recent years, you have pioneered a new approach to reaching the masses with the good news. Share with us the concept of the festival.
LP: About five years ago, we decided to totally change our approach to sharing the good news with the world. While the message is sacred and does not change, the methods that we use to present the message must be flexible. Cultures change. Societies change. We used to call our meetings "crusades." Now we call them festivals.
Our first U.S. festival was held in Portland, Oregon. Instead of dressing formally as preachers usually do, we all went casual. We held the festival at a park. No choir on the platform. No piano or organ. We put a food court around the park.
For the children's area, we went to one end of the park. We had Veggie Tales and face painting. We provided a children's evangelist who gave the children an explanation of the good news and an opportunity to surrender their hearts to Jesus. Then at the other end of the park we had skate boarding and BMX bikes. We will soon be adding motocross. Many of the national motocross champions are born-again believers in Jesus Christ. They put on exhibitions and give their testimonies. Then a skate evangelist gives those young people the good news. We also have a Sports Zone, where athletes come and show the kids how to pass, how to tackle, how to play basketball. Then they also share their testimonies.
At about 5:00 p.m., we open up the main platform with well-known contemporary Christian musical groups like dcTalk and Jump5. Then at about 7:30 p.m., I present the gospel formally. The good news has already been presented 8-10 times by then! But I share a formal gospel presentation and give a simple invitation.
We have hundreds of trained counselors—"friends of the festival"—who assist those making decisions. And then, more music! In some cities, we even close with fireworks! The festivals are youth-oriented, though family-centered. It's the same old good news that has never changed, but the festival approach is new.
We also have a special time for sen iors the Saturday prior to the climactic weekend. We bring a special guest like Pat Boone. During the week, we have luncheons for businessmen, for influential women in the city, for CEOs. It's a very intensive week to ten days. When we're done, no one in the city will be able to stand before Christ and say, "I never heard the good news."
DM: In the past five years, you have conducted these festivals in many parts of the world. I under stand that in your hometown of Buenos Aires, close to a million people participated in the Festival of Hope in February 2003. And just in the past two years, you have con ducted festivals in the United States, England, Argentina, Fiji, and Peru.
LP: That's right. Some of my colleagues have also held festivals in Africa and India. This coming year we're going, God willing, to China.
DM: God is certainly blessing your ministry in remarkable ways and enlarging your territory for His glory! What can the local church pastor do to help fulfill the Great Commission to share the good news with the world?
LP: In the local church, we must center everything we do on Jesus Christ, His cross and His resurrection. That is at the core of the good news. The local church pastor can also give people an invitation to take the step of faith.
Many people admire the good news, and technically believe in Jesus Christ, but they have never taken a step of faith in repentance, trusting Jesus Christ and receiving Him by faith into their hearts.
So the local church pastor can give an invitation for people to accept Christ, even if there is only one per son present who needs to make that decision. We can also disciple people to share their faith in the coming week when they go to their office, factory, or other workplace.
The local church pastor can also organize events that facilitate the sharing of the good news. Our festivals are simply large events that make it easier for people to invite their friends, neighbors, and relatives to hear the good news.
The local church pastor can also prepare the church to welcome new people who, as a result of the festival, will be looking for a church home.
One local church that participated in the "Beachfest" in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, had 900 new people come to their church and 600 have already been baptized!5
DM: How do you respond to critics who accuse Christian evangelists of using manipulation and pressure tactics?
LP: I have noticed some television evangelists who appear to use coercion and manipulation. But I think the greater danger today is not that we use too much pressure. Today we are so politically correct that we may hesitate to give any invitation at all. When we present the good news, the Holy Spirit brings conviction.
We don't need to play games with people's emotions. We need to remember that we are ambassadors for Christ (2 Cor. 5:20). We have been appointed to represent Jesus Christ. This is not a game. This is not show business. We are here to present good news. We are called to proclaim the Truth, not to manipulate phony forced decisions. How many people make decisions is strictly in the hands of the Lord and the Holy Spirit.
DM: As you reflect on your ministry, what indispensable daily habits help you to stay focused?
LP: First, spend time alone with God every day. That keeps you tender. It keeps you from becoming cynical or discouraged. I meditate on the Cross and on Christ's resurrection. That helps me to stay focused. Second, I read the daily newspapers and news journals. I want to be informed about what is going on in the world. G. Campbell Morgan said that a pastor should have the Bible in one hand and the newspaper in the other. I read about the lost, about their empty, self-delusional goals, their self-destructive behavior. That also helps me to stay focused on my mission of sharing the good news.
When I was a teenager, I vividly remember making a commitment to Jesus Christ. I went to conferences every year, and in enormous letters above the platform was just one word: "Go!" And I remember singing this song: "O Jesus, I have promised to serve Thee to the end. Be Thou forever with me, my Master and my Friend. I shall not fear the battle if Thou art by my side, nor wander from the path way if Thou wilt be my Guide." And I said to the Lord, "I promise, Lord."
Even now, years later, I get shaken up when I talk about it because I sensed the Holy Spirit say, "Luis. You promised. Now go!" And the Lord has blessed tremendously as I have shared the good news with the world.6
2 Luis Palau's thrilling life story is recorded in Calling America and the Nations to Christ (Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1994).
3 R. A. Torrey, How to Work for Christ: A Compendium of Effective Methods (New York: Fleming H Revell, 1901).
4 Charles Haddon Spurgeon, The Check Book of the Bank of Faith: Precious Promises for Daily Readings (Fort Washington, Penn.: Christian Literature Crusade, 1957).
5 "Beachfest" in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, attracted 300,000 participants in the spring of 2003. There were
over 10,000 decisions for Christ during that festival.
6 Learn more about the Luis Palau Evangelistic Association at www.palau.org.