Evangelist to millions, Luis Palau, called home to the Lord at 86
by Juleen Shaw // March 12, 2021, 8:45 pm
The Argentinian-born, United States based evangelist left his mark all over the world, preaching in 80 countries and leading millions to Christ. Photo from www.luispalau.org.
One of the world’s foremost evangelists, Luis Palau, whose 1986 Singapore rally at the National Stadium saw more than 11,000 people respond to the altar call, died of lung cancer yesterday (March 11) at the age of 86.
“My wish and my desire is that people get right with God, settle the big question, and die happy, knowing they will be with Jesus.”
“It is with a mixture of sadness and joy that we share with you that Dad passed away early this morning,” his family said in a statement yesterday. “He died suddenly and very peacefully, just as he had hoped. This is hard news, but Luis is experiencing the beauty of the Lord face to face.”
The Argentinian-born, United States based evangelist left his mark all over the world, having preached in 80 countries, with his ministry, Luis Palau Association, leading millions to Christ since its inception in 1966.
“My wish and my desire,” Palau had said on his website, “is that people get right with God, settle the big question, and die happy, knowing they will be with Jesus.”
To thousands listening to him on the radio and watching him on primetime television, he would invite to “bring your doubts”, answering their questions with a wisdom and wit that won over multitudes of seekers.
“The evangelist is the bridge between the world and the church, between the lost person and bringing them into the position of salvation,” Palau told The Oregonian in 1985.
The boy from Buenos Aires
Born in 1934 in Buenos Aires, the only boy in a family of seven children, Palau grew up bilingual in Spanish and English. His parents, Luis Palau Sr and Matilde Balfour de Palau, became Christians after Edward Rogers, a high-ranking British oil executive, gave Palau’s mother a Bible.
“Some of us are kids just starting to learn what sin means, and the light from heaven looks like a shaky flashlight beam.”
Palau might have grown up to be a real-estate developer after his father, except that when he was 10, his father died suddenly.
In 1947, Palau had his conversion during summer camp, when a camp counsellor led him to Christ. He wrote later that night: “Feb. 12, 1947. I received Jesus Christ.”
“You don’t have to have a jaw-dropping story of how you received Jesus. It just must be yours,” Palau later wrote in a memoir. “Some have the light falling from heaven, the Damascus road experience that takes them from the ‘chief of sinners’ into the arms of Jesus.
“Some of us are kids just starting to learn what sin means, and the light from heaven looks like a shaky flashlight beam on the page of a Bible as chilly rain falls around. All that is important in our conversion is the reality of it.”
From Billy Graham’s translator to evangelist to millions
Palau would go on to be one of Billy Graham’s most prominent successors.
He had first heard Dr Graham on the radio in 1952, while working at the Bank of London in Córdoba, Argentina. So moved was he that he prayed that God would help him become an evangelist like Dr Graham.
“He was clearly orthodox and simultaneously not obnoxious … That’s something not everyone pulls off on a national stage.”
Christianity Today reported that: “Within several years, Palau himself had petitioned his local radio to allow him to give sermons. Having initially aspired to become a lawyer, Palau now began dreaming of ministry with the global scale and mass evangelism that marked Graham’s crusades.
“Around the same time, he attended a Bible study led by visiting American pastor and writer Ray Stedman, who over the next couple months urged the Argentine to move to the US to train for ministry. When he arrived in California’s San Francisco Bay Area, Palau lived with Stedman, who was also simultaneously mentoring a young Chuck Swindoll.”
Palau and his American wife would go on to travel to Costa Rica, Colombia, and Mexico with Overseas Crusades mission agency.
He would cross paths with Billy Graham again at around the age of 30. “Palau looked up to Graham, emulating his city-centered strategy, naming successful businessmen to his ministry board, populating his sermons with current events, tapping prominent athletes to give testimonies at his events, and not attempting a crusade unless a diverse coalition of churches invited him,” added Christianity Today.
“At the beginning of his ministry, he translated for Graham, and over the course of their decades’ long ministries, they partnered together at various times.”
“He was clearly orthodox and simultaneously not obnoxious,” said Ed Stetzer, executive director of the Wheaton College Billy Graham Center. “That’s something not everyone pulls off on a national stage. He did.”
Singapore rally draws 337,500 over six nights
By the time Palau held the 1986 Luis Palau Singapore Mission in June, he had seen over ¼ million persons come to Christ and helped 200 churches get started in his 20 years of evangelistic ministry.
“Over 10,000 persons volunteered to be ushers, counsellors, choir members, nurture group leaders and others.”
Like the Billy Graham Crusade of 1978, the Palau rally was a gargantuan combined effort of ecumenical churches that also envisioned a multi-ethnic and multi-linguistic outreach to all in Singapore, including expatriates and foreign workers.
In the late Dr Bobby Sng’s iconic book, In His Good Time: The story of the Church in Singapore 1819-2002, Dr Sng wrote of Palau’s 1986 rally: “Planning was done on a scale unmatched since the Billy Graham’s Crusade. 350 churches and organizations cooperated and over 10,000 persons volunteered their services to be ushers, counsellors, choir members, nurture group leaders and others. For over a year, they set aside time to attend classes, memorized verses, rehearsed their parts, visited homes to extend invitations.
“Came 1 June 1986 and all was ready. For six nights, the National Stadium was filled to capacity. The messages, given in English, were translated simultaneously into Mandarin, Chinese dialect, Peranakan Malay, Bahasa Indonesia, Tamil, Tagalog, Thai, Japanese and Korean.
“Total attendance at the Stadium touched 337,500. In all, 11,902 persons registered decisions, 59% being acceptance of Christ into their lives.”
Rev Dr Malcolm TH Tan, Pastor-in-charge of Covenant Community Methodist Church and Chaplain of Methodist Girls’ School, recalls: “Palau did not publicly pray for the sick nor did he emphasise miracles. Yet the Stadium was filled to capacity. People came simply to hear the Gospel preached. Palau’s time in Singapore showed that our churches can still unite around the uncomplicated vision of simply preaching the Gospel of Jesus Christ for the sake of the salvation of the lost.”
In the months following the rally, church leaders would translate and rebroadcast Palau’s messages throughout Asia in a number of languages, earning the Singapore Church (which at the time comprised less than 5% of the population) international respect for having an evangelistic vision which, “like Singapore itself”, was out of proportion to its size.
He left his mark on church leaders here
Palau’s influence on Singaporeans would be felt long after his momentous visit.
Church leaders here told Salt&Light they remember him for the personal way he has left his mark on them.
“His Singapore meetings brought many into the Kingdom, with incalculable results.”
Historian Dr Ernest Chew, Vice-Chairman of Evangelical Alliance of Singapore (formerly EFOS), was in the EFOS organising committee for the Palau rally and remembers the 1986 occasion well.
“Dr Palau signed my Bible: Keep leading the Body of Christ. Luis Palau. Psalm 20.
“Psalm 20:7: Some boast in chariots, and some in horses; but we will boast in the name of the LORD, our God.
“He was a leading global evangelist who boasted in Christ, proclaiming Him to millions, and now receives His ‘well done, good and faithful servant; enter into the joy of the Lord’! His Singapore meetings brought many into the Kingdom, with incalculable results.”
Children & families educator David Leong, who is also a local preacher at Grace Methodist Church, was so impacted by Palau’s Children’s Rally that he continues to sow into children’s ministries to this day.
“What I remember best about Dr Luis Palau is that he was the very first and probably the only worldwide/global evangelist among all evangelists who have visited our nation who wanted to speak to the children of Singapore even before he spoke to adults when he came to Singapore in 1986.
“I was privileged to be the Vice-Chairman and Programme Emcee of the Children’s Rally Planning Committee led by Ms Suraja Raman (Dr) then. The Children’s Rally which took place on 31 May 1986 morning at the old National Stadium was the first nationwide evangelistic gathering of children.
“He was the very first and probably the only worldwide/global evangelist who wanted to speak to the children of Singapore.”
“God was so pleased to bless it not only with good weather, a 200-strong children’s choir led by Ms Mary Tan who also wrote the theme song, Hidden Treasure, but more miraculously a surprising turn-out of about 10,000 plus children. In fact, we ran out of the 5,000 programme bulletins printed as well as trained counsellors because there were so many children who came down to the stage area when Dr Luis Palau issued the altar call.
“Besides being encouraged in my ministry with children as the Sunday School Superintendent at Grace Methodist Church whose founding pastor is Rev Alfred CH Yeo, the Executive Secretary of the Luis Palau Singapore Mission and an active children’s ministry volunteer with Scripture Union Singapore then, God’s call for me to minister to children in a full-time capacity was actually confirmed during the Luis Palau Singapore Mission in 1986.
“Not only were there so many children who responded to the Gospel during the special morning children’s rally, there were also children who were with their parents who responded to the Gospel during the night rallies. I was there with other committee members and volunteers to counsel the children at the same time.
“It was during one of the night rallies altar call that I heard the Holy Spirit asking me to look around to see the vast number of children who were ripe unto harvest. That was the pivotal point in my faith journey as I began my preparation to go into full-time ministry with children which finally happened on 1 July 1990.”
Elder Jimmy Tan, from Bethesda Frankel Estate Church, saw his mother accept Christ at the 1986 Luis Palau Singapore Mission.
“Luis Palau was the final clincher to the Gospel for my mother. I was 23 and still in the university. Both my elder brother and I had been praying for years for my parents to believe in Christ. Soon after dad retired at 55, they started attending our church services, sitting behind and trying to make sense of our faith.
“Mum is 82 now … Till today, she’s not forgotten the Navigators memory verses her follow-up leader taught her to memorise!”
“When publicity for the Luis Palau crusade was drummed up in church, they accepted the invitation and came on one of the earlier nights. They did not go down when the altar call was made. But at our prodding they returned on another night. As Luis Palau concluded, the Holy Spirit was already at work. I still recall my joy when mum tearfully responded, got up from the bench and went to the field.
“There was a struggle. Dad wasn’t ready. Mum had told him she wanted to believe. She felt she has been faithful and filial in arranging years of ancestor worship. She now wanted to decide for her own eternal destiny. As Dad said he needed more time, he fairly said he wouldn’t stop her. He would come to faith a few years later and both of them were baptized together!
“Mum was 48 then and 82 now. Dad is 90. Since then, she’s walked daily with her Lord through many ups and downs, shared her faith with her siblings-in-law and till today, she’s not forgotten the Navigators memory verses her follow-up leader taught her to memorise!”
From glory to Glory
When he was first diagnosed with stage 4 lung cancer in January 2018, Palau and his two sons released the video below.
“Yesterday morning I woke up … and one of the thoughts the Lord seemed to say to me: Hey, I thought you read the Bible and you knew there comes a time when it’s time to go!” said Palau in the video, adding that he took comfort from Revelation 22:4: “His servants shall see his face” and Isaiah 33:17: “Your eyes will behold the King in His beauty”.
After receiving his cancer diagnosis, he immediately returned to his preaching.
Throughout his life, bringing people to Christ would be his guiding mission.
“Whatever tomorrow holds – I’m completely at peace. Both Patricia and I are,” he wrote on his ministry’s website shortly after the diagnosis. “As we look back, we praise the Lord. Fifty-seven years of marriage. How many places we’ve been. How many people we’ve reached with the Gospel!”