Like so many people around the world I was so sad to hear of the passing of Luis Palau at the age of 86 after his three-year battle with cancer.
But I was also grateful that as a journalist over the past 25 years, I’ve had the privilege of interviewing him several times whenever he came to the UK.
A man passionate about the gospel
When his sons announced just a few days ago that the ‘end was near’ for their father, I started reflecting on my last-ever interview with Luis on a cold, wet day in Manchester in November 2017. None of us knew at the time that he would be diagnosed with lung cancer just a few days later.
On that day, as he always was when we met, I was struck by his sheer humility, despite the fact that he’d achieved so much in his lifetime. Having ministered in more than 80 nations he presented a clear case for Christianity to more than one billion people.
Yet as he walked into the room on his own, where my camera was set up, the first thing he said was: “I hope I can give you a decent interview today.”
The other aspect that hit me was that, even in his early 80s, he was still just as passionate as ever about proclaiming the gospel, and excitedly told me about their plans for 2020 to mobilise the next generation of evangelists. He was in Manchester to speak at the Message Trust 25 Year Anniversary Conference and that excitement was very clear when he literally ran to the podium to share his message.
Even in his early 80s, he was still just as passionate as ever about proclaiming the gospel
So what did he say when I asked him about whether he had plans to retire from his preaching ministry?
“As long as people want me to come and they think I have a message for this generation I will continue for now. I constantly ask younger leaders ‘do you think it’s time that I step aside completely?’ Myself and my son Andrew will preach at alternate evenings at our festivals. So that’s one way I can still rejoice in participating, while delegating to Andrew so that people recognise he also has the gift of an evangelist.”
One of the most moving moments I remember was many months beyond when Luis was expected to live, he was able to do just that by sharing the platform with his son Andrew at their festival in Madrid in June 2019. That was, in fact, one of the final times he preached in public.
Connecting with younger generations
During my years of reporting on Luis’ ministry, the other aspect that always inspired me was his ability to clearly communicate to the younger generation.
In 1999 Luis was persuaded by his two sons, Andrew and Kevin to transition from the traditional stadium crusades to festivals, in order to reach more people. These festivals combined his preaching with more contemporary music, extreme sports and community action projects. One of the first of its kind to take place in the UK was Festival Manchester in 2003, as the Palau Association partnered with the Message Trust.
I was thrilled when I was assigned to follow Luis wherever he preached that week. On the final day, crowds of 55,000 flocked to Manchester’s Heaton Park. As he took to the stage, at that point in his late 60s, I was so impressed by how he was able to preach a message that saw so many young people respond to his gospel appeal.
Then just a year later, in 2004 he preached at an event in Cardiff called 04theCity to mark the centenary of the Welsh Revival. I’ll never forget the remarkable response on youth night after Luis gave his gospel appeal. But after that powerful moment, when he came down from the platform he whispered in my ear: “Was my message any good tonight?” Even at those moments when many of us could be patting ourselves on the back he was still critiquing his own abilities.
I’ll never forget the remarkable response on youth night after Luis gave his gospel appeal
So, while I’m still sad at the great loss of this incredible man, I’m certainly reassured that his legacy will continue through the many lives he touched. I will also treasure the many memories of interviewing this humble and yet powerful communicator for the gospel.