At 43 years old, Andrew Palau already has a long career in ministry behind him with a recent harrowing experience where he said he felt God directed his survival.
Palau is the son of longtime international evangelist Luis Palau. The Portland, Ore.-based organization has made its name by staging large Christian revival festivals in the developing world. Yet it was experiences in familiar surroundings which have profoundly shaped Andrew Palau’s life.
Palau and his wife Wendy were returning home to her native Jamaica last Dec. 22nd. Traveling with their three children, the Boeing 737 they had boarded in Miami broke into three sections upon landing in Kingston during torrential rains. None of the sections slid off into the nearby Caribbean Sea.
All 154 people aboard survived.
Contrast that to last Saturday’s crash of another 737 in India. It, too, slid off a runway. In this case it burst into flames and all 158 people aboard were killed.
“It was a traumatic experience I wouldn’t wish on anybody,” Palau said in a telephone interview with Everyday Christian. “When I saw the crash in India I knew exactly what those people went through. To me, what happened to us was the clear hand of God being merciful to us.
“Do I wish that experience of being in the crash would have happened to my wife and my children? Of course not. But my family has a unique bond because of it and it has given us an amazing opportunity to speak with passion about how God works in ways we can’t otherwise imagine.”
The opportunity to share that message in Jamaica came up a few short months later during the organization’s annual Fun in the Son festival on the island.
“God doesn’t promise us tomorrow, he promises today living through his grace and mercy,” Palau said. “To be able to make this most basic illustration in the place where the crash happened and to be able to point people to Jesus, well, I am thankful for that chance.”
Being an unabashed evangelist has not always been part of Palau’s life story. As a young man Palau turned away defiantly from the life and ministry his parents had established.
“A lot of people ask me what led me away from the Lord, and I will get loaded questions about whether or not it’s hypocrisy for me to have lived the life that I did,” he said. “I try to lovingly approach it and say I have no excuse but my wicked heart. I was a self-centered person who loved to party and do all the things you would associate with that lifestyle.”
Palau also praised his parents for their patience with him and for not forcing theology on him as an attempt to change his behavior. His life made an about-face, appropriately enough, he said, at a Palau festival in Jamaica.
“So there I am with all that I’ve done at a Luis Palau festival in the Blue Mountains of Jamaica and I feel the Lord calling me back to where he needs me to be,” Palau said. “It taught me the power of prayer on my parents’ part and what an expression of love it is that even someone as lost as I was can bend a knee in faith for what God has planned.”
A landmark moment came for Palau a few years after his born again experience when he first preached in Portland in 1999.
“I was in Waterfront Park, the site of so much hooliganism on my part, and I’m standing on a stage proclaiming the Word of God,” he said. “It was a pretty surreal experience at the time.”
To be sure those experiences have run the gamut over the past decade.
One the highlights, Palau said, came when a Minnesota man approached him while travelling with the organization during one of the Fun in the Son trips. He said several years back he had seen Palau speak in Minneapolis when he was having similar struggles to what Palau had experienced. At the time he felt the presentation was irrelevant to his life, but he ultimately looked on it in retrospect as the moment where he began igniting a relationship with God.
On the flip side was a trip earlier this spring to the United Kingdom. Europe is often viewed as one of the most difficult places for evangelists to ply their trade. During a speech which included BMX bikers and skateboarders associated with the festival, Palau was heckled and witnessed drunken brawls erupt amongst the crowd.
A great deal has been written and surveyed over the past few years about how the influence of Christianity is declining in North America as it initially did in Europe decades ago and that the center for Christian belief has shifted to the Southern Hemisphere.
“We all recognize communities and cultures ebb and flow in all sorts of different ways,” Palau said. “As an individual inside the realm of the church, the best thing to do is to grow and stick with biblical principles.
“The work of discipleship is everywhere. It would be easy for me to say I’m going to raise money to go to Africa or Latin America and do these big events where we get a tremendous reception. It would be easy to say that we should stop trying with people in America or England, and forget France. But that is why we’ll go to Marseille where in a city of about one million people you have maybe 2,000 to 4,000 people declare themselves believers and you help the brothers and sisters that you can.
“The important thing is to keep that pendulum swinging to help people be as spiritually healthy as possible.”
As part of his own spiritual health, Palau has his own favorite Bible verses:
· Philemon 1:6 – “We have to be active in sharing our faith,” he said. “When people in America say to me to pray for them because they’re spiritually dry, I ask them if they’re sharing what God is doing in their lives. When they say ‘no,’ then that’s the beginning.”
· 2 Corinthians 5:16-6:2 – “We can’t take what is given to us today in vain.”
· Proverbs 24 – “Being active in our faith is vitally important.”
· Daniel 12 – “God’s love is all about reconciliation.”