Ahead of this week's Australian release of the new film PALAU: The Movie - which tells the story of world-renowned evangelist Luis Palau who died in March this year at the age of 86, his son, evangelist Andrew Palau, speaks about the loss of his father, the making of the film and the ongoing work of the Luis Palau Association...

Firstly, my condolences on the passing of your father Luis earlier this year. It’s obviously a huge loss for the ministry but more importantly for the family and to yourself.
“We miss him…He definitely was larger than life and he took up a lot of space in all the right ways. So when he’s gone, you just feel that vacuum…But the Lord is so good for us…We had such a nice long run of nearly three years – they said three to six months at first [following his diagnosis with lung cancer in January, 2018], and then we had three good, wonderful, productive years together. It was really a tremendous blessing how it worked out…It really was a very special time for us.”

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Andrew Palau (right) with his father, Luis Palau, at an event in Eugene, Oregon, in US in 2018. PICTURE: Supplied.

How much was he involved with the film and when you decide to make it?
“To a certain degree we never dreamt of making a movie – it just seemed too much, the nature of film-making and how challenging it can be to do it really well. Anytime anyone brought it up we would typically just say ‘Oh, that’s not our area of expertise’ and dad and mom [Pat], especially, were kind of horrified at the idea of a movie of their life – it just seemed wild and they’re humble and they just couldn’t picture it. But when these incredible visionary folks came and said ‘We really want to honour missionaries; we want to honour and tell the stories of those whom God has used’, [we agreed].
     “I think a lot of what encouraged us...was their desire to really inspire people, ordinary people - because dad was really, in the end, just an ordinary guy... - and that [his background] would inspire many people to say ‘Wow, if I just obey the Lord and trust him and take the Word of God seriously and live a life of humility and love, maybe the Lord could use me…’ This was their vision..."

Was it your hope that it would be inspirational to Christians in their walk or do you also hope it will be seen by people who aren’t Christians and who will be perhaps inspired to take a step of faith for the first time?
“We’ve seen it useful for both…Especially Latin America and in certain parts of the world, people have heard of Luis Palau and it gives people…just one more avenue… to hear the Gospel, respond to the Gospel. It probably does have a primary encouragement to believers – I think that’s it’s primary value, to say ‘What kind of people does God use?’ and then the answer is, of course, ‘All of us, all of us, together especially’. That’s, I think, such a big part of the message.”

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Luis Palau, played by Gastón Pauls in PALAU The Movie. PICTURE: Supplied.

Your father, as the movie depicts, was only a boy when his father passed leaving his mother then to cope on her own, facing all the financial hardships that followed that. How do you think, as his son, that shaped him? Was it something that he carried with him for the rest of his life?
“Oh, absolutely. There’s a number of things that were really very foundational to his life and ministry - who he was, his character, his perspectives - [and] I think one of them was seeing his father pass....[His father was a] regular business guy, middle class, hard working building homes and the various things he did – but just getting on fire for the Lord. Radically saved, for the 10 years he lived [after being saved], he helped other missionaries, planted churches, preached the Gospel and supported in the ways he could. To see his dad do that, it really impacted [Luis]. And to then to see him dying, singing songs about Heaven – dad would always say ‘To see my dad die like that, it made me realise, that’s what matters in life; that people are ready for that moment. Nothing else matters.’ So then when he got that call to preaching and drawing people to faith and to salvation and ready for a journey, it just really motivated him – he told that story 1,000 times and it was very useful for many people thinking soberly about their journey."

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Obviously another big influence in his life was Billy Graham.
“Yeah. Very much so. Especially in light of Australia. Mr Graham invited dad on a preliminary trip or sent dad to go before him in the ‘70s…in preparation for [his] campaign in Australia. That was, I think, dad’s first visit…out of which it allowed him to meet some people who then later invited him and they had some early campaigns in the late 70s, early ‘80s, all the way up to 2012. And that was just in Australia – I know Mr Graham really took dad under his wing and I think he did this with so many people…such a faithful, humble, generous guy and family and ministry. He gave dad great wisdom and counsel in early days, gave him encouragement…He taught him to form a board of Christian business leaders that would hold him accountable, taught him about accountability in the local church and the importance of serving the local church, the power of unity and to stick with the Gospel…And the kindness he expressed to dad. I think in the early days when dad launched out from the missionary work that he and Mom were doing all over Latin America to form his own evangelistic mission ministry, he gave him a big financial gift too…That was really encouraging beyond words. The Grahams have been like that to so many.”

Billy Graham and Luis Palau

Billy Graham and Luis Palau in an undated image. PICTURE: Supplied.

Your grandfather was an evangelist who went out planting churches; your father was an evangelist who had this huge international ministry. It leaves very big shoes behind – and you’ve obviously carried on the ministry – what’s it like to have that as a legacy and how do you cope with the fact that you’re Luis Palau’s son. What does that mean to you?
“Well, it’s been great. I’m so grateful. I have a great testimony - [a] sad testimony at first because I rejected the Lord and lived in rebellion until I was 27 and got into so much trouble. So sad, so foolish. But, by God’s grace, at a Luis Palau mission in Kingston, Jamaica, the Lord did capture me there through the preaching of dad amongst so many other things...It was a radical conversion. So I just am eternally grateful for dad and mom, their kind love towards me…the authenticity of their life was just undeniable – my rebellion is inexplainable. 
     "People sometimes say ‘I know why you rebelled, it was because your dad was a big Christian minister and it was intimidating and he was shoving his religion down your throat’ and I always try to courteously stop them and say ‘That’s crazy, that is the furthest thing from the truth of my experience that I could even imagine'. I owe them everything, they were so kind to me, such a great example: so faithful to preach but also to love and just keep the relationship going forward...I threw myself into it right after my conversion and I haven’t stopped, it’s been 29 years now…"

Was there anything you learnt during the making of the film about your father that you didn’t know?
“One thing that was great was that we got to dig through a lot of old pictures, a lot of story-telling, we got dad’s sisters and brothers-in-law and brother all reminiscing. I think it just helped us really [understand] his childhood, the challenges that he must have faced…One thing that I should have known but didn’t really until we dug in a little more was what kind of battles they fought. Some people would say ‘Oh, big missions, those are in the past and they were so easy back then’ and dad would say ‘Are you crazy? You guys fight the same battles we all fight and the Enemy wants to stop every means of the body expressing itself in unity to the community, anything to stop the Gospel from going forward – he’ll throw a thousand lions in your face, he always has, he always will. It wasn’t easier back then, it was harder in some ways, easier in others, but don’t let those notions distract you from just doing whatever He tells you to do’. So, yes, it was a strengthening time making the movie just to remember what it really took in those early days.”

As you mentioned, there are some who say the day of the big evangelistic rally is done, that we need to adopt other methods. Obviously it’s still very much a part of what you do – and I gather that it has evolved, it’s changed somewhat – but you still see it as something that will still be part of your suite of tools going forward?
“Absolutely – it’s our greatest joy. Seasons come and go and there’s nuances and you can shift and adjust to interpret different cultural language but people still love to get together around the world. I mean, just look at rock concerts and city-wide festivals – people definitely love to get together. Christians more than any should be thrilled and pushing hard to be together as much as possible. And especially not just to get together for a get together’s sake – though I think that’s worth it; that’s what the church is for anyway – but to express to the city [that] we love each other, we love the city and to really highlight the good work of the church. And festivals have some unique ways of getting the young generation to  say ‘Wow, we’re not alone over here in our little quarter'... It’s kind of like a motivating encouragement that our young people really deserve. There’s a place for it, for sure..."

Andrew and Luis Palau Alaska 2014

Andrew Palau with his father Luis at an event in Alaska, US, in 2014. PICTURE: Supplied.

How did the whole COVID-19 pandemic affect the ministry? Obviously we didn’t have big gatherings so how to you negotiate all that?
“Well, the great thing for the festivals is that it really is about relationships and thinking about the city with that long-term view in mind – sustainability and movement beyond that catalytic moment. So for us, it was easy enough. There was a major step of faith but in every city we just talked to the leaders and said ‘It looks like we’re going to have at least an extra year, should we cancel or should we reschedule?’ I think there one or two of the 16 or so that were in the works that really have gone way to the back-burner but all the rest rescheduled...Now they’re starting to come online – we did one here in Oregon, we did one in Central Florida on the coast – Cocoa Beach and Cape Canaveral – very fruitful. Out in Africa, in Malawi – we just came back from, for sure, one of our largest Africa campaigns and we’re getting ready for Pakistan. So we were able to go further and deeper together with the extra time…
     “Additionally the Lord brought us into a space that we’ve been trying really hard to understand where we might fit - digital evangelism. We didn’t want to reinvent the wheel but the Lord brought us right to this other group that... had invested about seven years developing how to utilise social media – and Facebook, in particular – to share the Gospel in fruitful ways. We have just over 20 million people on a Facebook community called 'Hope with God'. People are won to faith – about 15,000 a week respond to say yes to the Gospel through Hope with God. It’s me and my wife Wendy just giving little Gospel nuggets that draw people [and], if they’re willing, if they’re interested and the Holy Spirit draws them, they can...join this online community for discipleship...It’s become a massive part of our ministry and now that the online is coming together with the face-to-face, I think they’re really going to exponentially encourage one another in some exciting ways…”

Lastly – and I think I know the answer to this - but if there was one message that your father would have for the world today, what would that be?
“The same old message, the same old thing – he always encouraged other evangelists 'Don’t get distracted with a thousand great things, they’re all important but you stick with the same old thing'. In CS Lewis' The Screwtape Letters, the old demon said to the young guy, ‘You’ve got to get him off the same old thing’. And so [dad] would say that ‘If you’re a follower of Christ, just stick with it. Don’t get sidelined or discouraged – the Gospel carries it’s own power. We’re not ashamed of it, it’s the power of God and the salvation of the Cross, the good news of our past forgiven, our present empowered by the Holy Spirit of God indwelling us. You know, that changes everything – the Kingdom is here and it's coming and we have eternity because of the resurrection of Jesus from the dead. Just make those the emphasis of your life and you’ll live a rich, full fruitful life of abundance.' So that’s what I think he would say.”

The interview has been edited for clarity and length.

PALAU: The Movie is released in Australia on digital platforms and on DVD on 10th November. It is also available on recently launched streaming platform Wonder.