Fifty years into proclaiming the Gospel, evangelist Luis Palau has not slowed down in telling the world who Jesus Christ is. It may be a bit traditional or just plain simple, but he strongly believes that "the more we preach, the more the Gospel spreads". At 75, the Argentina-born preacher continues the tradition of mass evangelism that he picked up from Billy Graham. And like Graham, he has had to face critics who doubt his method of preaching.
Recalling his early days as a preacher, he told The Christian Post: "I remember when Billy Graham was starting out, I was present at a conference he gave in London. And somebody said 'well, mass evangelism doesnt work.' And he (Graham) threw his head back and laughed and said thats been said since the beginning of history that it doesnt work.
"The proclamation of the Gospel works," he said confidently. "It's not the method that works, but the proclamation."
Palau feels that a clear proclamation of the Good News is missing in many churches today - and that that is setting up the younger generation to stumble in their faith life.
Many youths who fall away from the Christian faith are not converted to Jesus Christ "from the heart", he says.
"If you really know Jesus Christ, you don't throw him overboard, or as they say under the bus, just because some professor questions creation or evolution is promoted or [because of] some story of the crusades in the Middle Ages. And that totally destroys the faith of young people," the evangelist said. "If you really know Jesus Christ you may be startled by some attack from a professor, but you don't just easily give up on the faith."
Palau said he is convinced that young people need to be confronted by "the claims of conversion, repentance and faith".
He remembers being a good Christ follower, having been brought up in the church. He was enamoured with Jesus Christ, church and prayers, he said. But it wasn't until he was asked pointedly, "If you die today are you going to heaven or hell?" that he really got serious. He was 12 years old then.
"That startling question woke me up," he said. "I said I'm going to hell. And the counsellor led me to Christ."
"I think we really need that clear confrontation," Palau stressed. "We parents and grandparents must not be coddling the young people, saying "he's a fine fellow, he's a nice boy.' He may be nice but one day he's going to behave unnicely and we've got to see them confronted by the reality of death and life, of eternity."
Though Palau, who has preached to millions of youths, does believe too many young people are dropping out of the church, he hesitated to go by the statistics that are popularly cited by pastors and the media. One of the more familiar ones is that only four per cent of young Americans will be Bible-believing Christians as adults
"I think that it's been overstated, in my opinion," Palau commented. "I think that the stats are overblown."
"[But] I think if there is and there is no doubt a leakage (of youth), it's the nonconversion of too many of our young people who we think that by osmosis, they can absorb Christianity," he said. "That's not the way it works. It's got to be a conversion from the heart."
Palau is heading into his third evangelistic festival this year and the focus again is the youth. Tens of thousands are expected to converge at Mission Bay Park in Southern California this weekend for the San Diego City Fest.
Palau has brought alongside him acclaimed Christian artists the Newsboys, Kirk Franklin, Phil Wickham and Marisol to draw the younger generation as well as families.
"School has started so therefore, we think it's easier for the Christian young people to connect with a non-Christian friend and try and bring them out," he said.
For the past year and a half, the Palau team has been preparing the grounds of the city for a good harvest this weekend. Some 45,000 volunteers from local churches contributed to hundreds of community service projects since April and festival organisers are encouraging believers to share the reason for their service at the one-day event.
"We've penetrated the community. There's always much more to go. But we hope to leave a good seed behind," Palau said. Reflecting back on 50 years, the international evangelist sees how much has changed since he first began preaching in the Spanish world. At that time, there were very few Bible-believing Christians in South America and their influence was very minimal, he recalled.
In the early years of evangelism, he met opposition and sometimes received threats, he said. He continues to meet resistance and even sees uninterest from Protestant circles today. But he feels today is a better time to be alive and serving the Lord.
"To see multitudes and multitudes still come together to hear the Good News of Jesus, that gives me great joy," he shared. "The Lord called me when I was a teenager, or at least I sensed the impulse to evangelise cities, and He has graciously allowed us to do that. That is a great joy."
"[Jesus] said if I be lifted up, I will bring all men to myself. Thats our dream."
And his "secret" to going on strong is a daily walk with Christ.
"I say theres no secret, to be honest. Its all out in the open," he noted. "CS Lewis called it the same old thing. We are so used to new, new, new that we think there must be a new approach. Not really. Its a relationship with Jesus everyday, listening to his voice, taking lots of time with Him rather than less."
Palau has shared the Gospel in person to 25 million people in 72 countries with more than one million registered decisions for Jesus Christ.