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Decision of a Lifetime    Printer friendly page

Luis Palau’s global ministry is rooted in a childhood choice

by Craig Chastain

When Portland, Oregon-based world evangelist and author Luis Palau was 12 years old, he could quote many Bible verses. He could sing a lot of Christian songs. And if someone put him on the spot, he could even say a prayer.

His godly mother and the congregation at the small, evangelistic church the family attended near their home in Argentina could live out and preach the gospel, but they couldn’t force a strong-willed boy to open his heart to Jesus.

Neither could Mr. Cohen, headmaster at the British private school Palau attended. But as summer approached, Cohen talked to Palau about going with several dozen other boys to a two-week camp in the mountains.

Caught for Camp
Although camp sounded like fun, Palau put Cohen off. In his heart, he knew he wasn’t really a Christian. And he knew the program would be evangelistic—that someone would confront him with his need to accept Jesus as the Lord of his life. Palau pretended he wanted to go but said his family’s tight financial situation made it impossible.

Cohen smiled and offered to pay his way. Painted into a corner, Palau knew he’d soon be headed for camp, despite his wishes.

“It was annoying to have been caught and forced to go, which was not the ‘in’ thing to do, but by the time February [summer in South America] rolled around, I was anxious to head for the mountains,” Palau says.

“My mother told me straight out she was glad I was going, because she wasn’t sure I was a real, born-again Christian. I responded, ‘Mom, come on,’ trying to pretend I was. But she knew better.”

Grand Adventure
Trekking to a mountainous area called Azul in southern Argentina carried its own sense of excitement for all 50 boys at the camp Cohen ran. The campers set up Argentinean army tents, dug trenches around them, policed the area, and learned how to “rough it.” Cohen and several counselors from various missions organizations supervised.

Along with the usual fun and games, daily activities included Bible lessons, Scripture memorization, and lively gospel songs.

“I was beginning to like camp, but I knew that soon someone was going to confront me about my faith,” Palau says.

Each counselor had about 10 boys in his tent, and every night of camp, the counselor would take one boy for a walk and give him the opportunity to say yes or no to following Christ. After the second night, everyone knew his turn was coming, because the first two kids told the others what had happened.

“If you really didn’t want to receive Christ, they wouldn’t force you, of course,” Palau says. “This was a making-sure exercise. Many of these kids had already received Christ, and the counselors were helping solidify their decision and give them biblical assurance.

“Then there were the boys like me who had grown up in evangelistic churches and knew the whole story, yet had never accepted it for themselves.”

Decision Time
Palau’s appointment arrived the last night of camp. When his counselor, Frank Chandler, entered the tent late that night, Palau knew why. He pretended to be asleep, hoping Chandler would go away.

It didn’t work. Chandler shook the boy, and then picked up the cot and dumped him on the ground.

“Come on, Luis, get up.”

The counselor and his charge went outside and sat down on a fallen tree. It was cold, and a light rain began to fall. A thunderstorm was on the way.

Chandler knew he had to hurry. He pulled out his flashlight and opened his New Testament.

“Luis,” he said, “are you a born-again Christian or not?”

“I don’t think so.”

“Well, it’s not a matter of whether you think so or not. Are you or aren’t you?”

“No, I’m not.”

“If you died tonight,” Chandler said, “would you go to heaven or hell?”

Palau sat quietly for a moment, taken aback. “I’m going to hell.”

“Is that where you want to go?”

“No.”

“Then why are you going there?”

The boy shrugged. “I don’t know.”

Chandler opened his Bible and read, “If you confess with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is with the heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you confess and are saved” (Rom. 10:9–10).

“Luis, do you believe in your heart that God raised Jesus from the dead?”

“Yes, I do,” Palau said.

“Then what do you have to do next to be saved?”

The boy hesitated as it began to rain even harder. Chandler had Palau read Romans 10:9 again. “Luis, are you ready to confess Him as your Lord right now?”

“Yes.”

“All right, let’s pray.” Chandler put his arm around Palau and led him in a prayer.
Palau remembers, “I opened my heart to Christ right there, out in the rain, sitting on a log, in a hurry, but I made my decision.”

Passing It On
While his decision was made quickly, it was more meaningful than Palau could have imagined. Back in the tent and under his blanket with his flashlight, Palau wrote in his Bible, “February 12, 1947. I received Jesus Christ.”

“I could hardly sleep; I was so excited about committing my life to Christ,” Palau says. “After all, it’s the most important decision anyone can ever make.”

For more than half a century, Luis Palau has lived by that conviction—that every person’s eternal destiny depends on how he or she responds to Jesus Christ.

Palau has shared the Good News of Jesus Christ face-to-face with more than 20 million people in 70 countries—and with millions more through his books and radio programs. His “Great music and Good News” festivals have brought the gospel to more than 4.5 million people in the past five years.

Whether Palau is speaking to tens of thousands at one of his festivals or one-on-one with an inquisitive seeker, his approach is the same one he heard first at summer camp: the bold and simple challenge to trust and follow Christ.

Craig serves as communications director for the Luis Palau Association. He and his wife, Kathy, are based in Portland, Oregon, but spend most of the year in cities where Luis Palau Festivals are presented.

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