Palau had a long and close relationship with evangelist Billy Graham, and has been characterized by many as Graham's successor. "One of the world’s leading evangelical Christian figures," he is known for his strong appeal to young people, and for his efforts to reach out to secular leaders to address issues like homelessness.
In 2007, he was estimated to have shared the message of Jesus Christ with 25 million people in 70 nations. Palau's ministry employs 70 people in their headquarters in Beaverton, Oregon and another 25 around the world which include offices in Buenos Aires, Argentina and London, England.
Luis Palau, Jr. was born November 27, 1934 in Maschwitz, Buenos Aires, Argentina. He has five younger sisters and one stepbrother. His father, a construction executive, died when Palau was 10. Within a matter of years after his father's death, due to poor financial management by relatives, Palau, his siblings, and his widow mother were left nearly destitute. Palau was forced to leave his education at a British-run boarding school and began working as the sole-provider for the family at a bank in Córdoba, Argentina.
Palau says that he was born again at the age of 12, devoting his life to Christ.
Palau first heard Billy Graham on a radio broadcast from Portland, Oregon while still living in Argentina in 1950, and drew inspiration from him. He later worked for Graham as a Spanish translator and as an evangelist. In 1970, Graham contributed the seed money for Palau to start his own ministry, which he modeled after Graham's.
Since then, Palau has held many large-scale evangelistic festivals and gatherings around the world.
Palau arrived in Portland in 1960 to attend a graduate program at Multnomah Bible College, from which he graduated in 1961. His travel and tuition was paid by U.S. benefactors. There he met his wife, Pat, a Beaverton kindergarten teacher, who was a fellow student. He became a U.S. citizen in 1962.
Palau presently resides in Cedar Mill, Oregon. His ministry, the Luis Palau Evangelical Association, is based in nearby Beaverton. Three of his four sons work for his ministry.
In 1999, a writeup in a Portland weekly newspapers noted that Palau had assembled an 80,000 member audience in "the nation's least-churched major city." It also noted the contrast with the previous large revival, led by an aging Graham, which drew larger numbers but not as many young people as Palau's. Media coverage of Palau's event mentioned Palau as a potential successor to Graham. The annual budget of his ministry was estimated that year at $6 million.
As of 2003, he hosted three daily radio programs: an English show carried by 900 stations in 23 countries, and two Spanish programs carried by 880 stations in 25 countries. In that year he was noted for being "at the forefront of efforts to make evangelism more active, contemporary and accessible to a younger audience," and his ministry's annual budget was estimated at $11 million.
In August 2003, Palau mobilized several thousand volunteers from numerous churches to "spruce up" local public schools.
In November 2005, Palau visited China, wrapping up a week-long visit by attending a Beijing church service along with U.S. President George W. Bush. He launched a book venture after holding a conversation with a former government Chinese official during his trip to Beijing; Palau launched a book venture based on the transcribed work. The book, now published by Zondervan is entitled A Friendly Dialogue Between An Atheist and a Christian.
Palau makes a point of staying out of politics, refusing to endorse ballot measures or candidates. Recently he has partnered with secular leaders as well. Portland Mayor Vera Katz did not attend his first big Portland event in 1999, but her successor, Tom Potter, who is not a churchgoer, approached Palau at a 2005 Portland appearance by First Lady Laura Bush. Potter asked for Palau's assistance in getting other evangelical leaders to address Portland's homelessness problems.
Palau got in touch with fellow evangelicals, and cooperated with Portland Commissioner Erik Sten, Potter, Beaverton Mayor Rob Drake, and Gresham Mayor Shane Bemis in 2008 in planning his August 22–23 festival, which will focus on volunteerism in support of the homeless. Palau's last Portland event drew about 140,000 people over two days. Palau addressed 500 Christian pastors in March 2008, joined by Portland City Commissioner Sam Adams, in the buildup to the August event. He calls the effort the "Season of Service."
In 2015, Palau hosted CityFest, an evangelistic event in New York City that drew 60,000 people to Central Park. This was a year-long effort that involved over 1,700 churches.
Palau has written numerous books including:Where Is God When Bad Things Happen?
Calling America and the Nations to Christ
God is Relevant
High Definition Life
A Friendly Dialogue between an Atheist and a Christian ISBN 978-0-310-28533-5