BEAVERTON, OR – Mention "the lost" or "un-reached" to evangelist Luis Palau, and his eyes immediately light up.
Not even a fatal diagnosis can dim the glow.
It's a visible expression of his passion for people to discover the love of Jesus, which has been his life mission over the last five decades.
Palau's battle with stage 4 lung cancer adds a final chapter to a remarkable life story – rising out of poverty to influence presidents and popes while reaching one billion people with the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Palau offered the benediction at the official prayer service for President Bill Clinton's second inauguration in 1997. He also prayed regularly with fellow Argentine Fr. Jorge Mario Bergoglio before he became Pope Francis. He called the pontiff a real friend of evangelical Christians when Bergoglio was elected pope in 2013.
What began as a suspected lingering cold eventually forced Palau to go to the hospital. After running medical tests, doctors delivered unexpected news.
"He said, 'It's incurable,"' Palau recounted. An oncologist confirmed that he only had anywhere between nine to twelve months to live if he underwent chemotherapy. If he chose not to, the prognosis was four months.
After it was confirmed, Palau broke the news on Twitter in January 2018 with his two sons who help lead his ministry, Andrew and Kevin.
More than two years after undergoing the treatment, the evangelist has defied the odds. He turned 85 in November, a milestone neither he nor his doctors expected him to make. And according to his last public update, his cancer treatment appears to be working.
"One of the tumors actually shrank slightly!" he wrote. "I'm actually feeling quite well. And the cancer seems to be kept at bay with the current protocol."
Setting His Own Agenda
At the world headquarters of the Luis Palau Association near Portland, Palau told CBN News that he's spending what time he has left with his family.
He also authorized a biopic about his life, "Palau the Movie," in April 2019.
A couple of months later, he published a spiritual memoir called Palau: A Life on Fire. It serves as an homage to the people who poured into his spiritual wellbeing, including his parents; his wife, Pat; his sons; and his friend and mentor, Billy Graham.
"I've always honored them publicly," he explained. "But to do it in writing so that other believers will say, 'God could use me in the life of a young fellow or young girl who feels called to evangelize.' I could be a blessing to this person."
A Global Mission Field
As an international evangelist, Palau's preaching engagements have taken him across the globe – from London to the United Kingdom, China, Vietnam, the former Soviet Union, and even back to his birthplace in Buenos Aires, Argentina.
Whether on the world stage or his adopted hometown of Portland, Palau employed mass rallies to draw tens of thousands to his evangelistic events. His largest single-day gathering was in Guatemala City in 1982, where 700,000 people came to hear him speak.
He preached at what was billed his last evangelistic event in Madrid in June 2019.
"It's a huge blessing to Spain that he was able to go," said Kevin Palau, his son and president and chief executive officer of the Luis Palau Association. "But I know for him personally and for us to see him doing what he enjoys the most was incredibly life-giving."
Luis credits the missionaries who traveled to Argentina for lighting his heart on fire to serve God and "reach the lost."
Now, after 50 years of proclaiming the gospel in 75 countries to an estimated one billion people, he has few regrets.
A Lasting Legacy
"The only sad thing is leaving my wife and my kids and the team and a few of my best friends," he explained. "But really, I'm ready to go. I have the peace of the Lord."
He also told CBN News that he thinks it's time to step aside and allow his sons to take up the ministry mantle "without relinquishing love and caring for my sons."
"You got to make room for the next generation to freely minister – freely do," Palau reflected as he was preparing to celebrate his 85th birthday.
"Although you think, 'Ok, we've transitioned.' Kevin is the president [and] Andrew is the better-known evangelist. But are you still in the way? And I've come to realize I am somewhat in the way," he continued.
The same sparkle seen in Palau's eyes when he discussed evangelism returned each time he talked about his children, including his two other sons Keith and Stephen.
"I used to say when people would ask me years ago, I'd say, 'I hope my boys will put on my burial tomb: My father wasn't perfect, but he sure loved Jesus Christ.'"
Andrew, who has followed in the footsteps of his father as an evangelist, believes Palau's legacy is the same for the world as it is with his own family.
"He had a feeling something wasn't right and took advantage of that moment to gather all of the grandkids," he recalled prior to receiving the lung cancer diagnosis. "In light of that, [he] gave the Gospel to the grandkids in such a direct and clear way."
"It was very moving," Andrew continued. "We were so grateful that the children will always remember their grandfather in this way."
A Bright Tomorrow
Cancer treatment is rigorous and often draining. Still, Luis said he sees a bright future for the church and the ministry he built.
"I love what I see in the new generation of [Christian] leadership in America, Latin America, Europe, even," he told CBN News. "But the reason why I'm excited about the team and these fellows is first that they're Godly. My boys are men, middle-aged men, and they walk with God."
"They live for Christ. They live for the lost. So, that's what gives me hope and excitement about the team and the association," he added. "Generation after generation proclaiming the Good News."