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After fighting a battle with lung cancer for three years, the Beaverton-based Palau died at his home Thursday morning

PMG PHOTO: JONATHAN HOUSE - In 2019, Luis Palau spoke to a crowd at the Downtown Bible Class at the Portland Art Museum shortly after his 85th birthday. The international evangelist is now in hospice care following a three-year battle with lung cancer.
Luis Palau was known as a straightforward international evangelist who often delivered his straight-forward message with self-deprecating humor.

He once worked as a Spanish translator for Billy Graham, called Pope Francis a personal friend and drew tens of thousands of attendees to Waterfront Park two decades ago.

On Thursday morning, Palau, 86, passed away at his home surrounded by his family following a three-year battle with lung cancer, his son Andrew posted on Facebook today.

"We are heartbroken, yet full of hope and faith," Andrew Palau wrote. "We serve a good God who loves us tremendously. And Dad gave his life to share that Good News with the world."

He encouraged those wishing to share memories of his father to visit

Andrew Palau had previously posted that doctors thought they had stabilized his father but the elder Palau took a turn for the worse and returned to the hospital on Feb. 19.

"After meeting with doctors, the decision was made to stop all treatment and start on hospice care," he wrote.

Born in Argentina on Nov. 27, 1934, Palau attended Multnomah Bible College and had been a Beaverton-area resident since the early 1960s. (He lived in Cedar Mill for an extended period of time but later moved to the Bethany area.) The Luis Palau Association is headquartered in Beaverton.

A 2015 article in the New York Times referred to Palau as a "Hispanic Billy Graham" in the same year he drew 60,000 people to Central Park. But Palau drew large crowds locally as well, with 80,000 having gathered in Waterfront Park in 1999 to listen to his message, according to a Willamette Week article at the time.

After being diagnosed with stage-four lung cancer in January 2018, Palau was told he might not make it through the end of the year. However, he rallied — crediting prayer, chemotherapy and his response to immunotherapy for adding extra days to his life — and appeared at a men's evangelization night at Beaverton's Southwest Bible Church later that year.

It was the evening of his 84th birthday, and Palau preached to the 500 in attendance about temptations faced by men, urging them to follow Jesus, all in a down-to-earth style.

On Thursday, Scott Gilchrist, the senior pastor at Beaverton's Southwest Bible Church, sent a message out to members of the church.

"I just learned that our dear friend, Luis Palau, went home to be with his beloved Lord Jesus Christ earlier this morning," wrote Gilchrist. "We will miss him but look forward to that day when we will be re-united around the throne of Jesus. Please join with me in praying for his wife Pat and the whole Palau family."

In 2019, Palau spoke at the Downtown Bible Class at the Portland Art Museum shortly after his 85th birthday.PMG FILE PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - Luis Palau drew large crowds to his evangelical gatherings with 80,000 having gathered in Waterfront Park in 1999 to listen to his message.

There, he told the crowd, "Somebody said to me this summer, 'You said you were going to be gone next Christmas. You lied to us,'" Palau recalled at the time. "I said to him ... I've got the ticket, it's paid for, but I just don't know the terminal, the gate or the departure date. That's all."

At that same event, Palau watched a video with birthday wishes sent by such luminaries as Franklin Graham, president of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, as well as Christian pop music artists Amy Grant and Michael W. Smith. PMG FILE PHOTO: JONATHAN HOUSE - Scott Gilchrist, left, senior pastor at Southwest Bible Church, shares a laugh with Luis Palua during a gathering in 2019 where he talked in front of the Downtown Bible Class at the Portland Art Museum.

A movie about Palau's life was released in 500 theaters worldwide in April 2019. Gaston Pauls, a well-known Argentine actor, plays Palau in the title role. Darren Dowler, once a lead vocalist for the 1960s band Paul Revere and the Raiders, played Billy Graham in the movie.

In 2013, Palau told Christianity Today that he considered Pope Francis a personal friend and spoke about how glad he was to see a fellow Argentinian elected as pope.

"It was exciting because of Argentina, because of his personality, and because of his openness toward evangelical Christians," Palau told the magazine shortly after Pope Francis' selection as pontiff. "I got kind of emotional, simply having known him."

In 2005, Palau traveled to China, where he met then-President George W. Bush, who happened to be there at the same time. The president would later attend an event in that country that the Palaus were presenting.

As late as 2018, Palau said that he would like to return to China someday.

"My dream come true is to be in Tiananmen Square in Beijing," Palau said at the time. "If that opened up, it would be my dream fulfilled, I think."

He added: "Maybe the Lord is keeping me alive for that."

Cornelius City Manager Rob Drake, who previously served as mayor of Beaverton mayor for 16 years, said he attended Beaverton Foursquare for many years where Palau was a was a good friend of the long-time pastor at that church, Ron Mehl.

"Pastor Mehl and I became friends and he introduced me to Luis prior to taking office as Mayor in 1993," Drake wrote in an email. Drake said Palau would occasionally provide a sermon for his church and Drake would go hear Palau at other churches as well.

"He was a very approachable and genuine evangelist and could tell a really good story in simple ways," recalled Drake. "He was a truly fantastic communicator and his slight accent always made his stories more exciting!  For his worldly exposure, he was a very humble man."

Drake added, "You always felt you were in the presence of someone special when Luis spoke."

In a March 1 Facebook, Andrew Palau posted that his father was in good spirits and not in pain.

"We know this is probably hard for you to hear," he wrote. "Please know that the entire family is so thankful for your encouragement, prayers and friendship."PMG FILE PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - Luis Palau spoke to a mens night of evangelization in Nov. 2018 at Southwest Bible Church. That night (which was also his birthday), he spoke about his stage-4 lung cancer having stabilized.

At the end of that post, Andrew Palau added: "The Lord knows his actual time, and Dad keeps reminding us in these last few days, 'As for God, His way is perfect.'"

The Palau family posted that although its too early to announce a memorial service, a small, private service will be streamed online in the future.

This story has been updated to include comments from those who knew Luis Palau.

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