Talking in front of the Downtown Bible Class at the Portland Art Museum Wednesday, the Rev. Luis Palau said he was surprised as anyone to be celebrating his 85th birthday. That's because doctors said with stage four lung cancer diagnosis, doctors weren't sure he'd make it until the end of 2018.
But with the year ending, the international evangelist seemed as vibrant and passionate as ever as he blew out candles on his cake, preached about what it takes to live a joyful Christian life and the problems St. Paul encountered when speaking to the Corinthians.
"Somebody said to me this summer, 'You said you were going to be gone next Christmas. You lied to us,'" Palau recounted in his self-deprecating sense of humor, noting he hadn't planned it that way. "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."
With that, Palau explained that his oncologist recently told him his tumor had not expanded for the last three months.
"So you have a long time to go," he said his oncologist told him.
Palau, a former Cedar Mill resident who now lives in the Bethany area said he's talking to more individuals than ever before, many of them wishing him well as he battles cancer, others reminding him that they still recall a specific festival he preached at years before.
When Palau was finished, the audience was shown recorded Happy Birthday video greetings from such Christian luminaries as Franklin Graham, the son of the late evangelist Billy Graham, along with Christian and pop music artists Amy Grant and Michael W. Smith.
During a brief interview afterwards, Palau said he was happy to know he'll be around for a while longer and feels "very good." Good enough to have recently accompanied his son Andrew to Madrid, Spain, in June for a week-long festival.
"It was amazing, enormous" said Palau, who was once dubbed by the New York Times as the "Hispanic Billy Graham." "We got key permission to go into the places, a place called the 'Times Square' of Madrid. We were right there. Thousands of tourists. Thousands of Spaniards. And then we had the evening meetings. Andrew spoke. I spoke."
Palau said to prepare for the trip he asked his doctors if he could go off chemotherapy for two months to feel normal. He joked that although his doctor told him "you're on your own" once he stopped chemotherapy to travel to Spain. However, he thinks holding back on the medical treatment temporarily helped him and he was extremely pleased with the crowds attending the festivals.
"It was glorious," he said. "The weather was perfect. Thousands of kids. Thousands of adults."
He said if his current health status continues, he wants to travel to his homeland of Argentina in a year to join his son Andrew Palau in preaching there.
"If the Lord keeps me in this kind of health, why not? The flight is the worst thing."
Meanwhile Andrew Palau will soon leave for China to spend 10 days to hold special Christmas outreach events.
In 2005, both Palaus traveled to the country of almost 1.5 billion residents where they happened upon then-President George W. Bush who was also there at the same time. The former president later attended an event presented by the Palaus.
Now said he has a huge wish he'd still like to accomplish in a country he's always had a special affection for.
"My dream come true is to be in Tiananmen Square in Beijing," said Palau. "We keep working on it behind the scenes. If that opened up, it would be my dream fulfilled, I think."
He added: "Maybe the Lord is keeping me alive just for that."
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