Beachfest: Evangelist Palau mixes evangelism & patriotism
FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. (BP)--Dwarfed by a gigantic United States flag unfurled on a stadium-sized open-air stage at Fort Lauderdale beach, international evangelist Luis Palau mixed patriotism with evangelism on the first of a two-day extravaganza March 22.
Beachfest, a Luis Palau festival touted as one of the largest-ever spring break events in South Florida, was sponsored, in part, by more than 200 Florida Baptist churches, the Miami Dolphins, national and local business leaders and more than a thousand other area churches.
In a display of patriotism on the first weekend since America entered into Operation Iraqi Freedom to disarm Iraqi leaders, Palau led approximately 140,000 gathered on the beach in a patriotic chant.
"USA, USA, USA," yelled Palau.
"USA, USA, USA," echoed men, women, children and teenagers up and down the legendary shores of Fort Lauderdale beach. Some sat on blankets and on lawn chairs, others, clad in bathing suits and shorts, waded and splashed just left of the stage in the warm waves of the Atlantic Ocean. Still thousands more crowded around huge JumboTrons and pushed in close to the stage to reach out to the 68-year-old Argentine-born Palau.
"We pray for our country, for our troops, for our president and for the innocents in Iraq," Palau said. "We pray that they will not get hurt because of the dictator over there."
Just before he prayed, Palau told listeners the Armed Forces Radio Network would be broadcasting the event, along with more than 1,000 other radio stations. He said there would be people listening all over the world -- including some in Iraq and Kuwait.
"Oh, God our Father, we thank you with all our hearts for the flag behind us which reminds us of the freedom we enjoy in this land," Palau prayed.
Palau thanked God for the "biblical principles" on which America was founded and prayed for America's leaders.
"From Florida, in this coastal town of the USA, we ask you, dear God, that you would guide the president of the United States, that you would guide the prime minister of Great Britain, the prime minister of Australia and the Spanish and all the other leaders -- that they will make wise decisions, that you will protect them from mistakes.
"God, we pray for the troops there in the Middle East. We know many of them are teenagers, just like the kids here at the beach today. ... And they are nervous and they are ready to fight. Oh, God our Father, protect our troops and bless them with a blessing from on high, and ,Lord, we pray that this war would be over quickly, that peace would come and justice would prevail, that your name would be honored and that Jesus will become the Lord of the Nation."
Palau ended the time of prayer by seeking intervention for the "innocent" of Iraq.
"They are innocent people, just like the thousands in America who have no interest in dictators. They want to build up their family, protect their little boys and girls and enjoy life. May freedom come tonight and may your name be lifted up," Palau prayed.
Earlier, in an interview with the Florida Baptist Witness, Palau said while the war and other times of tragedy can bring a greater urgency to the need for sharing the gospel, the fact is that 180,000 people die every day around the globe.
"I think it is a good time to soberly preach the Good News and openly appeal to people with the reality of death and eternity," Palau said. "It's a good thing to remind people that life is wonderful with Christ in the midst of all the trouble."
On the other hand, the reality is that most people die of old age or disease, Palau said.
"I don't play on emotion. I don't play on fears. There's no need for that," he said. "One of these days you are gone. Where are you going? I think [the question] is worth asking."
Joni B. Hannigan is managing editor of Florida Baptist Witness. Go to: www.FloridaBaptistWitness.com. (BP) photo posted in the BP Photo Library at http://www.bpnews.net. Photo title: USA, USA, USA.