Fresno holds a special place in the heart of renowned evangelist Luis Palau: His first visit to the city in 1962 was to receive training from crusading megastar preacher, the Rev. Billy Graham.
“We learned everything we know about reaching big cities with the good news of Jesus here in Fresno, California, so I have a great affection for this place,” Palau said after a Thursday news conference at the Save Mart Center. “Besides, my wife got pregnant with our twin boys – our first children – right here in Fresno, so even our boys are ‘Fresno-ites.’ It’s been a terrific life, and I owe it so much to Fresno.”
They say ‘Minnesota nice’ – I say Fresno is super nice, and I really mean it. … Fresno is a friendly town, people are so decent, they get along well, and I think it has a great future.
Evangelist Luis Palau
Palau now travels the world sharing the the Gospel and uniting communities through citywide community service campaigns led by churches and faith-based groups. His latest efforts have focused on Fresno in partnership with more than 225 churches and organizations in the central San Joaquin Valley.
The Luis Palau Association’s work in Fresno culminates this weekend with the free Fresno CityFest festival at the Save Mart Center that will feature Grammy-award-winning musicians and a number of family friendly sports activities, games and speakers. The full schedule is available online at fresnocityfest.org.
It’s a true honor to celebrate the spiritual heart of this city.
Fresno Mayor Lee Brand
Last weekend, the Palau association also held a Spanish festival in Reedley, and 17 “mini festivals” at a handful of Valley prisons.
During the news conference, Palau, a native of Argentina, called himself a minority in offering encouragement to other minority groups, including Fresno’s large Latino and Hmong populations. Palau said he used to think his Latin American accent would keep him from great success in the U.S., but found that hasn’t been the case. He said minorities have become the majority in most U.S. cities he’s visited, and that faith can help people rise out of poverty.
“If people follow Jesus’ principles, then there’s success in the future,” he said.
In teaming with a city, the Palau association creates a “City Serve” model, but this wasn’t necessary in Fresno’s case, said Artie Padilla, executive director of Every Neighborhood Partnership. The Palau association “tag teamed” with existing groups already coordinating this work, Padilla said, which culminated this week with the annual Serve Fresno campaign.
Padilla shared some big City Serve numbers since the Fresno campaign launched in November, including: Around 600 community projects completed, 75,000 hours of volunteer service, 800,000 pounds of food distributed, 12,000 children volunteers, 400 trees planted, 16,000 sack lunches, 14,000 hot meals served, 4,500 bags of trash collected, and 900 acres of parks, schools and playgrounds cleaned.
The Rev. Dale Oquist of Peoples Church, chairman of Fresno CityFest’s pastoral committee, is looking forward to seeing the good work grow through partnerships that have formed over the past year, leading up to Fresno CityFest.
Whenever we work together, things happen that can’t otherwise happen. It’s that synergy.
The Rev. Dale Oquist of Peoples Church
“We have a lot of connections but not a lot of unity,” Oquist said. “This brings unity to it, so it’s really encouraging to me.”
Palau encouraged people of faith to play a greater role in stopping hate: “We need reconciliation in the country and it’s got to start somewhere, so why not in Fresno, California?”
Fresno Mayor Lee Brand called his town a city of heart and faith.
“So many good things happen when people get together, when people collaborate,” Brand said. “The power of collaboration is absolutely amazing in what it can do to transform our city.”
- Free festival Saturday and Sunday at the Save Mart Center, 2650 E. Shaw Ave., Fresno
- Festival activities, including sports clinics led by professional athletes and BMX and FMX demonstrations, 2-5 p.m.
- Musical performances start at 5:30 p.m. and include Lecrae, For King and Country, Marisol Park, Lincoln Brewster and Soulfire Revolution
- Full schedule at fresnocityfest.org – more information on Facebook at /Fresno CityFest and Instagram @fresno_cityfest