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ARGENTINE NATIVE MAY BECOME NEXT BILLY GRAHAM OF EVANGELISM

The photograph is from Fresno, Calif., taken in 1962, the same year that Luis Palau became a U.S. citizen.

It is a fuzzy black-and-white shot, taken as Palau stood on the side of a platform as Billy Graham preached to the masses. Palau, then a young missionary, was translating Graham's words into Spanish. The moment may not stick out in Graham's mind - but Palau has hung on to the photograph all these years."I kept it like a sacred relic," says Palau, now 61.

He also remembers what he told Graham that night: "I said, `I want to be an evangelist like you.' "

Now Graham, 76, is suffering from Parkinson's disease, and his recent collapse in Toronto has heightened speculation about who might succeed him as the leading evangelist in the United States - and perhaps the world.

Some say Palau could be that person. Already well-known in Latin America, Palau has fashioned his ministry after Graham's. Those who know him use many of the same words used to describe him - decent, honest, diplomatic.

Unlike Graham, Palau is fluent in English and Spanish. And many who know the evangelism scene say that makes him a natural to unify an increasingly diverse United States.

A native of Argentina, Palau came to Oregon in 1960 to study at the Multnomah School of the Bible in Portland, now the Multnomah Biblical Seminary.

Over the years, Palau has become Graham's peer and friend. Graham even gave him money to help him start the Luis Palau Evangelistic Association in 1978.

With Graham's health deteriorating, Palau said, "I've got to really accelerate now."

Palau's ministry is still the David compared with Graham's Goliath operation, based in Minneapolis. Palau, for example, has an annual budget of $4 million - less than 5 percent of Graham's budget.

Palau has, however, recently moved his 60 employees into a $1.3 million complex in Beaverton, a Portland suburb. And he even went as far as to ask Graham's blessing when he made his decision to shift his focus from Latin America and other countries to the United States - in particular, America's largest cities.

"He told me I didn't need his blessing, but he gave it to me anyway," Palau said. "America is, so to speak, his back yard."

Still - while Palau is flattered by comparisons to Graham - he said he learned long ago that he's "no Billy Graham."

As a young man, Palau said he even had tried to copy Graham's mannerisms, but he gave up on that.

"Nobody can ever be like him, nor should they try," he said. "I want to be myself."

The sheer magnitude of Graham's worldwide network - created by five decades of footwork - would be difficult to match. Graham's global ministries, including a recent broadcast from Puerto Rico, have shown the capacity to reach billions of people worldwide.

Evangelists who travel from city to city also have to contend with a new breed of religious leaders, such as James Dobson and Pat Robertson, who have made their names almost exclusively via electronic media.

Palau's radio programs long have been distributed worldwide in English and Spanish and are now broadcast on 200 U.S. radio stations. He also often purchases television time in cities where he plans stadium crusades, airing a live call-in program called "Night Talk with Luis Palau."

But he and his staff agree that increased electronic exposure is key.

The new building in Beaverton includes a television studio, in addition to radio rooms. Palau's eyes sparkle when he talks about dreams of becoming a Christian-based alternative to "Geraldo" and "Oprah."

"I want to go nose to nose with the talk shows," he said.

The difficulty with television is that, compared with radio, air time is extremely expensive.

And, unlike just about every other televangelist, Palau has resisted asking for money - to the point that his staff calls it a hang-up.

"I hate asking for money on television and even on radio," Palau said, adding that he would rather approach wealthy donors in private.

Palau also jokingly refers to himself as an old man with big ambitions - hoping for crusades in most major U.S. cities before he turns 70 in nine years.

A self-proclaimed light sleeper who usually rests for only five or six hours each night, Palau believes he's been called to the challenge.

"And if you're born restless," he said, "I think you get more done."