R.G.'s Faith (Panel)

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Family & Faith

Robert Gilmour LeTourneau comes by his religious enthusiasm naturally as he grew up in a Christian home with roots in the Plymouth Brethren, a transplanted British sect that balanced cultural separatism with business acumen.  His paternal grandfather, a French Huguenot, was a one-time teacher in a mission in Quebec and his maternal grandfather was a Scotch theologian.  His father was an elder for the Brethren.  His mother Elizabeth had ambitions for the mission-field but decided to dedicate her time to raising her family to be strong in their Christian faith.  Two of Robert’s sisters served as missionaries to the Orient.  

Robert’s faith was not always certain as his mother Elizabeth and father Caleb were spiritually concerned about his strong-willed, dare-devil, and rebellious antics in his youth.  When he was 16 years old, he attended a revival with his family and listened to the call to follow Christ as he approached the altar to publicly acknowledge his decision.  He did not feel an immediate satisfaction, and when he got home later that evening, the young Robert feared he would perish in hell.  It was then that he cried out, “I will believe in God!  I cannot take the chance of going forward without Him!”  Elizabeth and Caleb’s prayer had been answered.  

Robert spent the next 16 years living as Christians do- attended church, tithed, and helped out with small responsibilities.  But his younger sister, Marie,  rebuked him for his “lukewarmness”.  He admitted that he should be witnessing trying to speak about his Savior and all the blessings he had received.  He was convicted to go to the altar again asking God to fill him with the Holy Spirit so that he could witness and do what He asked from that point forward.  This experience led him to seek advice from his pastor asking if he should be a missionary because he believed in getting the Gospel out to those who have never heard it.  They prayed about it, and his pastor said to him “You know God needs business men too.”  Robert lived out the rest of his life trying to fulfill that commission.  His motto was simple moving forward, “God is My Partner”.     


God’s Business Partner

Robert Gilmour LeTourneau devoted his life as an evangelical business man.  He liked to do two things:  “design machines, turn on the power, and see them work; the other was to help turn on the power of the Gospel and see it work in people’s lives.” Oftentimes he was asked if he had a favorite Bible verse in which he would respond, “Matthew 6:33-- ‘But seek ye first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added unto you’.”  He firmly believed this was a businessman’s verse as you can run your business with your heart in it if you put God first.   

Robert never considered himself a great public speaker, but the opportunity presented itself when he was asked to speak at a banquet for the Peoria Chamber of Commerce in Illinois in late 1935.  His signature remark,

“You may wonder what religion has to do with business, and I used to wonder about it myself.  Now I know that it was our forefather’s faith in God that made our country great...I believe we need to get back to that faith and when we do, God will lead us out of the depression we’ve been in.”   

challenged laymen to take their rightful place beside clergy to win men to Christ.  This launched his evangelist career transforming his corporate platform to a pulpit.  This redefined his career path as an evangelical businessman in three ways:  becoming a public speaker, institutionalizing conservative Protestantism in labor-management relations, and establishing a Foundation dedicated to Christian missions. 

He traveled more over a longer period of time and witnessed for his Lord in more places in the world than any man of his time totaling over 2,000,000 people. Robert declared, “All I have is a testimony of what God can do for a man, not what a man can do for himself”.  His sermons were inspirational lessons, funny stories, or bootstraps-and-Bible accounts of how to succeed in business.  Some of the titles included:  Mental Attitude, Right Religion, Conference with the Lord, and Run God’s Business.  He spoke 300 days out of the year and his schedule was booked two years in advance.  

Robert expanded his testimony by publicizing all of LeTourneau, Inc.’s good works in the company magazine, NOW.  It was a four page weekly newsletter mailed out to over 600,000 circling the world continuing the message “I am serving the Lord as my partner”.  The NOW chronicles all of his evangelistic traveling schedule and worker initiatives such as Bible studies led by the employees.

Robert had a sincere concern for all men everywhere, especially those working in his plants where he employed full-time chaplains and conducted regular chapel services.  He viewed this as the most important benefit he provided.    When asked about the connection between chapel, building machinery, and morale of the organization, Robert described “better morale” as a “by-product” of his goal “to get men to believe in Jesus Christ.” Chapel was held weekly for both the day shift and night shift employees where they listened to Robert or visiting evangelists preach and a quartet leading hymnals.  Attendance was voluntary.

Robert and his wife Evelyn were devoted to Christian missions.  They began the LeTourneau Foundation and established the practice of giving 90% of their profits to evangelical causes including Bible schools, Bible camps, an international conference center to name a few.  The prominent evangelist Billy Graham received an outpouring of support from the LeTourneau family over the years as a friendship developed when Billy worked as a camp counselor at Camp Bethany in Indiana.  Robert started two huge agricultural missionary stations in Liberia, West Africa and Peru, South America setting up sustainable communities.  His most significant outreach is the founding of LeTourneau University shaping Christian leaders in every workplace.  He was most proud of doing all this alongside his family, especially his children who all served in every mission endeavor.

Robert devoted his life of service to several Christian organizations as he served as President of the Christian Business Men’s Committee International and the International Gideon Society.  He served on the committee for the Laymen Evangelical Association and on the executive boards for Wheaton College, Gordon College, and John Brown University.  He was a member of the Chrisitan and Missionary Alliance Church.

Near the end of his life, Robert humbly admitted that he never dreamed that God would have used him in this way with a worldwide reach. 

“I am not a preacher.  I am just a mechanic whom the Lord has blessed!” 

 Panel - Faith