The Life and Ministry of Oral Roberts

We will discuss the life and ministry of Oral Roberts in three parts: 1) The Making of the Evangelist (1918 to 1947), 2) The Ministry of the Evangelist (1947 to the present), and 3) The Message of the Evangelist. When Dr. David Harrell, Jr., author of the definitive biography of Oral Roberts, interviewed administrators, faculty, staff, and others, he often asked the question, "What is the genius of Oral Roberts?" Since my training is in English literature, I said, "Oral Roberts is what literary people would call a poet." A poet. The romantic writer Shelley called the poets "the legislators of the world." As legislators of the world, they are the shapers of mankind. I think that Oral Roberts could be called a poet, a shaper of mankind, a legislator of the world. The poet senses the well-springs of human need: the thoughts, the emotions, and the feelings that well up from the people. He shapes these into a form and gives them expression. In other words, the poet senses a need--a feeling, a thought, an emotion--rising from among the people. He takes that concept, that little slice of life, and he puts it in a literary form and tries to give an expression of that idea to the world. Oral Roberts is such a person.

Oral Roberts has always been at the forefront of the move of the Holy Spirit because he is sensitive, through the Holy Spirit, to the heartbeat, the needs, and the cries of the people. He has given expression to those needs through teachings and institutions. In turn, the form that gives expression to those needs serves to help meet the needs and to answer the heartcries of the individuals. Oral Roberts, as a poet, has created many writings, concepts, and institutions that have changed the Christian Church.



Oral Roberts was born January 24, 1918. Three months before his birth his mother was called to pray for a neighbor's child who was seriously ill. As she was crossing the field, she stooped to climb through a fence. Sensing the presence of God in the stirring of the wind, she made a vow to God. She vowed that if God would heal the child and give her a baby boy, she would dedicate her son to Almighty God for the ministry. God healed the neighbor's child that night, and Mama Roberts made her vow good. When Oral Roberts was born, his mother dedicated him to God and prayed that God would call him into the ministry.

It is difficult for many of us to understand the plight of a Pentecostal preacher in Oklahoma in the 1930's, in the depression days. The depression was a difficult time for many people: a time of poverty with little work, no way of making any money, and bread lines everywhere. The Pentecostal message was not popular in those days. The Pentecostal people were ridiculed, their homes were stoned, their places of worship were bombed. Oral Roberts bore the brunt of much of this persecution and ridicule. Not only was he a Pentecostal preacher's son, but he was a stutterer and his name was "Oral." You can imagine what happened when he started to school. The teachers would ask his name or ask him to recite his lessons, and he would panic. He would run from the classroom with the laughter of the teacher and children ringing in his ears.

At the age of 15, after several years of struggling, he ran away from home. Probably all of the different pressures in which he grew up came together and he felt that if he were to fulfill his dream of being a lawyer and governor of Oklahoma, he would have to change his environment. As he prepared to leave home and told his mother and father goodbye, his father said that he would send the authorities after him. But Oral Roberts promised that he would only run away again. He hoped that somewhere, somehow he would be able to fulfill his dream.

In 1935, at the age of 17, Oral Roberts came home. He was carried into the house, his lungs hemorrhaging, by his basketball coach. He had contracted tuberculosis, a disease which had plagued the Indians in Oklahoma for many years. His grandfather and other relatives had died of tuberculosis. This was before the day of the wonder drugs, so there was not much hope of anyone getting well from tuberculosis. All that Roberts had to look forward to was being sent to the state sanitarium at Talahina, Oklahoma, to die. That was the future that awaited Oral Roberts as they brought him home from a basketball tournament, having collapsed on the floor of the gymnasium. He was put to bed, where he laid for many months, wasting away.



Then one day his sister Jewell came into his room and spoke seven life-changing words to him. She said, "Oral, God is going to heal you." He answered, "Is He Jewell?" He had never been converted; he knew very little about the healing power of God. Some time later his brother Elmer came into his room and told him that he was going to take him to a revival where a man was praying for the sick. On the way to the service in Ada, Oklahoma, as he lay on a mattress pad in the back seat of the car, Roberts heard God speaking in his heart, "Son, I am going to heal you, and you are to take the message of My healing power to your generation." A 17-year-old boy, dying of tuberculosis, heard the voice of God speaking in his heart that God was going to heal him and that he was going to take God's healing power to his generation. That night he was the last one to be prayed for. As the minister prayed for him, God healed Oral Roberts. He could breathe freely again. God, also, loosed his tongue and, for many minutes, he stood and exhorted the individuals about what Jesus of Nazareth had done for him.



Although it was almost a year before he regained his strength, from the time of his healing, he began to preach. That was in 1935. In 1936, while attending a camp meeting in Sulphur, Oklahoma, he took his place in the orchestra, looked over at the young lady on his right, and said, "Is my hair combed? Do I look all right?" She answered, "Oh, yes, you look very nice." Later that night Miss Evelyn wrote in her diary, "I sat by my future husband tonight." That is how their courtship began. He kept thinking that the Lord should provide him with a wife, and he kept hearing the name of Miss Evelyn. He began to write to her. One day he wrote to her and said something about her being a preacher's wife. She replied, "If you think that, you are fooled. I don't intend spending my life in a parsonage, raising a bunch of preacher's children." He wrote to her, "Who said anything about you and me getting married. Goodbye." However, after letters of apology, they continued their correspondence.

One day he took the money he had saved and bought a new, blue Chevrolet coupe. He put his mother in the front seat and drove to Texas. When they arrived at the school where Miss Evelyn was teaching, all of the children, of course, were excited because Miss Evelyn's "boy friend" had come to visit her. On the last day of his visit, he took her fishing, and, in his biography The Call he says, "The only thing we caught was each other." "On the way back from fishing," he writes, "I stopped my car on a sandbar to talk." He said, "Evelyn, my huge, happy, hilarious heart is throbbing tumultuously, tremendously, triumphantly, in a lasting, long-lived love for you. As I gaze into your beauteous, bounteous, beaming eyes, I am literally lost in a daring, delightful dream in which your fair, felicitous, fancy-filled face is ever present like a colossal, comprehensive constellation. Will you be my sweet, smiling, soulful, satisfied spouse?" To that Miss Evelyn replied, "Listen here, boy! If you're trying to propose to me, talk in the English language." So, he said, "I did it over again, and I was accepted. And we sealed it with a kiss" (p. 150). Evelyn continued to teach school, and he continued to hold evangelistic meetings. On Christmas Day, 1938, Oral and Evelyn were married.


The twelve years from 1935 to 1947 are the silent years. Oral Roberts seldom speaks of this part of his ministry, but they were part of the making of the evangelist. As he pastored churches, evangelized, taught in Bible school, and wrote books and articles, he was trying to fulfill the call of God upon his life.

In 1947, while pastoring in Enid, Oklahoma, and attending Phillips University, he became more and more miserable because he didn't seem to be having the miracles and the signs and the wonders that he felt God would have him to receive. One day in a sociology class, the Lord spoke in his heart and said, "Don't be like other men; be like Jesus." He arose from his seat, walked out of the class, and began to earnestly seek God concerning his ministry. God spoke to him again and told him to read through the Gospels and the Book of Acts three times on his knees. Night after night he would kneel by the little heater reading the New Testament. As he read the Gospels and the Book of Acts, he began to see Jesus Christ rise from the pages of the New Testament: a Christ who was a healing Christ. Also, he kept having the same dream night after night, a dream in which he heard the cries of suffering humanity crying for someone to come and to bring deliverance to them.



Finally, he felt that it was time to settle the question about a healing ministry. He rented an auditorium in Enid in which to hold a healing service. Then, he put a fleece before the Lord, asking God for three things: 1) he wanted over a thousand people to attend the service (he was preaching to around two hundred every Sunday, and so that number seemed to be an impossibility), 2) he wanted God to help him pay the rent on the building ($160 for a Sunday afternoon), and 3) he wanted God to give him a miracle--God would heal someone to validate the healing ministry. He announced the healing service, then got a job at a men's clothing store in case the fleece didn't prove true. If God did not confirm his call, he was going to leave the ministry and start selling clothes.

The day of the healing service, everyone stood around after the church service, waiting till time to go to the healing meeting. When he walked into the building, the custodian said, "Preacher, I hear you want at least one thousand people? Well, there are 1,200 seated in the auditorium." When they took up the offering for the rent for the building, they received $163.03. (Three dollars and three cents more than the expense of the building.) Two conditions were met. But what about the miracle? While Oral Roberts was preaching, he jumped off the platform, and, at that moment, a German lady who had a crippled hand was

healed. God had opened her hand. As a result of that miracle, seven men accepted the Lord Jesus Christ. That was the beginning of Oral Roberts' healing ministry.

This is the making of the Evangelist. In The Call he writes, "From poverty, to a runaway, to deathbed, and healing--it all combined to make me a preacher. Within two months of my healing I delivered my first sermon. It was a little sermon, but it was a start" (p. 35).



Later that year he came to Tulsa. Reverend Steve Pringle had a large tent on the north side of the city, and he invited Roberts to preach in the tent meeting. One night, as Roberts was ministering, a man standing across the street fired a bullet within a few inches of his head. As a result, he became a nationally known evangelist. The meeting continued several weeks, and God performed many healings. Oral Roberts decided he would move to Tulsa. In November 1947, he started publishing the Healing Waters magazine, and in 1948, he incorporated the Healing Waters organization. The first year, they mailed 25,000 letters, 30,000 prayer cloths, 15,000 books, and 90,000 copies of the Healing Waters.



In 1948, Roberts began his first crusade in Durham, North Carolina, in a tent seating 3000 people. When that tent was destroyed in 1950, by a storm in Amarillo, Texas, he purchased a new tent seating 7,500 people. In 1953, he purchased his last tent, seating 12,500 people. His last tent crusade was held in 1967.

Over the twenty years of tent crusades, thousands of people were saved, blessed, and healed. As we consider the ministry of Roberts across those years, we find that, from 1961 to 1970, he visited over 54 different countries.



He began his television ministry in 1954. In order to televise the services in the big tent, he introduced the "Blessing Pact Covenant." This was the forerunner of the Seed-Faith concept. He asked four hundred twenty people to enter a covenant of $100 a year to raise the finances for televising the tent crusades, in order to take his healing ministry into the living rooms of the homes in America. He offered people a money back guarantee. If God did not prosper and bless them, he would return their money. I understand that two people wrote for their money back. One of them only wanted to see if his money would really be

returned. In 1955, the first tent crusade was televised, and, from 1955 to May of 1967, the ministry was on television. In 1967, Roberts took his ministry off television. Then, in 1969, he began to televise the prime time specials with Mahalia Jackson as his first guest star. Oral Roberts ushered in a new age of Christian television ministry.



In 1961, the land for the University was purchased--a miracle story within itself. In 1962, Roberts broke ground for the school, and in 1963, he held the first International Ministerial Seminar in the chapel in the north end of Timko-Barton building. In 1965, the school opened with three hundred students, and in 1967, the University was dedicated by Billy Graham.

In 1971, ORU received accreditation from North Central Association. Only one other school had received accreditation from North Central for its programs in such a short time.

In 1975, Oral Roberts announced the plans for the graduate and professional schools, and in 1978, all of the graduate and professional schools were open. In 1982, students were graduated from all of the schools of the University: undergraduate, graduate, and professional.

This is a brief overview of the ministry of Oral Roberts, and a sketch of Oral Roberts University from the day the land was purchased until the present when the University is accredited by the North Central Association, the Association of Theological Schools, and National Association of Schools of Music and has graduated over ten thousand students. ORU is a miracle. You live in the midst of a miracle.

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