Oral Roberts- His Life and Ministry
January 24th, 1918- December 15th, 2009
“My failures are ever before me. They do a better job of keeping Oral Roberts humble than any self-appointed critic might.”1 “In the past twenty-five years, the name Oral Roberts has symbolized different things to different people. Some have praised me to the sky, and others who have ridiculed me. But once a person was exposed to my ministry, he seldom remained indifferent. However, too many times reactions have been extreme both ways.”2
Roberts truly was a man known by all in the late twentieth century and either loved or hated. He was a nobody from Oklahoma who would become a history maker he was a man who believed in the power of God and that miracles were for today. He would be a leader in the healing revival and would start a university that has raised a leader to continue to carry the flame around the world.
Oral Robert’s story started in the winter of 1917 when his mother, a half-Cherokee woman, the wife of a pastor, was invited to pray for a neighbor. Claudius was seven months pregnant and believed that Jesus was the healer. She crossed the fields to reach the neighbor in need. At one point, she had to make her way through barbwire to reach the neighbor’s boy in time. She was heavy with child at the time but still managed to crawl through the wire fence. It was there on a stormy night that Claudius made a vow to the Lord that if He healed the neighbor’s child, she would dedicate her unborn son to serve the Lord.3
Claudius arrived at the neighbors house and began to pray over the boy. She began to feel the power of the Holy Spirit, and instantly the child was healed. She knew that God had anointed and called her unborn child.
His mother then prayed that the Lord would make her son tall and robust and that he would show the features of his Indian heritage.4 Little did his mother realize the destiny God had for her son and the impact he would have on the world for Christ.
Granville Oral Roberts was born on January 24th, 1918, in a rustic log farmhouse in Pontotoc County, Oklahoma. Oral was the fourth child of Ellis and Claudius Roberts. Both his parents were early Pentecostals and his father, a Pentecostal Holiness preacher. His mother was, as Roberts Liardon stated: “an old-time Pentecostal woman, full of the Holy Spirit and the anointing of God- with faith to believe the impossible.”5 oral would inherit from his mother her dramatic personality, perseverance, and ability to hold the attention of a crowd.
The Roberts family was impoverished and often, meals were forgone for fasting. Oral would demonstrate through this time the strength he would need later in life. One issue he did struggle with was stuttering. Oral would stammer so bad he would end up in tears and would be criticized without mercy. His mother and father stood confident that one day Oral would preach the Gospel. Despite the attacks of his classmates, Oral was influenced by his parents who were standing in the promises of God, which became his hope. His mother told him how one day he would preach to large crowds. “These prophecies and words of faith eventually led to Oral Roberts complete healing from a stuttering tongue.”6
Running from the call
Life as a Pentecostal preacher son was not easy back then, and the poverty at home and stuttering made life extremely difficult for Oral. He found that he naturally excelled at sports, and soon sports became the most crucial thing in his life. Through them, he found the acceptance he longed for in his life. When his basketball coach got invited to coach at a school fifty miles away, he invited Oral to join him. To Oral, he had found a way out of the poverty and despite the pleas of his parents, he was committed to leaving. His mother told him, “ Oral, you will never be able to go beyond our prayers. Each day we will pray and ask God to send you home.”7
Oral left Ada and found lodgings in a judge’s home where he was also given access to the judge’s law books. Oral had dreamed of becoming a lawyer one day so everything seemed perfect. Oral also became a handyman in the judge’s house to support himself.
As a grade-A student, Oral became the class president and soon started pushing himself as hard as he could, but he started having pain in his chest and then deep sweats at night. During his basketball games, he felt his lungs were about to burst and afterward would cough up blood.
During the Oklahoma Seven tournament, Oral was dribbling the ball down the court when suddenly everything became blurry. Oral collapsed and started spurting blood from his mouth. He was picked up, and his coach told him they were taking him back home, Oral was heading back to the world he had fled.
When he was home, they put him to bed, and the doctor called. The doctors confirmed he had tuberculosis. Oral know they couldn’t cure tuberculosis at that time, and he was going to die. His mother stood that the Lord would heal him. When he initially was put in bed, Oral weighed over 160 lbs, but after 163 days in bed, he was down to 120 lbs.
His parents asked Oral to pray with them and receive Jesus, but he refused. He was visited by the pastor of the Methodist church he joined even though his father was a Pentecostal pastor. The Methodist story told Oral to be patient; something Oral struggled with in his life.
Finally, one day his sister came from seventeen miles away to visit him; she looked at him and told him, “Oral, God is going to heal you.” Something happens to Oral. It was as if a light turned on inside of him; those simple seven words reached Oral, and he realized the Lord cared for him. Then his brother Elmer came and told Oral how he was at a tent meeting and saw someone get healed. He told him, “Oral, get up. God is going to heal you.”8
Elmer told Oral he was taking him to the tent meeting. When his parents came in, Elmer told them where he was taking Oral, and they decided to help. Oral heard the Lord speak to his heart, “Son, I am going to heal you, and you are to take the message of my healing power to your generation.”9
At the meeting, the minister laid his hands on Oral’s head and prayed a short prayer, “Thou foul disease! I command you in the name of Jesus Christ to come out of this boy’s lungs! Lose him and let him go!” 10
Roberts was healed, and he knew it. He started shouting that he was healed. The minister then asked him to tell the people what the Lord had done. Oral spoke as if he had preached for years. His tongue was loosed, and his lungs were clear. He no longer coughed and had blood come up.
His parents took Oral to a doctor to have him checked out. His lungs were fluoroscoped and a Dr. Merry found Oral totally healed,
A New Man
The next day after Oral was healed, his father came into Oral’s room and told him he was going to kneel with him and not stop praying until he gave his life to the Lord. He prayed for several hours until suddenly, his face began to glow. As he watched, Oral began to see the face of Jesus on his father’s face.
“There, just as clear as anything, I saw the face of Jesus in Papa’s face. Now, I had never wanted to be saved before… But when I saw His face in Papa’s countenance, I began to cry… My heart was broken into a thousand pieces, and pretty soonI was asking God to save my soul.”11
Oral felt the presence of God, and the days of running from the call were over.
Oral now was running towards God. He began preaching in revival meetings at every opportunity. But Oral still had not received the baptism in the Holy Spirit. In 1936, the East Oklahoma Pentecostal camp meeting was being held in Sulphur, Oklahoma. Oral was to be licensed and ordained during one of the final meetings, but Oral wanted the baptism in the Holy Spirit even more. So Oral began praying for the baptism.
During one of the evening meetings, Oral could wait no longer. He began to pray to God longing for it, and as the worship team began singing, Oral opened his mouth to sing as well when suddenly he was filled with the Holy Spirit. He immediately began speaking with other tongues and was now empowered by the Holy Spirit to fulfill the ministry that he had been anointed for earlier.
After the baptism, Oral’s intensity increased, and his hunger for the Lord increased as well. At the camp meetings, he would play his guitar as part of the young people’s praise band. One night after climbing the stairs, he sat down beside a young lady who also played the guitar. The lady was Evelyn Lutman Fahnestock. She would write in her diary afterward that she had just met her future husband. She was a teacher and simply trusted the Lord and continued teaching.
Oral continued preaching, sometimes with and sometimes without his dad. While he was excited to preach for the Lord, the life of an itinerant preacher was very lonely. He knew it was time to find a wife, one willing to pay the price of his call.
A wife for Oral
Friends started to tell Oral about Evelyn, and so he began to inquire about her. He discovered that they had met two years earlier at the Sulfur Camp-meeting, Oral could not remember what she looked like, but the reports of her love for the Lord blessed him.
Oral wrote her a letter about his ministry and sent her a book that he had written. She soon responded, and the couple began writing back and forth to each other. From the letters, Oral knew she was the one. So it was time for them to met face to face.
Oral drove six hundred miles from Oklahoma to Texas to meet her over the weekend. Oral’s mother went with him to meet Evelyn. Over the weekend, both Oral and Evelyn talked and even fished together through Oral said that all they caught was each other.
By the end of the weekend, they were engaged, and three months later on Christmas Eve in 1938, they were married.
After they were married, Evelyn had to finish her school year contract in Texas before she could join him in Oklahoma. Evelyn “fit him ‘as a hand fit into a glove.’12
Over the next ten years, Oral began pastoring in small Pentecostal Holiness churches in North Carolina, Georgia, and then Oklahoma. When he was in Oklahoma, he started studying at the Oklahoma Baptist University and Philips University and then taught one night a week at the Southwestern Bible College.
Oral was now pastoring a growing church in Enid, Oklahoma, but despite everything, he was growing more and more frustrated.
“More and more I was convinced that the great bulk of our time and effort in the church was spent on ourselves- meetings for church members, prayers for church members, church for church-type people”13
The struggle in Oral grew as the call inside grew louder. He felt the call to see the people healed and souls won. Everything came to a head in early 1947. He felt his ministry was invalid and had to find something new. During one of his classes, he heard the Lord say to him, “Don’t be like others, be like Jesus.”14 He left determined to be like Jesus or to forget ministry. He locked himself in the Word and prayer, and he saw that Jesus came against sin, disease, and fear. He saw that Jesus was a man of compassion and action, and power.
Oral saw that there was a big difference between just being a Christian and being a follower of Jesus.
“A Christian is a person who at one time or another has confessed the Lordship of a Jesus Christ. He may go to a church, even work for the organization of the church. But being a Christian does not necessarily mean he will do what Jesus did or strive to repeat the acts of Jesus. It is necessary that he go on and become a disciple or a follower.”15
Followers preach, prayed, and saw healing and miracles follow as they lead people to the Lord. Oral compared his ministry to the early churches and felt convicted. He began to fast and pray, and he took the time he would usually take to eat to pray. Oral started having dreams of the whole human race, crying out to God. He would, at times, awaken to find himself on his knees, praying and crying.
People start to notice his weight loss from fasting,
Oral kept studying the Word and praying until it came to him the full significance of the baptism of the Holy Spirit. “You shall receive power, after that the Holy Ghost is come upon you.” (Acts 1:8). Oral got the revelation that the power is was looking for was already provided and waiting for him. The wilderness years had built a foundation and formed Oral but now it was the time to move forward. The old could no longer be satisfied because of the call and the revelation he know had. Holy frustration produces holy desperation that refuses to settle for anything less than heaven’s best.
Oral was now a man driven by the revelation and calling. He was motivated and focused because of them. 16
The Healing Ministry
“From this hour, you will heal the sick and cast out devils by My power.”17
The following Sunday, Oral declared he was going to hold a healing crusade. That afternoon the Lord put out a fleece based on Judges chapter six to know the will of God for His life. If the Lord wanted Oral to pray for the sick, then he asked for the Lord to show him during the next meeting. He asked instead of the regular crowd of two hundred that there would be one thousand people. Secondly, he asked for the money to cover the costs of the meetings. Then thirdly at least one person had to be healed, and that person would have to definitely know and acknowledge they were healed.18
Oral then applied for a job selling men’s clothing because he was done with pastoring when he arrived for the Sunday service; the crowd was over 1,200. An offering was taken, and it was more than enough to cover the costs of the meeting. Then there were the healings which started with a woman whose hand she had not been able to use in over thirty years.
Oral knew that he knew and so he resigned as a pastor and the sales job. They pressed forward from security into the unknown trusting the Lord
In 1947, Oral preached at a friends church, Rev. Pringle. During the service, someone fired at Oral and thankfully missed. But the incident would be reported in the newspapers worldwide, Oral was front-page news and recognized for the healing crusade. People drove hundreds of miles to attend one of his crusades; he even held campaigns overseas.
As they could not find buildings big enough, Oral purchased a tent that could hold 10,000.
His meetings would involve him preaching a sermon he did an altar call and then invited people to share their testimonies of healing. Oral would leave the platform during this time and pray for the seriously ill. Oral would then wash up, change shirt, drink some hot chocolate before returning to pray for the sick. Those wanting pray had to have a pray card which required that they attended the afternoon service and heard the message preached by at least Oral’s associate Robert DeWeese.
Oral would memorize his messages and preach the messages with fire. Oral also hired a make soloist to sing and set the tone for the meeting.
Unlike so many healing ministries today where people are brought up once they are healed to testify, Oral prayed with the sick with everyone watching so they could see the person get healed.
Children are a blessing
Oral and Evelyn were blessed with four children who were a source of joy and, at times, sorrow. Rebecca was born a year after they were married and grew up in the homes of pastors they stayed at as they traveled preaching. In November 1948, Richard Roberts was born. Shortly afterward, oral bought a farm so his children could experience the farm life. However, with all of traveling Oral did, the children were often very lonely, and it would have an impact on them.
The heart behind the ministry
As the ministry took off, they started receiving letters with testimonies and prayer requests. They would take the letters and pray over them individually and respond to them. The job slowly became overwhelming. Then three young ladies who had been blessed by Oral volunteered to answer for him. Soon the demand grew such that it could no longer be done on a volunteer basis, and Oral turned his garage into an office. Oral began a monthly magazine, Healing Waters.
Lee Braxton, a successful businessman had read Oral’s book. You Need Healing, Do These Things, and flew Oral to a meeting in Florida. Afterward Lee decided to visit Oral in Tulsa and found his house overflowing with letters and told Oral he needed a ministry building, lee helped Oral get the financing needed, and three months later, the new ministry building was complete. .”Turn your Faith Loose” was on the front door. Lee remained a crucial figure in Orals ministry, and when asked by Oral much he should pay him, Lee said a dollar so each year Oral would pay him a dollar.
Soon after, Oral began broadcasting on the radio.
More of Your Presence
Oral was desperate for more of God’s presence and kept praying for it, and that prayer was answered in the spring of 1948. During a meeting at the Nowata Assemblies of God church in Oklahoma as he was praying for a deaf boy, he heard the Lord. The Lord said, “Son, you have been faithful up to this hour, and now you will feel My presence in your right hand. Through My presence, you will be able to detect demons, and through My power they will be cast out.”19
Oral began feeling a burning sensation that would travel down his right arm, and his hand began throbbing as if an electric current was running through it. As he prayed over the deaf boy, he felt the sensation in his right arm but not his left. The boy was healed and could hear.
The point of contact
“A point of contact is something you do. And when you do it, you release your faith toward God, just as turning on the faucet makes the water come out, or turning on the switch makes the light turn on. It is not enough to have faith; you must release the faith you possess…Turn Your Faith Loose.”20
As Oral looked at healings in the Bible, he saw that there was always a point of contact. The power he now felt in his right hand became that point of contact. Oral felt the warmth of the Lord,s presence moving through his hand, and his faith for healing radically grew.
Oral didn’t always understand why some were not healed, but he realized he was called just to be obedient.
In 1984 Oral decided to purchase a tent so that he could travel across the country doing meetings. His first tent could hold three thousand people, and he called it the “Canvas Cathedral.” He then purchased a Hammond organ, a Steinway piano, and three thousand chairs. He had two trailer trucks to transport the equipment. It cost him over $60,000, which was an incredible amount at that time.
By 1950 Oral’s ministry had grown dramatically, and at times Oral would feel completed overwhelmed. As he ministered to more and more people, Oral became more aware of the anointing, and he would only minister when he felt the anointing. He understood the importance of waiting on the Lord so he could have the anointing to minister. Without the anointing Oral refused to do anything.
Oral also made a commitment that he would not allow a whites-only ministry, which caused great conflict for him. He had a deep concern for all and believed “the whole Gospel was for people in need….for me that meant all people in need- black, white, red, yellow, brown – all shaded between.”21
The law required separation of blacks and whites, and failure to do so would result in the service being shut down. So Oral got up and told the people-
“I want every one of you to know that I believe God loves everyone the same, whatever his color. And He wants to save you whatever your color. I want you to listen closely. Even though there is forced segregated seating, when I invite you to come forward to be saved, there will be no separation of black and white here at God’s altar.”22
It was a compromise Oral was unhappy with, and shortly afterward, there was. Drop in the number of whites attending and in white counselors. Afterward, Oral made a decision to no longer allow segregated seating.
His friend Billy Graham
Oral heard of Billy Graham in the late forties. Once while he was in Bakersfield, California, he saw Billy Graham was holding a crusade, and he and Evelyn decided to go. Oral was impressed but didn’t meet Billy personally. In September 1950, while in Amarillo, Texas, a storm almost destroyed their tent, and Oral found himself emotionally drained. He was invited to come to Tacoma Washington to Billy Graham crusade. Oral was told that Billy wanted to personally meet him, so Oral and Evelyn went. When they were leaving the hotel they were staying at they ran into Billy, and he recognized him immediately. Billy asked Oral to join him on the platform. Oral explained that many don’t agree with the healing ministry and did Billy really want Oral on his platform. Billy explained that he had attended one of his services, and at it, his aunt healed was healed.
Afterward several pastors asked him to do a crusade in Portland. Then one woman came up to him and said she had cancer and needed him to pray for her. Oral initially refused, but the woman kept insisting. She pointed her finger at him and said…”if you don’t pray for me and at die before my time, God is going to hold you accountable.”23 Finally, he agreed to pray for her only once they were off of the crusade grounds. After praying for her they left and went to dinner the Graham’s.
It would be ten years later before they would meet in 1959 while Oral was at a Full Gospel Business Men’s meeting in Washington, D.C. They had no idea they were staying at the same hotel. A friend decided to get both of them together, but Oral recalled his Melbourne crusade, which did not go well, and he suffered great criticism, but Billy followed Oral and had a great crusade. But Billy was determined to meet. Billy finally did meet up with Oral, and Oral explained how hurt he was over the persecution at the Melbourne crusade. Billy explained that he too experienced persecution that could be hurtful. It was a critical and now word for Oral.
Zonal said, “there was no man in the world who could have ministered Christ to me then as did Billy. He was a word I needed desperately hear.”24
The two would retain a warm relationship for the rest of their lives.
Turning disaster into victories
In September 1950, Oral’s new tent that could seat 7,000 people was blown over by a storm in Amarillo, Texas. Oral, who had been on the stage, was blown over. As the rain pouring several hundred got up and began to sing praises to God. Oral got up and told people to go to their cars. The seven thousand people in the tent had been divinely protected, and no one was seriously hurt, the tent was destroyed. Even newspapers the next day announced Gods protection and the miracle that had happened.
Oral by the grace of God, then bought a ten thousand person tent.
Oral began seeing many mighty miracles in his ministry. When he was in Goldsboro, North Carolina Oral rented a B-29 hanger that could hold ten thousand people sitting and several thousand more standing. Unfortunately, at this meeting, many were filled with unbelief that it would take a miracle for the Holy Spirit to breakthroughs the crowd. The Holy Spirit gave great wisdom, and he began preaching with an anointing and in such a way that the people saw how real God. Finally, on the fifth night, a breakthrough came. A mother brought her son, who was in crutches and an extended leg brace. Oral knew that God was about to move. The boy, Douglas Sutton, and his mother approached Oral confidence in faith that God would heal him. Oral touched the boy with his right hand and simply said, “Jesus, heal,” the presence of God moved so Oral asked the mother and boy if they believed God would heal him. Then Oral asked Douglas wanted hi wanted, “I want to run,”25 The boy suddenly began running, and the spiritual climate of the room instantly changed,
That afternoon Oral laid hands-on ten thousand sick people who came looking for healing.
Voice of Healing
The Voice of Healing magazine was a critical part of the ministry of Branham during the Healing Revival. Oral became friends with Gordon Lindsey, who had become a part of Branham’s ministry and organized the Voice of Healing Magazine. Oral Roberts never officially became part of the Voice of Healing, but an agreement was reached with Lindsey, where it would include Oral’s schedule. Oral and Branham met in April 1948 while he was conducting a revival meeting at the First Assembly of God in Kansas City, Missouri, and Branham. Oral was taken backstage and a group photo was taken with Oral and the entire Branham team. From the meeting, an agreement was reached that Oral’s Healing Waters would publish Branham’s schedule and the Voice of Healing would publish Oral’s schedule.
The Oral the man
When Oral preached a great anointing was strongly evident upon him. His daughter watched her father and said, “When I saw God working through dad, it was the most mind-boggling thing I have ever seen. And it was so real. There simply was no way for an honest person to deny what was happening before his very eyes.” 26 Afterward, he would be exhausted. On the flights back, he would be reticent as he slowly came down to earth.
As already mentioned, Oral would experience one of his worst crusades in Melbourne. They first started in Sydney where. Oral had been on the local radio for years, and the unity of the local pastors all suggested a great event. Immediately the press began attacking him. At the crusade, photographers placed themselves in such a way as to get unfavorable photographs. When they were asked to move, they refused.
In Melbourne, they saw many saved and healed despite the hecklers. The police simply stood by and took no action to help. During the altar call, a group ran about seeking to stop people from coming forward. The press intensified their attacks. Oral would appear on the front page in unflattering terms. The police who had offered no protection stated they would not doing anything unless there was violence. Night and day, they were heckled and cursed. Then on one night, the Communist party organized an attack. At the altar call, the people were forced to sit down and were not able to come forward. The local staff feared for Orals life
The next day the newspaper headline stated that Orals tent was to be burnt down. The whole crusade proved to be a painful one for Oral.
I’m moving back to my mothers
Oral Roberts began preaching about “seed faith.” He would receive a lot of criticism over this as people struggled with the concept of giving and asking God for something in return. As his daughter explained, this concept has been abused by many over the years who have twisted into “giving to get.”27 The actual concept of seed faith is Biblical, sound, and works
When the Roberts began pastoring the church in Enid, they discovered it had no parsonage. They were forced to stay with a family. But as the weeks worn on the toil on the family became too much and Evelyn told Oral something had to change or they were going back to her mothers.
Oral on Wednesday explained the desperate situation at church and took a special offering. The Holy Spirit told Oral to put his entire weeks’ salary check in the offering, he then asked who else wanted to give, and almost the whole church came forward. The offering provided enough for a down payment on a house. But Evelyn was unhappy with Oral giving his total salary as it meant they had no money for food. Oral wondered if he had heard from the Lord and done the right thing, Around 4:30 am a farmer knocked on the door. He was about to lose his land and felt lead to give money. He remembered he had hidden money in the corner of the field, and in the middle of the night, he went out and dug it up. He rushed to the Roberts house to give the money the Lord had told him to give.
By the late 1940’s Orals, father found little work left for him to do, and opportunities to preach were rare. They were living behind Orals brother’s house, Elmer. Finally, Oral was able to build a house for them in Tulsa, and it would allow them to be apart of the ministry. Soon invitations started coming in for his father. They spent their retirement years preaching and praying for the sick.
As his crusades grew Oral, felt led to begin televising them. The experts felt it was impossible, but Roberts was determined to do it; in 1954, Oral launched his television ministry. Oral wanted the whole crusade filmed and not just the preaching. He paid over $42,000 for three crusade service to be filmed in Akron, Ohio.
The close-ups allowed people to see Orals intensity and fervency. They got to see people’s faith responding to salvation and healing, “Oral Roberts extended his faith for God’s healing power into the homes of millions of America.”28
One woman who was the wife of an army sergeant living in Wichita Falls, Texas. In 1951 the woman had broken her leg in a car accident, and then twenty months later, she was diagnosed with Polio. Then in 1953, she was diagnosed with spinalitis, which had left her crippled and in a wheelchair. On Sunday, May 1st, 1955, she and her husband were watching Oral on television. As she watched, Anna’s faith grew until when Oral called people to touch the television screen as a point of contact. As she was unable, she simply touched her heart. She then turned to her husband and asked him to help her stand, Anna began walking, and they invited a friend over to tell her what had happened. She then put on dancing shoes and danced around her living room in celebration.
More and more people got healed and testified what God had done.
Although Orals broadcast was successful, he faced opposition over the controversy surrounding divine healing and regarding finances to cover the cost. Oral had to encourage partners to finance the broadcasts, and because of his business sense and charismatic personality, he was able to get the broadcast unto thirty-one stations in 1955, which increased to over 135 of the nations 500 stations by 1957.
With the growth of the ministry Oral changed the name of his magazine from Healing Waters to Abundant Life. Through the magazine, Oral was able to connect with his contributors effectively.
Oral Roberts University
By 1960 the healing crusades saw smaller numbers, and Oral felt the Lord stirring him that a new season had come.
“You are to build Me a university. Build it on My authority and on the Holy Spirit. Raise up your students to hear My voice, to go where My light is dim, where My voice is heard small, and My healing power is not know, even to the uttermost bounds of the earth. Their work will exceed yours, and in this I am well pleased.”29
Oral first had to convince his wife and then take the college fund they had put aside to use as a mustard seed. Soon Orals partners would start providing finances of all sizes. Oral located a farm at 81st and Lewis in Tulsa. Orals attorneys insisted the land belonged to a wealthy family that didn’t want to sell, but Oral kept insisting until one day they agreed to ask only to discover that they did want to sell. Oral invited his partners to come and see what he was doing in Tulsa. Oral practiced what he was preached and offered to take care of the partners that came. He put them up in a hotel.
Construction of the university began in February 1962. Orals vision was for a fully accredited university offering a complete range of academic programs. Meanwhile, Orals son Ronnie began studying at Sanford University in California. However, soon Ronnie was suffering great persecution and questioning his own beliefs. Oral was invited to speak, and that helped Ronnie for a little while before the doubts grew again. Oral was experiencing the problem that so many Pentecostal parents were experiencing that when their children went to university, they backslid.
Oral stated, “I get this fighting instinct to get this school going sooner than we intend because it has come home, its in my family. This is affecting my family.”30
Oral knew he needed someone who shared his vision and could help him. He found Raymond Corbin, a friend who was part of the Pentecostal Holiness Church and had served as the president of the Southwestern Bible College. Raymond held a doctorate in religious education.
Now Oral needed to for a board compromised of Spirit-filled believers. Lee Braxton was the clear choice as the head of the board.
Lee recommended the university be named Oral Roberts University, and on November 27 th, 1962, ORU was formally established. They set a goal of opening the doors to students by 1965. Lee brought to the university Dr. John D. Messick, the former president of East Carolina College.
Oral sought to train the whole man and prepare evangelists to go preach the Gospel. In the early years, Oral had students take classes, have mandatory chapel, and a required physical fitness program.
Oral hired top architects to design the buildings, including the six-story central structure known as the Learning Resource Center. In this building, the library was located. In fact, in 1965, the Ford Foundation declaring it “the most innovative facility of its kind.”31
A Prayer Foundation
Everything Oral did seem to have some form of controversy around it, and ORU was no different. Oral built a two hundred feet tall building made of glass and steel in the shape of a cross that, when lit, could be seen for miles throughout Tulsa. It was the prayer tower. Oral believed prayer was the center and foundation of everything,
Throughout 1965-1975 the university added new buildings, including a state of the art sports center, the Mabee Center, which had a stage that could be used for the performing arts. Oral wanted to use it to give something back to the city of Tulsa.
By 1962 over two thousand students had enrolled. Many great ministries started here, and many great ministries would speak at the Christ’s Chapel including Kenneth Hagen, Kenneth Copeland, Billy Graham, and Corrie ten Boom,
On April 2nd, 1967, the university was dedicated and was a bold declaration of God’s faithfulness and that He is the God of the impossible. Billy Graham was invited to dedicate it.
1968 would be a year of upheaval and change. The Lord revealed to Oral that the time for the crusades was over. Bob DeWeese would leave Oral based on the news and start pastoring a church. Dr. John Messick, who had a different vision for ORU than Oral seeking to downplay the spiritual emphasis left and Carl Hamilton was brought on board; dissension had also developed between Oral and Raymond Corvin, the university’s chancellor. He resigned in 1968.
Next, Oral, who was part of the Pentecostal Holiness denomination, resigned from it and joined the Methodists. Orals Pentecostal Holiness ties made it difficult to accept non-Pentecostal professors and students at ORU. Oral Evelyn saw mainstream denominations suddenly opening up to the Holy Spirit, including tongues and the gifts, and when Bishop W. Angie Smith told Oral they needed him Oral agreed and was ordained as a Methodist minister.
Many of Orals supporters did not agree with him and pulled back their support. In fact, around one-half of the Pentecostal supporters withdrew their support.
It was also in 1968 that Oral began his television shows. Many Pentecostals saw Oral bring on celebrities and felt he had sold out to Hollywood,
A National Celebrity
Orals television shows were a success, and by the mid 1970’s he was a national celebrity. Soon he appeared in shows hosted by Dick Cavett, Dinah Shore, Mike Douglas, and Johnny Carson. He even appeared on a Jerry Lewis telethon and was interviewed by Barbara Walters.
Death of their daughter
Rebecca had been Oral and Eveylin’s first child. She had fallen in love and married a Pentecostal Holiness superintendent. They had left the ministry and begun a successful real estate venture, and then on February 12, 1972, the Roberts received the news that both her and Rebecca’s husband had been killed in a plane crash. Oral had to break the news to Rebeccas children.
Two days later a memorial service was held, and half of Tulsa turned out,
A few months later, Evelyn produced a booklet called Coping With Grief. She stated, “God didn’t take my daughter away. He accepted her. He received her when the accident took her life.”32
Then the Roberts had to deal with Ronnie, who had sought to distance himself from them. Ever since he had gone to Sanford he struggled with faith. When he started Sanford, the university put him under psychiatrist care to help overcome his confusion. After college and being fluent in several languages, he became joined the Security Division of the U.S Army, But Ronnie was still unhappy, after he was discharged, he married his wife and sought to become a diplomat. He began working on his Ph.D. but before he could finish he moved back to Tulsa to teach foreign languages at school,
It was clear something was wrong as Ronnie would sleep till late and simply was not himself. They discovered that someone prescribed him illegal drugs. Ronnie went into drug rehabilitation, but nothing worked. Then he prayed with his parents and repented. His wife left him as Ronnie struggled. After the divorce, Ronnie went to live with his parents. Ronnie continued to struggle and left Roberts home. Three days later, on June 9th, 1982, he was found dead. It appeared to be suicide,
The Roberts struggled and then Kenneth Hagen came to visit with a word from the Lord.
Next was their other son Richard.
In 1960, Richard met Patti, who was on fire for God at the Oral Roberts University. They were married in 1968. Richard struggled with his faith for a while as well. But after several years of rebellion, he rededicated his life to the Lord. Over the next eight years, Patti and Richard sang and ministered together. Their ministry flourished and became a growing part of the ministry of Oral. Their success made them celebrities as well and soon, and they were being connected with other famous personalities. They enjoyed the best things in life, including a second home in Pal, Springs, and fancy cars. Behind the scenes, however, it was a different story. At the heart of the strain was Richard’s growing devotion to Oral’s ministry. Patti was seeking “personal fulfillment” and “finding a dream of her own.”33 Kathryn Kuhlman even stepped in and ministered to the couple, which did help for a while.
In 1977, Patti made a mission trip to preach in Tehran. On her third trip there, Richard joined her in the hope of understanding her ministry. However, in 1979, the couple filed for divorce on the grounds that they were incompatible.
For the Roberts, it was heartbreak considering all the marriages their ministry had saved over the years. Richard was criticized and judged for the divorce, and many wanted him to sit on the bench until he was restored. Richard focused on ministering at the ORU campus. Soon, the Lord opened a door, and invitations started coming back in for Richard.
Ten years later, Richard would remarry. Lindsay met Richard while she was attending ORU.
The Medical College
In the mid-1970s, Oral felt that ORU needed a medical college. Then Dr. James Winslow was an orthopedic surgeon in Tulsa. His wife developed cervical cancer. She started to attend a Methodist Church that believed in the Baptism of the Holy Spirit, and soon Sue Winslow was saved and baptized. As she underwent chemotherapy, she would pray, and when she had finished, she was completely healed.
Oral got to know Jim, and while they were playing golf, Oral told him about his desire to start a medical college. Then one Saturday, while Jim was working on his lawn mower his hand, was accidentally cutting his hand, which after surgery left him with little feeling in that hand.
Jim called Oral and soon received Jesus and was baptized in the Holy Spirit. Oral prayed over his hand, and Jim recovered feeling and full use of it.
In September of 1977, Oral announced he was building a medical college called the City of Faith. But where was the money going to come from? Oral asked his partners to make a seed-faith planting.
The building of the City of Faith would go through many challenges, not just funding. For it to be built, the Oklahoma Health Planning Commission would need to issue a certificate of need, and with seventy-eight percent of physicians stating there was no need for the hospital, that would be a challenge.
Even after the certificate was issued, fights continued in the courts over separation of church and state. Finally, in 1891, the City of Faith received the official certificate. But the financial burden was draining everyone. In one year alone, Oral had to ask his partners for special offerings, which totaled $38 million.
In May of 1980, Oral had a vision of a 900 feet tall Jesus. He saw Jesus three hundred feet taller than the City of Faith. When Oral shared his vision, he was sharply criticized.
On November 1st, 1981, the City of Faith was officially dedicated to the Lord. Even Ronald Regan wrote a letter of congratulations. But the building failed to attract sufficient patients, and the hospital still failed to meet its goal of filling beds.
In 1984, with only 130 beds filled, 334 employees had to be laid off, including a quarter of the hospital’s 907 employees. The City of Faith was creating a $1 million a month strain on the Oral Roberts Evangelistic Association.
In 1986, the City of Faith, which had now been open for five years, continued to incur debt. By 1986, the City of Faith had a debt of $8 million. So, Oral went before the Lord, and he felt led to put the case before his partners once again. Oral shared that the Lord said-
“I told you to raise $8 million to carry on My medical work. You have from January 1 to March 31 to get it done. If you don’t then your work is finished, and I am going to call you home.”34
Around the world, everyone heard that if Oral didn’t raise $8 million dollars, the Lord was going to kill him. People misunderstood what Oral was saying. Oral spent the time in the prayer tower, praying. Other ministers joined him.
During March, Oral announced they had only $1.6 million left to raise, but his wife, who was sitting in the audience, corrected him live on television to say he had only $1.3 million left to raise. A man who was watching the show and had not made a commitment to Christ felt that if Oral was open to being corrected by his wife live on television, he was not a bad guy after all. He called and asked to talk with Oral about giving the remaining money. Initially, it was thought that it was a joke call, but the man persisted, and on the second call, he was put through to Oral.
The man came to Tulsa and brought with him a check of $1.3 million. Oral then told the man about the Lord and led him to Christ.
1986 would bring another challenge. Jim Bakker of the PTL ministry was accused of having an adulterous affair and then indicated with fraud. A year later, Jimmy Swaggart, an Assemblies of God Evangelist, was charged with having a relationship with a prostitute. Jimmy came forth and confirmed the accusation and repented.
The scandals rocked the world, and giving suddenly dropped. The debt burden of the City of Fath, the School of Medicine, and the School of Dentistry grew. In 1987, Oral was forced to close the School of Dentistry. The American Medical Association continued its intensive and expensive evaluation of the School of Medicine. Finally, in 1989, Oral was forced to close both the School of Medicine and the City of Faith. Dr. Harry Jonas of the American Medical Association stated that Oral had “forever changed medicine and the way the medical world looks at it… this idea of combining medicine with prayer, with a view toward wholeness, is an idea whose time has come… the fact is, the idea is bigger than you are.”35
Roberts Liardon believed that Oral should have left the building of the hospital to his son, Richard and that an area where Oral failed was “he didn’t utilize his children effectively.”36 Oral was resistant to a woman in leadership, and as Liardon explained, it would have been interesting if Oral had of allowed his daughter, Roberta, a successful lawyer to take over ORU what would have happened. This would have allowed Richard to have continued his ministry rather than assuming the leadership of ORU as he was the second son. Richard took over ORU in 1993.
For Richard, following in his father’s footsteps was a challenge from the beginning. He was not as effective as relating to the general public, and problems soon developed. In 2007, Richard resigned after being named in a lawsuit claiming he had misused funds for ORU to fund his own political and personal purposes. In 2009, Oral handed the leadership of the university over to Mark Rutland.
The final years
Oral had moved and was living in California. From California, he continued to be the chancellor of ORU and had named Billy Daughtery the executive reagent. In 2005, Evelyn died after suffering complications from a fall when she was eighty-eight.
In 2009, Billy Daughtery died, and then shortly afterward, on December 15th, Oral passed away at the age of ninety-one years.
Famous people from throughout the world would send their condolences, including Benny Hinn, Paul Yonggi Cho, Billy Graham, Marilyn Hickey, President George H. W. Bush, Jimmy Carter, Jerry Lewis, and others.
- Roberts, Oral. The Call: An Autobiography. Doubleday & Company, Inc. Garden City, NY. 1972, page 12
- Roberts p 9-10
- Harrell, David Edwin Jr. Oral Roberts: An American Life. Bloomingdales, IN. Indiana University Press, 1985, 25
- Lizard on, Roberts. Gods Generals: The Healing Evangelists. Whitaker House, New Kensington, PA. 2011, 156
- Liardon p 157-158
- Liardon page 159
- Liardon page 160
- Roberts pages 32-33
- Roberts page 34
- Roberts page 34
- Liardon page 163
- Liardon page 170
- Roberts page 38
- Roberts page 38
- Roberts page 39
- Roberts-Potts, Roberta. My Dad, Oral Roberts. Icon Publishing Group. Noble, OK. 2011. Page 36
- Roberts-Potts page 36
- Roberts-Potts page 37
- Liardon page 180
- Roberts, Oral. Expect a Miracle. Page 125
- Roberts page 99, 100
- Roberts page 103
- Roberts page 115
- Roberts page 119
- Liardon page 194
- Potts page 49
- Potts page 74
- Liardon page 203
- Potts page 86
- Liardon page 211
- Liardon page 215
- Liardon page 227
- Liardon page 231
- Roberts, Expect a Miracle page 289
- Liardon page 244
- Liardon page 244