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Oral Roberts Legacy

Dad in his “Baby Mabee” dressing room, just before filming a television show. (Approximately, 1975)

Oral Roberts is one of the most enigmatic American figures of the 20th century.

Once his name became famous and reporters asked him where he was from, he typically responded: “Pontotoc County, Oklahoma”. The truth is, he was raised in the backwoods of Oklahoma, a long way even from Ada, by far the largest town in Pontotoc County. His family was gratingly poor. He later joked: “The poor people called us poor!”

Born in 1918, he stuttered so terribly that when nervous, he often could not say his own name. His was a church-going family, but as a boy, Oral Roberts deeply resented the church, wishing to spend his Sundays almost anywhere else. At 17, he contracted tuberculosis, a death sentence in 1935, long before so-called “miracle drugs” had been discovered. While most of his family had basically given up, Oral’s older brother, Elmer, borrowed a car and took him to a healing crusade directed by Rev. George Moncey. My father was healed instantly, both from tuberculosis and from stuttering. Perhaps an hour or so before that fateful crusade, Oral Roberts heard God speaking to him. God promised not only to heal him, but also that he was to take God’s healing power to his generation. Later, he was to build God a university.

Oral Roberts soon found himself preaching to others, but mainly to small crowds and small churches. In 1938 he married Evelyn Lutman and the couple eventually had four children, Rebecca Ann, Ronald David, Richard Lee and last but not least, Roberta Jean.

For twelve years my father pastored small churches, but was never satisfied — as he never forgot God’s words to him a few hours before he was healed. It was when he discovered a then obscure Bible verse, 3 John 1:2, when his thinking and the direction of his life changed — dramatically. Soon after, he left his pastorate and launched a healing ministry, a move which was perceived as avant-garde in those days, to say the least. When a man who hated God tried to shoot Oral Roberts in the course of what had previously been a little-known tent revival in Tulsa, Oklahoma, Oral Roberts’ healing ministry was jump-started exponentially.

While his assailant missed “by a mile,” the incident became the “shot heard ’round the world” for the Oral Roberts ministry, for the Associated Press reported the event nationwide. Invitations to speak and pray for the sick soon began to arrive from every corner of America. It was not long before would-be crusade attendees were obliged to “hold onto their seats” for hours and perhaps even spend the night in their cars, merely to have the opportunity to hear the famous man of God preach and pray for the sick.

The Oral Roberts Family Picture with the author, Roberta, pictured at the far left.

The healing meetings in the 1950’s became even more well-known when, at the urging of a fellow evangelist, Rex Humbard, my father began having those meetings televised. For the first time, Americans could actually witness a miracle — right in their living rooms!

It was in the 1960’s when my father first announced he planned to build a University, on God’s authority and on the Holy Spirit. Amidst unbelievable struggle and incredible misunderstanding, Oral Roberts — with a great deal of help! — built Oral Roberts University in Tulsa, Oklahoma. The only major, charismatic nationally-accredited institution of higher learning in the world, Oral Roberts University is clearly his greatest legacy.

In the 1970’s, long before television remote controls, cable television, satellite television and DVD’s were available — when television exposure was incredibly limited — my father began having prime-time television specials on a major network. The purpose of the specials was not only to preach the gospel, but also to showcase Oral Roberts University. These television specials, perhaps even more than his evangelistic crusades focused the attention of America on both Oral Roberts, and the University which bore his name.

In the 1980’s, Oral Roberts built a gigantic medical complex called the City of Faith. During those years, my father had a dream which unfortunately resulted in a great deal of negative press. While the complex did produce some good results, it was later closed for lack of funds. Having said that, I continue to receive testimonies of God’s healing power from individuals who personally experienced the ministry of the City of Faith.

My father spent his latter years mentoring young pastors and evangelists. His last coherent moments were spent singing songs which had been pivotal in his worldwide, many-faceted ministry for the Lord Jesus Christ. He passed away in California in 2009.