In Christmas week of 1904, churches in Portland, Oregon united to hold a city-wide gospel crusade, by spring of 1905, 240 major stores and businesses jointly decided to close daily between 11am and 2pm for prayers. Many people came to the Lord that period, including a 16-year old boy, Robert Gilmore “RG” LeTourneau.
In his own words concerning that day, he said,
“No bolts of lightning hit me, … I just prayed to the Lord to save me, and then I was aware of another Presence. No words were spoken. I received no messages… all my bitterness was drained away, and I was filled with such a vast relief that I could not contain it all”
“RG” was born in Richford, Vermont, on 3oth November, 1888. He went to school as usual, but dropped in his 7th grade, due to economic circumstances. At age 14, he got his first job in an iron foundry. Showing a deep interest in Mechanics, he started a course on Mechanics with the International Correspondence School (ICS) at age 21, though he never took any exams or paid fees. Later, he landed a job with Holt Manufacturing as a tractor driver, using tractors to level a large expanse of land.
In 1919, desirous to be more and do more for Christ, “RG” felt that the best thing anyone who wants to really serve God should do was to enter into the full-time ministry- whether as a pastor, evangelist or missionary. Thus, he went to his pastor, Rev. Devol, for advice and prayers concerning dropping everything to become a missionary. After deep prayers, he was surprised to hear his pastor say to him, “RG, God needs businessmen too.” This revelation was going to define and guide him for the rest of his life. It dawned on him that he does not have to go to China, or Africa as a missionary before he can show total commitment to the Lord; he too can serve Jesus as a businessman. He returned home to later tell his wife that he now had a new partner in business- GOD.
In his words,
“When you go into partnership with God, you’ve got a Partner closer and more active than any human partner you can ever get. He participates fully in everything you let Him do, and when you start putting on airs, and thinking you’re doing it with your own head of steam, He can set you down quicker and harder than a thunderbolt. There’s nothing dull about being in partnership with God.”
Even in the midst of an almost business collapse in the year 1927, RG kept up with his yearly missions’ pledge to the Lord. He didn’t allow his business struggles to deter him. For him, God was his partner, and he must do all to please him; including not working on Sunday, even if that would have helped his work and business earnings.
R. G.’s interest in machines moved him to build his own tractor and start his own earthmoving company, R. G. LeTourneau Inc., in 1929. Although, there was so much technological advancements at that time, the world of earthmoving equipment was still in the stone ages. In order to meet up with his land leveling contracts (which he always underbid to beat his competitors), “RG” had to invent new machines, instead of purchasing or hiring them at greater costs, or even using pure man-power. He was among the first road construction contractors to introducing machinery to earth moving.
By 1933, he moved fully into manufacturing of these machines. He designed and built earthmoving machines using technology that was decades ahead of his time, and became later recognized as one of the fathers of earthmoving machines. The use of rubber tires in earthmoving machines, the two-wheeled tractor unit, the electric wheel drive, and mobile offshore drilling platforms are all attributed to the technical ingenuity of “RG”. More than 70% of the earthmoving machines used by the Allied forces in World War II came from LeTourneau’s factories.
He was later to start a LeTourneau Technical institute, in Longview, Texas in the year 1945, which was later to become a college in 1961, and a university in 1989. His desire in founding the institute was to provide both mechanical training and traditional college education for aspiring missionaries. The university continues today, and is best known for its Remotely Piloted Aircraft Systems degree program, and its business classes offered at campus extensions across Texas.
“RG” was a man who genuinely walked with God as a Christian business man. He and his wife lived to further the cause of God in their world according to the dreams God put in RG’s heart. One day, his wife, Evelyn suggested to him that they give more to God than they keep for themselves. This later grew to their practice of living on 10% of their money and giving 90% to the spread of the Gospel.
In RG’S words,
“It is not how much of my money I give to God, but how much of His money I keep for myself.”
He demonstrated his concern for the Gospel witness by establishing regular chapel services and by employing three full-time Chaplains in his manufacturing plants.
In His word,
“Because I believe God wants business men as well as preachers, I believe a factory can be dedicated to His service as well as a church.”
The monthly publication “NOW” started by him reached 600,000 persons during his lifetime and circled the world with its message.
In 1935, RG gave his first public speech at the opening of a new plant, where he urged his fellow Christians in the room to do more for the Lord in their businesses. This speech opened up more doors for him to come to different churches and Christian organizations, and speak on Christianity and business. In later years, he purchased airplanes (with his business profits), to help in his speaking schedules. He also founded the Center for Faith and Work, which continues to reach out to Christians to be faithful in their places of work and natural endeavours.
The Holy Spirit helped “RG” so much in his endeavours, as an “unschooled” engineer, he was able to conceptualize a lot of earth-moving machines using highly advanced technologies. He had over 300 patents in his name (bulldozers, scrapers of all sorts, dredgers, portable cranes, rollers, dump wagons, bridge spans, logging equipment, mobile sea platforms for oil exploration, the electric wheel and many others). He also owned and operated manufacturing plants in 4 continents of the earth. In 1965, the International Correspondence School (ICS) where he had unofficially learned mechanics, awarded him an honorary degree in Engineering. By then, he was 76 years old. When he got the certificate, he simply joked to his assistant, “So now I’ve got a diploma. Now I’m educated.”
He died at the age of 81, having lived a good life for God. Though he sold his manufacturing line, but his University continues today, and his life remains a living testimony that one can be a viable and fruitful Christian, even as a business man and inventor.
FOR FURTHER CONSULTATIONS:
- LeTourneau, R. G. Mover of Men and Mountains. Chicago, Illinois: Moody Press, 1967
- LeTourneau University official website page.