The following eulogy was shared at the memorial service for Roy LeTourneau on Sunday, October 19, 2014 at Lake Highlands Baptist Church in Dallas, Texas.
Roy loved a good story. Whether it was a small gathering or a large audience, he could regale others with a seemingly endless supply of tales – frequently from his own adventures. With a baritone voice and a booming laugh, Roy’s stories were guaranteed to entertain and most often brought a smile.
It is thus entirely fitting that we remember his life by sharing his story.
Born April 29, 1929 in Stockton, California, Roy was the son of famed inventor and industrialist R.G. LeTourneau and Evelyn Peterson LeTourneau. His father believed that there was no such thing as a big job, just small machines and that mindset imprinted itself on Roy. He was a man of big dreams, big goals and big faith.
He grew up working in his father’s company starting at age 8. Through the years he worked almost every factory job at the company’s plants in California, Illinois and Georgia.
At 11, he placed his faith in Christ while attending a Christian camp that his mother was instrumental in starting in Winona Lake, Indiana.
In the years that followed, he went on to graduate from Wheaton Academy and the University of North Texas. He would later receive an honorary Doctor of Laws degree from Warner Pacific College.
Throughout his life, Roy loved gospel music. He played the trombone and the trumpet, was a frequent song leader and sang bass in many gospel quartets.
In fact, it was while singing at a local church in California that he met a young woman named Shirley Stanfield. Their courtship was short. From the time they met until they married on August 19, 1949, they were in the same city for less than three weeks! Yet their love and marriage endured for 62 years – only ending with Shirley’s passing in September 2013.
In the years that followed their wedding, Roy continued to work in the family business holding various management and sales positions and, for a time, leading the company’s logging division in Oregon. It was his work in the family business that opened the door to the greatest chapters in his life.
At just 24, Roy’s father asked him to lead a new project in Peru. The Peruvian government wanted LeTourneau, Inc. to build a road through virgin jungle. As payment they provided a million acres of land for development. More than just a business venture, they saw it as an opportunity to conduct a lay missionary work as well.
With that vision in mind, Roy and Shirley – along with their daughters Brenda (age 2) and Nancy (age 1) – moved to Peru. Roy and the crew transported supplies and machinery up the headwaters of the Amazon by boat, landing at the endpoint of the planned road and building outward toward the existing highway.
Over the next eight years, the team built an airstrip, a road more than 50km long, a town called Tournavista, a school and established ranching and farming interests on the land they received. Roy and Shirley’s sons Don and Randy were both born in Peru.
Roy frequently flew his own plane between Tournavista and Peru’s capital city – Lima. An avid pilot, Roy logged many hours in the cockpit. Over the course of his life he totaled more than 8,000 hours of flight time – including several harrowing experiences. God graciously saved Roy and his passengers on multiple occasions.
As time went by, the family relocated to Lima as the Tournavista project required Roy to be there more frequently for business and government contacts. It was in Lima that Roy met a missionary named Kenn Opperman and developed a friendship that would last a lifetime.
A topic of many conversations between Roy and Kenn was how to impact a nation with the gospel of Jesus Christ. They were both frustrated by the limited impact they saw the gospel making in Peru despite decades of missionary effort. They spent many late nights debating, praying and dreaming together. One pivotal night, they knelt together in the middle of a street called Rome, prayed for Lima and committed their lives to whatever God would ask of them.
In 1961, a change in the Peruvian government resulted in the unexpected closure of the Tournavista project. But just prior to leaving the country, Roy was asked to speak at an event in the city of Trujillo. The experience impacted him significantly.
He encountered many young people pursuing atheistic and communist philosophies because they knew of no other hope. He returned to his hotel burdened by their despair and convinced of the need to share the gospel more effectively.
In the years after returning from Peru, the company was sold and Roy and his brother Ben founded the LeTourneau Tractor Company where they sold John Deere equipment. He and his brother were great pair. They were excellent compliments to one another and proved to be successful together. They later sold that business and Roy bought and operated a Cessna airplane dealership in Orlando, Florida.
Amidst these business ventures, Roy’s passion for sharing the gospel led him to an active role with the Christian Business Men’s Committee (CBMC) where he served as president for 8 years and as a board member for 16. Together with Shirley, he traveled around the world speaking at CBMC outreach events sharing what Jesus had done in his life. God used this ministry to lead many to Christ.
But it was in 1973 that God used Roy to help start something that would have immeasurable impact. Partnering with the Christian and Missionary Alliance, Roy reunited with Kenn Opperman as well as Argentine Pastor Alfredo Smith and missionary Gene Kelly to launch in Lima, Peru an outreach known as “Encounter with God.”
Beginning with one church of 180 people, they conducted monthly two-week evangelistic events followed by two weeks of discipleship. The initial results were so great they soon began construction of a 1,000-seat sanctuary for the Lince Church. Many people thought they were crazy. They were told by several that there would never be 1,000 evangelical Christians in a single church in Latin America. But in just 15 months, the new Lince Church was full. Today, that church has 7,000 in weekly attendance and has spawned more than 60 churches in the city of Lima and additional congregations in every provincial capital of Peru.
The work in Lima sparked similar movements in cities throughout Latin America and Roy was at the forefront of helping the movement spread.
There are now more than 100 churches across the continent with tens of thousands worshipping weekly. These churches have established theological training institutions, Christian schools, and numerous social relief ministries including food kitchens, orphanages, street children rescues and medical clinics. They have led major relief efforts in response to natural disasters, sent their own foreign missionaries and have been instrumental in sharing the gospel with hundreds of thousands of Latin Americans.
For someone that always dreamed big, such impact was greater than Roy ever imagined.
As the Encounter with God churches multiplied, Roy established LeTourneau Ministries International to help raise up new partners to assist in the advancement of these churches throughout Latin America.
The family relocated from Orlando to Rockwall, Texas where Roy led LMI and launched a new venture as a real estate developer and builder. In time, the development of churches in Latin America became Roy’s full time occupation and primary passion. He continued to lead the ministry until his retirement in 1994 and for the rest of his life he remained actively involved through his support of this ministry that continues today as Church Ministries International.
In their retirement years Roy and Shirley spent much time traveling the country in their motorhome. Through various trips they traveled to almost every state and province in the U.S. and Canada. They would often take their grandkids on these trips and this time were special for both he and the kids. Among the highlights were trips to Alaska via the Alaska Highway and the Maritime Provinces of Canada.
They eventually set up two homes – one close to their children and grandchildren in Dallas and a second one in Sun City, Arizona where they developed many cherished friendships and a found beloved church home.
As Shirley’s health declined, Roy devoted most of his time to her care. Following her passing, his personal health challenges became more acute. But even then, Roy told God that he was still willing to go anywhere he would ask him to go and do whatever He would ask him to do.
More than seventy years after he gave his life to Christ and more than fifty years after he knelt on the streets of Lima, Roy’s heart remained the same.
Ultimately, that is the enduring theme of his story. Though imperfect, he was passionate, committed and available to be used by God – devoted to sharing the good news that gave him his ultimate hope. And because of that, there was a great welcome home party awaiting him at heaven’s gates on Wednesday morning, October 15.
It is certain that he entered that party with a laugh more booming than ever and a whole lot of stories to tell.
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