Lester Roloff was born on June 28, 1914, to Christian parents in Dawson, Texas. Raised on a farm, he learned the value of hard work at a young age. In his early teens he was saved and later committed his life to becoming a preacher. He knew he needed an education and set his sights on attending Baylor University in Waco, Texas. To help pay for his expenses, he took a family cow to Waco and milked it daily in return for room and board.
In 1935, he met Marie Brady at the First Baptist Church in Dallas, Texas, during a State Training Union Convention. They were married on August 10, 1936. Early in their marriage, Lester pastored small town churches and preached as an evangelist during revival meetings. On June 20, 1937, Lester and Marie were blessed with a baby daughter, Elizabeth Ann. After Lester’s graduation from Baylor, the family moved to Fort Worth, Texas, so that he could attend Southwestern Seminary. During seminary he served as pastor of First Baptist Church in Trinidad, Texas. During World War II, the Roloff family moved to Houston, Texas, where Brother Roloff became pastor of Magnolia Park Baptist Church.
In 1940, Brother Roloff accepted the call of Park Avenue Baptist Church in Corpus Christi, Texas to become their pastor. Park Avenue Baptist, later known as Second Baptist Church, flourished during the time Lester was pastor. While serving at Park Avenue, Brother Roloff became a sought after preacher for revival meetings and evangelistic services. And, in 1944, the Roloff family grew to include an adopted daughter, Pamela Kay.
Faith, Fasting & Food
As a young preacher and father, Brother Roloff continued to battle chronic health problems. He searched for answers and in his thirties made “discoveries that completely altered his health.” As Marie Brady Roloff wrote in her book entitled “Lester Roloff – Living by Faith,” Lester believed,
“there were three ‘F’s, which if followed, could revolutionize one’s life.
The first ‘F’ –faith- was well known by his radio audience and those who heard him preach. Over and over through the years he has said, ‘Now the just shall live by faith,’ and he has practiced it. …
There was a second ‘F’ he found in the Bible that he began to practice. It became a tremendous truth that he could not neglect. Jesus said, ‘Then shall they fast’ (Mark 2:20; Luke 5:35). … When the truth of this got hold of Lester, like any other Bible truth that became real to him, he grabbed onto it and didn’t let go. ‘Fasting isn’t an ordinance or a church doctrine,’ he said, ‘but just plain Bible truth and is a practice between the individual and the Lord. Like other great truths, it has been abused and misused and therefore has come into bad repute. But why should we leave out a practice that has such a prominent place in the Scripture?’ ….
Lester came to some practical conclusions regarding the third ‘F’ –food. He became convinced that four things are killing the American people- too much food, bad food, wrong combinations of food, and anxiety and worry, which stem from an absence of faith, trust, and wisdom from God.”
He recommended that foods be consumed in their natural state as much as possible and also encouraged exercise. He said, “you’d be surprised to know what a brisk walk of at least a mile every day with the proper breathing will do for you.” Truly, Brother Roloff was ahead of his time as evidenced by the increased emphasis in today’s world on proper eating and exercise.
The Family Altar Program Begins
On May 8, 1944, Brother Roloff recorded his first 15 minute radio broadcast. As Marie Brady Roloff wrote,
“Even before moving to Corpus Christi, Lester had felt God’s call to begin such a broadcast. One of the conditions he made when we moved to Park Avenue Baptist was that such a radio ministry be started. The church was not ready to launch into such a program by faith, but the deacons did agree to pledge half the payment and we were to be responsible for the other half.
This was a tremendous step of faith. We had no income other than the pastoral salary; but Lester possessed the confidence to believe that if God was in this, He would provide the necessary financial resources. ‘Doesn’t the Scripture say, ‘Now the Just shall live by faith?’ he asked me. Thus was born the Family Altar Program, a daily time of spiritual refreshment, Bible study and prayer.” (p. 49)
Full Time Evangelist & Radio Minister
In 1951, Brother Roloff left the pastorate of Second Baptist and became a full-time evangelist and radio minister. That same year, he founded Roloff Evangelistic Enterprises, Inc., as a non-profit, tax-exempt corporation to coordinate all his ministries.
He conducted revival meetings in tents across much of the central and south east portions of the United States. As his ministry grew, he also felt he needed a church home from which to base his work. This led to his founding of the Alameda Baptist Church in Corpus Christi in 1954.
Mrs. Roloff wrote,
“the revival services continued with four major tent campaigns in various parts of the country each year – plus other gospel rallies, Bible conferences, and revivals. ‘It is our policy, under God’s leadership, to go anywhere He leads; and while there, to seek to be a blessing to the local church, to win the lost, and to under gird the pastor’s hands in his ministry.’
The first issue of the publication to be entitled ‘Faith Enterprise’ came out in May, 1955. … The ‘Faith Enterprise’ became the way we could keep our radio listeners informed concerning the radio and revival schedules, the work of the church in Corpus Christi, the rescue mission, the day school, and any other reports and needs that arose.”
In the “Faith Enterprise,” Brother Roloff wrote,
“when faith falters, we fail. Faith puts us into the realm of the righteous. Faith does the unusual, but faith is also practical. Jesus would still say if He came back to earth today, ‘Be it done unto you according to your faith.’ A man can live no better than by his faith in God.”
City of Refuge
Brother Roloff led Alameda Baptist to expand its outreach by opening a Christian day school, assuming the operation of the Good Samaritan Rescue Mission in Corpus Christi, and establishing another Good Samaritan Mission in Big Spring, Texas. The missions provided food, shelter and the Word of God to the men who came, but Lester felt more could be done.
In response, with the help of generous Christians, Brother Roloff established the “City of Refuge” in Lexington, Texas. It served the needs of alcoholic men and their families. Later, the “City” would move to a more suitable home in Culloden, Georgia, again with the help of Christian supporters. Brother Roloff summed up the work,
The Lighthouse for Boys
“this is a work of faith, entirely dependent upon the gifts of God’s people. You talk about an opportunity for evangelism! This is it, when we have men, women, boys and girls for at least ninety days to preach the gospel of deliverance to them. Some have suggested that we appeal to the state for funds, but his is a work of faith and there must be no strings attached that would keep us from preaching a full gospel and ministering to the spiritual needs of people. This is not a social institution. This is a salvation institution.”
In 1958, Brother Roloff started “The Lighthouse for Boys.” Located on the Intracoastal Canal, 40 miles from Corpus Christi, Texas, “The Lighthouse” was “a place for delinquent boys to be isolated from drugs and liquor until they were delivered. It its first seven years of operation, there were “almost six hundred boys who found their first real home at The Lighthouse.”
During its existence, Mrs. Roloff wrote,
“the Lighthouse has been a haven for boys no one else wanted- boys who were one step from reform school or the penitentiary. … The boys come in all sizes and shapes, but they have one thing in common regardless of their age- they are old in sorrow, sadness, and hostility. … At first the boys cover their inward hurts with belligerence and a bravado that they do not actually possess. These boys are almost without exception bereft of parental love and guidance. Some are actually homeless while others have rebelled against parental authority and have gotten into serious trouble with the law.”
In 1967, while preaching at a gospel meeting in the Forth Worth, Texas area, Brother Roloff became aware of a need for a home for unwed pregnant girls. As awareness of the need for a home to help girls became more apparent, the Rebekah Home was established on property close to Corpus Christi, Texas. Mrs. Roloff wrote,
More Responses to Needs
“as we began working with these girls, we realized that many of them were unwanted and consequently unloved. Lester said, ‘No wonder children have become embittered and even criminals at an early age. They’ve never seen love in those who gave them birth. The right kind of love would lock and stop the wheels of divorce, delinquency, murder and war and turn this hell on earth into a haven of peace, rest, and joy for these children.”
Brother Roloff continued to respond to the needs of people. In addition to the City of Refuge, the Lighthouse for Boys and the Rebekah Home, other works were established. Some of these were- Pleasant Valley, a home for the elderly in South Texas, the Anchor Home for boys in Zapata, Texas and the People’s Baptist Church located adjacent to the Rebekah Home near Corpus Christi.
In 1980, one of Brother Roloff’s last outreach efforts was to provide help to Ann Murphy, a missionary to Native Americans in Arizona. Ann’s work would become Regeneration Reservation
, which today is led by her son Scott Murphy, a current member of our ministry’s Board of Directors.
Love is the Difference
To his radio listeners, “in a message entitled ‘The Greatest of These …’ Brother Roloff spoke of the need for love. He asked his audience to read Matthew 22:37-40; John 14:15, 23; John 15:12, 17; 1 John 3:14; 1 John 4:7, 8; and 1 Corinthians 13. In his sermon, he stated,
“love is the difference between religion and Christianity, between sincerity and the synthetic and superficial. It’s the only motive for acceptable service to the Lord. ‘If ye love me, keep my commandments.’ ‘A new commandment I give unto you, that ye love one another; as I have loved you.’
It is the Christian’s identification badge. ‘By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have loved one to another.’
There’s no way for us to keep on keeping on or to minister to the poor pieces of wrecked humanity that come to us as delinquents, narcotic addicts, alcoholics (both men and women), poor little girls in trouble- apart from the love that Jesus gives.
A Man of Conviction
We’ve received far more condemnation and criticism than we have commendation. Our failures have been far more vicious to us than the successes and victories have been helpful, and we have to keep looking beyond the trickle of time before we can see the real reward. And yet we dare not quit or let bitterness enter, but lift our face toward Calvary and in love pray for them.”
Brother Roloff’s ministry, in particular the running of the homes, was not free from condemnation or criticism. Although the physical facilities met state standards, the food was wholesome and the buildings were well kept and sanitary, the Texas Welfare Department took the position that to continue operation they must be licensed by the State of Texas. Mrs. Roloff wrote about the State’s first attempt to close the homes,
“we had saved the State many millions of dollars during twenty years in our rescue ministries. Never had we received a penny of tax money from the government- it was God’s people who had faithfully supported the work. And yet the State felt they must set the rules and regulations for our work- a work for which they paid nothing.”
Brother Roloff’s position was that,
“licensing these homes is as unnecessary and wrong as licensing a church, … at issue is the constitutional principle of separation of church and state. This plainly is government interference with religion. …
Why should we have to have a license to run a church home any more than we would have to have a license to run the church? It actually means that we take God’s money and let the state, which is altogether unprepared to run a Christian home, run the home. ….
I believe that every state home ought to have a license. I believe that every church that takes state money out to be under a license. But with me it is not a matter of preference, it is a matter of conviction.”
Standing firmly on his convictions, with Bible in hand, Brother Roloff fought the State’s attempts to regulate the homes that ministered to children. His actions even led to his serving two short stints in county jail for failing to abide by court orders. But all along, he believed within his heart that what he was doing was the only right course to take.
Ownership of the homes was ultimately transferred from Roloff Evangelistic Enterprises, Inc. to the Peoples Baptist Church. Brother Roloff continued to fight to keep the homes for children open under the umbrella of Peoples Baptist Church. At the end of a long court battle, the Supreme Court of the United States refused to hear the appeal that would allow the homes to remain unlicensed and open.
The long legal battle took a heavy toll on Brother Roloff’s health, the finances of the ministry and on his personal finances. Till the very end, Brother and Mrs. Roloff lived modestly and committed all of themselves and their resources to their ministry. In one of his last recordings of the Family Altar Radio Program, Brother Roloff talked about his ministry’s financial burdens and revealed he and Mrs. Roloff had exhausted their personal savings to help. He told his radio audience,
Brother Roloff’s Heavenly Reward
“yesterday we cleared out our personal bank account of fourteen hundred dollars and borrowed sixteen thousand dollars more. We gave it to the ministry to help somebody.”
To meet heavy travel demands, early on Brother Roloff became a licensed pilot. He flew extensively, many times accompanied by vocalists who would sing during his preaching engagements. At approximately 9 a.m. on the morning of November 2, 1982, Brother Roloff piloted a plane which took off from Corpus Christi on a seven day preaching tour of central and southern states. He was accompanied by the Jubilee Trio, a girl vocal group comprised of Cheryl Palmer, Elona Slade and Sue Smith, along with Elaine Winger, a supervisor from the homes.
The last recorded conversation of Brother Roloff with air traffic controllers was his request to “go higher” and after receiving their approval he responded with “thank-you now” and “good day.” Radio contact was lost with the plane at 10:18 a.m., shortly before it crashed just north of Normangee, Texas, a little over 100 miles north of Houston. There were no survivors.
As part of his eulogy, Dr. Bob Jones, Jr., said the following about Brother Roloff,
“he bore the brunt of the battle. He stood in the gap. He never retreated. … He was a man who- what he began he finished- and his motivation was always love.”
Bobby R. Glenn, now deceased, was a long-time friend of Brother Roloff and served on the Board of Directors of Roloff Evangelistic Enterprises. Mr. Glenn, along with Mrs. Roloff, who has also passed, revised her “Living By Faith” work about Brother Roloff and released a book entitled “Lester Roloff, in Life and in Death.” In the book, Mr. Glenn writes,
Our Ministry Today
“after having known Lester Roloff for more than 47 years, I am convinced he was a man whose faith was in God alone. By faith he spent his endless energy and gave his vibrant life doing God’s bidding. No other man in our times has come close to him in proving what can be wrought through faith alone. Even so, he prayed continually that God would increase his faith. He was a faithful representative of Christ. His methods of ministering were learned from God’s Word. He trusted God to bless the ministry. Multitudes can attest to the fact that God was faithful to His believing servant, Lester Roloff.”
On February 16, 1993, the National Religious Broadcasters posthumously inducted Brother Roloff into their Hall of Fame. This award is presented to an individual who, “for a significant period of time, has made an outstanding contribution in the field of Christian broadcasting with the highest of standards and faithfulness to Christ, of whom it can be testified or who can testify … ‘I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith.’” This Hall of Fame Award is the National Religious Broadcasters’ highest honor. During the ceremony, Brother Roloff was described as “a man with a backbone of steel and a heart of gold.”
Today, Roloff Evangelistic Enterprises, Inc. continues the mission established by Brother Roloff by broadcasting the “Good News” of Jesus Christ through our “Family Altar Program.” Through financial support, we also help ministries Brother Roloff started or inspired.
We remain a faith based ministry and still firmly believe as Brother Roloff did, that,
(Note- The quotations found above, along with much more about the life and work of Lester Roloff can be found by ordering “Lester Roloff, in Life and in Death” written by Marie Brady Roloff and Bobby R. Glenn. Please click on the “Online Shopping” link on the “Resources” page of this website to place your order.)
Christ is the Answer!
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