BORN: June 28, 1914
DIED: November 2, 1982
LIFE SPAN: 68 years, 4 months, 4 days
LESTER ROLOFF was a perfect example of a modern day prophet. In all his years of serving God he set the example for all who believe, man ought to obey God rather than men. Roloff was constantly engaged in battle against some of the forces of the state of Texas, primarily the Welfare Department - they would silence or greatly curtail his ministry if they could. The irony of it all is that he had done nothing but help change lives of countless youngsters who had nobody else to help them. It is hard to believe that the story you are now going to read could happen in America.
Roloff was born on a farm ten miles south of Dawson, Texas, to Christian parents. He was saved in a little country church called Shiloh Baptist when about twelve in a revival in July, 1926 under the ministry of John T. Taylor. High School was completed in Dawson. Reared on a farm he took his milk cow and went off to Baylor University in 1933 and milked his way through college. He graduated in 1937 with an A.B. degree.
While at Baylor he was far from idle. He started pastoring among the Southern Baptists in a succession of pastorates. First was the Prairie Grove Mills Baptist Church in Navarro County where he had 67 converted in a revival to begin things. He also preached at his hometown church at Shiloh which was located outside of Dawson. Then he preached a revival at the First Baptist Church of Purden, Texas, and had 143 additions, baptizing some 100 of them. This led to his call there while he retained the ministry at Navarro Mills. This latest venture happened his last year in college.
Roloff went on to Southwestern Seminary in Fort Worth for three years, 1937 to 1940 while he maintained his ministry at Purden, going then to the First Baptist Church of Trinidad, Texas, his last year in Seminary.
He married Marie Brady on August 10, 1936 at the First Baptist Church of Galveston, Texas. They had two daughters, (Elizabeth, born June 20, 1937) and Pamela Kay, an adopted daughter.
From 1941 to 1944 he pastored the Magnolia Park Baptist Church in Houston, Texas, which had great crowds and much blessing. He was president of the local pastor's conference during some of this time.
In 1944 he went to Corpus Christi where he remained the rest of his life. The Park Ave. Baptist Church extended a call to him where he went in March. On October 15, 1944, the church burned, and later property was purchased in another location of town and the church became known as the Second Baptist Church which he pastored from 1944 to 1951 with some 3,300 additions during this time. A branch mission church was started called the West Heights Baptist Church.
Roloff began a radio ministry on May 8, 1944 with his Family Altar Program, first broadcast over a 250-watt station locally Soon it was on more than 22 stations, approximately 65 hours a week, gradually increasing to 150 stations. Some of the broadcasts were 15 minutes in length, some one-half hour. Starting on the small KEYS station it had an interesting history. He was kicked off the radio ten months after he started; his fight against liquor being a prime reason. The next day he started to broadcast on KWBU, a 50,000-watt station where he held forth for eight years. In 1954 they decided to remove him because he was a controversial figure. Some businessmen bought the station and he was again on the air for a year. Then total programming conveniently removed him. The owners then lost $70,000 in one year. Roloff decided to try and buy the station and asked how much they wanted. The answer was $300,000 and he did not have a dime. However, with the help of God and the money of friends, $25,000 was put down as earnest money with $100,000 needed 90 days later. He had it all but $7,250 on the last day and $250 the last hour, but 45 minutes before the 2 p.m. deadline it was all there! Others of course became stockholders and owned the station, but Roloff was the vehicle used to get it (called KCIA) in the right hands.
Roloff founded the Park Avenue Christian Day School in 1946. The school operated a kindergarten and continued through upper grades. His headquarters continued at the Park Avenue Day School, located on the property of the former Park Avenue Church.
In April, 1951 he resigned as pastor of Second Baptist Church to enter full time evangelism. He founded the Roloff Evangelistic Enterprises, a non-profit organization which sponsored many projects of faith. In May, 1955 he printed his first issue of Faith Enterprise, a quarterly publication dedicated to the salvation of lost souls and strengthening believers.
In August of 1954, with convictions about being independent, founded a church in Corpus Christi which was to be called the Alameda Baptist Church. He and four others put up $2,500 on ten and four-tenths acres of ground, and it was organized with 126 members on October, 24. He pastored there until about 1961.
On March 13, 1956, Roloff stood in Waco Hall, in Waco, Texas; and spoke to more than 2,000 giving his swan song to Baylor University. He stated all the issues in no uncertain terms.
Other ministries soon developed. Roloff described at least major ministries that he was responsible for.. .
Thirty years ago, we started the Good Samaritan Rescue Mission that is still in operation. More than twenty years ago, the CITY OF REFUGE was started in an old Quonset hut given by Dr. Logan and put together by alcoholics at Lexington, Texas. The City of Refuge is now located in Culloden, Georgia, on 273 acres of an old antebellum home with lovely dormitories for men and women.
The LIGHTHOUSE houseboat was built by Brother E.A. Goodman and taken down the Intracoastal Canal in 1958. On the way down, a boy fell off and went under this boat and just missed the propeller. He was rescued by an unsaved boy who was going down to the Lighthouse for help, and one of our preacher boys, Bob Smith, who is now a missionary. This is where Bill Henderson, Ricky Banning and many others found God's will for their lives. We have preacher boys that have come to the Lighthouse to study for the ministry in other Christian schools. I have just dealt with three eighteen year old boys in Corpus Christi within the last week who are drug addicts. The Lighthouse is located forty miles down the Intracoastal Canal from Corpus Christi and it can only be reached by plane or by boat.
The PEACEFUL VALLEY HOME for our older retired Christian friends is the prayer place. It is located near Mission and Edinburg, Texas, with many acres of citrus fruit and lovely vegetables that are grown there in the midst of a lot of nice weather. This home is just for Christians who want to retire in a lovely place and still be of service to others. It began in 1969.
The ANCHOR HOME FOR BOYS with three big two-story buildings for dormitories, a cafeteria, gymnasium, shop building and dining room, is located at Zapata, Texas. It has a capacity for nearly three hundred boys.
The BETHESDA HOME FOR GIRLS in Hattiesburg, Mississippi, is for girls in trouble. It is a very beautiful home, located on Blue Lake, for both pregnant and delinquent girls. It has made many friends and received a warm welcome in Mississippi.
The REBEKAH HOME FOR GIRLS, located in Corpus Christi, Texas, is our largest home. We have had fifteen hundred girls in about seven years and the three dormitories have a capacity of about three hundred beds. It is located on 440 acres of land. This has been the most miraculous work we have ever seen and has been fought and despised by the devil. I have never seen such miracles in all of my ministry.
The REBEKAH CHRISTIAN ACADEMY is the school for the Rebekah Home. It has a beautiful two story, air conditioned building with the finest of equipment.
From 1961 to 1973 Roloff was developing these varied enterprises, and ministering as an evangelist in many churches, plus carrying on his radio ministry. He was an experienced pilot having flown about 12,000 hours in his 1966 Queen Air that a friend helped him to get, and also his 1968 Cessna Skywagon that was used for Lighthouse work which could land on the beach with people and provisions. These planes belonged to the Enterprise and had their own mechanic and radio men to maintain them and help fly them.
Roloff landed his plane at least four times on one engine, and in unusual places such as a highway. His flying lessons began in 1958.
His themes all through the years were "Christ is the Answer" and "Now the Just Shall Live by Faith."
The last of his varied works of good will - which, by the way, make no charges for those that they help, is the Rebekah Home in Corpus Christi which has been the scene of recent controversy. This was founded in 1967 along with the Peoples Church, a place where girls in trouble can worship as they get straightened out. This school specializes in taking cases other agencies and homes refuse to take. And no wonder - Roloff got results. He ran his schools by Bible directives and naturally got Bible results - changed lives. Over $3 million dollars was tied up in the Rebekah project alone.
In September, 1970, the Gulf Coast storm, "Celia" hit but miraculously did not touch the Lighthouse, nor their home, although severe damage was most everywhere else. In 1971, their homes were filled to capacity, and they had to start turning people away. In May, 1972, the Roloffs moved into their lovely large new home on the acreage where the Rebekah Home and other buildings were already located. Another 118 acres of land was purchased. It had a runway on it for their plane, and they could farm some of the remaining acres. During the summer of 1972, workers built another big two-story building, which became the Rebekah Christian School.
At the close of 1972, they had four days of dedication for the following new items: Chapel at the Intracoastal Canal; their new home; the land adjoining the Enterprises property; a big new boys' home at Zapata, Texas; five new units at the Peaceful Valley Home; the high two-story dormitory at the Rebekah Home; the two-story Rebekah School; and the People's Church, which is nearly two blocks long.
The battle with the state of Texas developed ironically out of one of the most compassionate ministries done anywhere. Rebekah Home was founded as a place to help girls in trouble by giving them the answer which is Christ. A Dallas probation officer attests to the fact that the place to send young people in trouble is Roloffs work. Children rejected elsewhere are welcomed with open arms and a book could be told of the amazing changed lives. Some of the young men from the Lighthouse have married some of the girls from Rebekah Home (the bumble bees meet the honey bees).
The talk of licensing began in 1971 which threatened to shut the work down unless they conformed to rules and regulations that would have greatly increased the cost of the operation without improving on what they were doing. Roloffs legal problems began in April, 1973 when the state welfare department filed a suit in an attempt to have his Rebekah Home licensed. Had Roloff agreed to do this, he would then have had to follow welfare department guidelines, which would be totally alien to Bible principles and philosophy upon which the girls' home was founded. Roloff had no desire to fight the welfare department or put them out of business, but simply wanted this unconstitutional interference to stop. It is government interference with religion. "Licensing a church home is as unnecessary and wrong as licensing a church" Roloff contended. At issue is the constitutional principal of separation of church and state.
If licensed, the home would be required to hire a home supervisor who holds a degree in social work and who is approved by the welfare department. That supervisor would be required to complete an additional fifteen hours of college level social studies every two years. Not only that, but the home would be required to file financial reports regularly with the state welfare department. The home would also have to hire one state-approved worker for every eight girls. The home would also be forced to serve foods from a menu prepared by the welfare department. The welfare department also objects to Bible discipline, which would have to be eliminated. One could readily see that Roloff would not be running the home he gave birth to, so naturally he chose to fight this invasion of privacy. When the welfare officials appeared, he asked them what they wanted. When they presented new rules he simply took out his Bible and told them he was satisfied with God's rules.
On August 3, an injunction was signed in which Roloff was enjoined from operating a child care institution without a license for those under sixteen years of age. On October 5, 1973, a district judge heard the case and fined Roloff $500 and $80 court costs for contempt of court when he refused welfare guidelines. With Roloff refusing to have the home licensed the welfare department leveled charges of brutality against the home based upon the testimony of a few of the girls. This adverse publicity was wide spread. It was found that of the 1,500 girls who have spent time at Rebekah Home, fewer than a dozen could be found that would testify against it. One set of parents was found willing to testify for the welfare department. None of the 1,490 who were helped or thankful for the home or their parents were consulted.
Finally on January 31, 1974 the case went to court again in Corpus Christi and Roloff was found guilty - fined $5,400 and sentenced to five days in the county jail on contempt of court charges. The court also ordered him to "purge the home" which would mean to "dump the girls into the street." On February 4th, he was given the opportunity to present his argument on the constitutionality of state licensing of a church operated home before the Provisions Committee of the Texas Senate. What was to have been a five minute presentation blossomed into a three-hour session when the senators began questioning Roloff on the accomplishments and problems of Rebekah Home. His jail term was limited to one day, February 12th, pending appeal to the Texas State Supreme Court, and the fine was stayed as well, pending appeal. He was released from jail on a writ of habeas corpus.
On March 24, 1974, Roloff and his attorneys appeared before the nine judges of the State Supreme Court of Texas in a hearing to determine if a discharge of the charges could be obtained. This request was made on the grounds that the judgment was ambiguous and unclear in that it does not define what age constitutes a child or children. The former policy was that individuals up to age sixteen were considered children, but a recent state attorney general's ruling stated a person to be a child up to age eighteen. Questions were also raised in the minds of the judges as to what constituted a childcare home. Answers were unclear from the welfare department and in one instance, contradictory. The high court agreed that children sixteen or over could be cared for by Roloff and as a result overturned the contempt of court charges May 20, 1974. Roloff received the news May 29, while at Bob Jones University in Greenville, S.C., receiving an award "for those who have made special contributions to the defense of the faith." The Austin decision of the Supreme Court, however, did not end the fight.
The welfare department had been adamant in getting the under eighteen years of age law declared as needing a welfare license. Roloff continued to help girls of any age that came to him for help. He estimated that while he couldn't actively recruit for the younger ages, had there been no harassment, he could have handled up to 700 young people over against his approximate 200 that were now cared for.
To illustrate the problem, two girls, ages 13 and 15 ran away after two warnings for other offenses. They were told they would be spanked for the next violation. They were found four days later in a locked bar. They had spent this time with ten men and had a woeful story to tell. Roloff kept his word and spanked them. Word got out about the incident and Roloff was served a summons for child abuse. At the hearing the girls admitted the offenses and the spankings. The judge declared Roloff could keep them until the trial. Roloff refused until the judge would ask them a question as to where they would like to go - back to Roloff or to some alternate arrangement. Hugging their "daddy" with great affection they said they wanted to be with Brother Roloff.
By March 1975, the Texas Welfare Department had filed against Roloff again for contempt and for being in violation of their rules and regulations. They had built up to 200 girls at Rebekah Home, half of what they had previously when forced to close. Even more tragic is that they turned away 3,000 during this time.
A legislative bill slipped through the Texas Senate on March 13, 1975, clearly aimed, many people feel, at outlawing his homes and work. It passed through the Texas House in May 1975. In June, another court order was issued whereby Roloff would be held in further contempt if he did not allow inspection of the premises of their homes. He allowed the inspections having nothing to hide.
On July 4 and 5, 1975, a great rally was held in Garland and Dallas where hundreds of people gathered to join in the battle, with such as Jack Hyles and Bob Jones, III addressing the crowds. On July 25, shortly thereafter the Lighthouse dormitory burned to the ground. Later a young boy got saved and confessed to setting the fire.
It seems that Roloff's case was being considered a test case by many. What happens may determine the ultimate status of many other preachers.
By January 1, 1976, the new guidelines by the welfare department become law making it illegal for unlicensed homes to take in children under the age of eighteen. In May 1976, a judges order instructed Roloff Enterprises to allow state welfare workers to inspect the homes. This time Roloff refused. On June 3rd, a great rally with some 400 people was held in Austin, preceding Roloffs court appearance to fight state licensing. Again he was put in jail on June 21. He was released June 25th just prior to his 62nd birthday. He was fined $1,750. In the fall of 1976 a final ruling was laid down giving him freedom until the Supreme Court of the United States would hear his case.
On November 1, 1977 a great freedom rally was held at the convention center in Dallas. Great crowds came including over 1,500 preachers and public sentiment again swelled for Roloff. Nearly a year later, on October 2, 1978, the Supreme Court ruled against hearing the case from Corpus Christi. Attorney General John Hill of Texas said the case was frivolous, and the justices must have believed it. Appearing on nation-wide television "60 Minutes" with Mike Wallace on October 22nd gave Roloff some national favorable coverage long overdue. Then on November 7, this same thorn-in-the-flesh Hill was defeated in his bid for governor of Texas by William Clements in a very close election. Clements had indicated he would use his powers to free Roloff from all charges. Perhaps justice would still be mete out.
Roloffs battle with Texas authorities continued through most of his life. There were times when things were calm, and times when he was in court or in jail.
On the way to a meeting he with three of his staff flew into some turbulent weather and it is conjectured a wing disengaged from his aircraft. This was the end as the plane plummeted to earth killing all of the occupants. On the day of his death it was an ironic turn of events, for his chief antagonist, Mark White was elected governor of Texas. Long time friend, Jack Hyles conducted the funeral a couple days later in a civic auditorium in Corpus Christi, Texas. The work with some modifications has carried on, but some facilities have been terminated and moved to other states.
Lester Roloff, as a Bible believing Christian, knew that his place in Heaven was secured by repentance toward God and faith toward the Lord Jesus Christ and the blood He shed for our sins when He died on the cross of Calvary. Brother Roloff is with the Lord Jesus Christ right now, but do you know, with 100% assurance, from God's Word, that you will be with Jesus when you die?
If you do not have this assurance, please read:
God's Simple Plan of Salvation
These things have I written unto you that believe on the name of the Son of God;
that ye may know that ye have eternal life,
and that ye may believe on the name of the Son of God.
1. Biographies have always been used of God to stimulate more service for Christ. Paul said, "Be yea followers of me as I am also of Christ." Only eternity will reveal how many have gone into Christian service or a deeper walk with God as a result of reading such as David Barren's journal.
2. Biographies keep the wonderful ministries of many people alive and fresh before us. Many might soon be forgotten unless their challenging stories are brought to the attention of the Christian world afresh.
3. Biographies introduce people to us whom we might not know, or perhaps have misunderstood. This would be especially true of people now living. In a day when Christians seem to be divided into many "camps", it is hoped that this series will help give all true believers a new appreciation of ministries other than their own.
4. Biographies introduce us to people we will soon be living with for all eternity. The "family of God" is such a wonderful family. If you do not have the assurance that heaven is your home, that your sins have been forgiven, and that Jesus Christ lives in and through your life, please write us. We would like to introduce you to the Saviour, and welcome you to this wonderful eternal family.
ED REEVE, Psalm 35:28
THE CHRISTIAN HALL OF FAME SERIES ANTICIPATES PRODUCING MANY MORE TITLES FOR YOUR ENJOYMENT AND ENRICHMENT. START YOUR COLLECTION NOW!
Publishers & distributors of Christian aids & reference works
The scores of sources used in obtaining data for this series are too numerous to mention. They include back issues of many Christian journals, such as Christian Life, Decision, Sword of the Lord, etc. The major sets of encyclopedias plus the Who's Who in America series often provide factual data not obtained elsewhere. A library of close to 500 biographies plus numerous other books, booklets and files have been most valuable as well. Questionnaires returned from Christian leaders now living have also been helpful.
The people who have encouraged me and worked hard in the project are also rightfully acknowledged. The designing and editing of my wife Margaret, and the typesetting of Griffin Graphics have all made these biographies possible. I am thankful for this team God has put together.
Also a word of thanks to Harold Henniger of Canton, Ohio for allowing me to use the Christian Hall of Fame title, which he originated.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR Edward Reese graduated from the Moody Bible Institute in 1950. His varied background has included Youth for Christ ministries, service as a pastor, evangelist, musician (Cordovox record inn artist), and missionary (Japan and Brazil). He serves on the faculty of Hyles-Anderson College. He founded Fundamental Publishers and also Reese Religious Research, a non-profit ordain nation that collects and makes available data on the Christian scene. He has served as a researcher, writer, administrator for such works as World Literature Crusade, Church League of America and Second Coming, Inn. He is the editor and compiler of THE REESE CHRONOLOGICAL BIBLE, and CHRISTIAN HERO CARDS, and other Christian reference materials.
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