Oral Roberts: The (almost) Missionary to Palestine

Oral Roberts has a famous life story.  In fact, he rehearsed this story over and over in his preaching and in his five autobiographies.  But there is one story that has never been told. Oral Roberts was almost a missionary to Palestine.

Oral Roberts was ordained in the Pentecostal Holiness Church  by Bishop Dan T. Muse at the age of 18 and launched out as an evangelist in 1936.  He married Evelyn in 1938 and after a few years of struggling as a traveling evangelist, Roberts decided to try pastoring in 1941.

OR family 1941sm

By fall of 1942, Roberts was pastoring the Pentecostal Holiness Church in Shawnee with great success. He also enrolled in Oklahoma Baptist Unviersity because he wanted more education. But after a couple years,  Oral began to feel restless (as he often was in this time) and left Shawnee in 1945 to pastor a church in Taccoa, GA. It was a disaster and just a week later, Roberts decided to return back to his home town of Ada in Oklahoma.

Not having a church to pastor and struggling with two small children, Roberts apparently turned to a new calling. The October 18, 1945 Pentecostal Holiness Advocate made this announcement.

“Rev. G. Oral Roberts came before the Board having been called to labor in Palestine. The names of Mr. and Mrs. Roberts are being placed upon the list of our accepted missionaries for Palestine.”

In January 1946, Roberts enrolled in East Central State College in Ada to prepare for his new found calling as a missionary to Palestine. He also traveled on weekends to to revivals to try to provide for his family

It is unclear how long Roberts had been thinking  about being a missionary. We do know he  had a lifelong fascination with Israel. In 1941, Roberts wrote his second book, Drama of the End Time which talks about Israel’s role in Bible prophecy, a subject he often preached about. In his later ministry, Roberts had a ministry to Israel and even printed Hebrew Bibles to distribute in the Holy Land. (See Eric Newberg’s great article here). The post WWII momentum toward the creation of a state of Israel may have also played a role in that calling.

But apparently, that calling was short lived. By the end of the month of January, Roberts appears to have abandoned that calling as he accepted a call to pastor in Redford, Virginia, likely at the suggestion of his friend Bishop J. A. Synan who had been holding evangelistic meetings at the church. Roberts stayed only two months in Virginia and moved back to Oklahoma.

He never mentioned being a missionary again. Instead he  returned to evangelistic work and helped to found Southwestern Pentecostal Holiness Bible College in Oklahoma City, OK. He  re-enrolled in Oklahoma Baptist University to finish his degree in preparation to serve as faculty at the college. In September 1946, Roberts moved to Enid and enrolled in his third college, Phillips University.  Of course, as the famous story goes, in June 1947 he left the church and started his healing ministry. And the rest is history.

To my knowledge, Roberts never mentioned wanting to be a missionary in any of his tellings of his life story.  In fact, in the 1995 autobiography, Expect a Miracle, Roberts talks about that time frame and his troubles in Taccoa, but never mentions wanting to be a missionary to Palestine. He admitted he struggled with depression and feelings of emptiness in ministry during this era. One has to wonder if he was simply trying to find happiness and thought that being a missionary would fulfill that need?  Why didn’t he go?  No one knows for sure.

What we do know is that for three short months, Oral Roberts was almost a missionary to Palestine.  And by all accounts he was headed that direction.  But apparently God had another plan. I am personally glad He did.  Had he gone to Palestine, the world would have missed out on his world-wide healing ministry and most importantly, Oral Roberts University.