Dr. Lester Sumrall (1913-1996) – A Tribute to a Victorious Life
Few evangelists have seen as much of the world as Lester Sumrall witnessed. As one of the most colorful preachers of the 20th century, Lester began as a fiery young preacher during the depression and by the time all was said and done left the world with a legacy of what simple and determined faith in God could accomplish. At the age of 74 he founded a global humanitarian ministry aimed at wiping out hunger among those struggling to survive amidst poverty, famine, disaster, and war. Lester Sumrall was a man who threw himself at the feet of Jesus Christ, possessing a zeal and commitment to God that still amazes those who knew him.
Lester Sumrall (1913-1996) was a world-renowned pastor and evangelist, entering full-time service for God after experiencing a dramatic and life-altering encounter with Jesus Christ. At the age of 17, as he lay on a deathbed suffering from tuberculosis, he received a vision.
Suspended in midair to the right of his bed was a casket; on his left was a large open Bible. He heard these words: “Lest er Sumrall, which of these will you choose tonight?” He made his decision – he would preach the Gospel as long as he lived. When Lester Sumrall awoke the next morning, he was completely healed and served the Lord for sixty-five years.
Lester Sumrall traveled the world ministering in 110 countries, including Soviet Siberia, Russia, Tibet, and China. During his life he penned over 130 books. His evangelistic association (LeSEA – Lester Sumrall Evangelistic Ministries headquartered in South Bend, Indiana), is still actively spreading God’s Word. LeSEA ministries include such outreaches as Indiana Christian University, Sumrall Publishing and LeSEA Broadcasting, which owns and operates 13 Christian television stations, 3 FM radio stations, 5 international shortwave radio station, and 2 Satellite channels covering the entire continents of Africa, Asia & Europe. LeSEA Broadcasting reaches 90% of the world’s population with the special purpose of bringing millions of souls to heaven.
The Making of a Champion
Lester Frank Sumrall was born to Betty and George Sumrall of New Orleans on February 15, 1913.
“My mother had decided, even before I was born, that I was going to be a preacher. She had prayed for me fervently while I was in her womb — back when I couldn’t do anything about it, except kick a little! I was born at home, child number six and completely unplanned.”
“My mother was a gentle, kind, and godly woman. I loved her and wanted to please her, but I didn’t want to be like her because that meant I had to be good. On the other hand, if I followed in my father’s footsteps, I could be my own boss and do whatever I pleased. While the inner battle raged, I dug in my heels, determined to be like my own daddy.”
Courage to Conquer
Fortunately, God had other plans for Lester Sumrall. At the age of seventeen, he lay dying of tuberculosis without hope of recovery – at least according to his doctors. It was at this time that God gave him a choice of either preaching the gospel or dying an untimely death. He chose to serve God. Leaving his home in Panama City, Florida, he became a “brush arbor” preacher in the backwoods of Florida, Tennessee, and Arkansas.
The first eighteen months away from home as a young preacher-boy were my introduction to the school of evangelism. I didn’t look much like a preacher in my ninety-two pounds of city-boy finery, but I did manage to convince farmers along the way to open up their schoolhouses and let us hold revival services.
“At times I was brash, abrupt, and negative. Often the people simply laughed at me, which irritated me to no end. One night I was so dejected that I didn’t even try to take up an offering, and I didn’t ask anyone if they wanted to be saved either. The next morning the host-farmer said, ‘Young man, if you don’t work, you don’t eat. If you plan to stay here any longer, you can feed the hogs.’ Then he shoved two big pails of slop into my hands.”
“‘Feed the hogs?!’ As I carried those heavy buckets, the foul-smelling slop washed over onto my clothes and into my shoes. After that I was really able to identify with the story of the Prodigal Son. I lay down in the middle of the corn field not caring if my clothes were getting dirty and cried out, ‘Oh, Lord, maybe I should go home and die!’ But the Lord calmed me saying, ‘If you will be faithful to Me, Lester, in these little things, I will give you much greater hings.'”
Lester stayed with the “country folk” long enough to see them come around and respond to the move of the Holy Spirit. It was also during this time that God showed him, through a vision, the next step he was to take. The vision revealed multitudes, men and women of various nationalities, going to Hell – and their blood was on the young preacher’s hands. This vision, in much the same way as the first, took Lester’s life in an entirely new direction.
Faith Can Change Your World
On December 18, 1931, the night of my second vision, far away in London, England, Howard Carter was praying. He was so moved by what he sensed God telling him that he wrote the words of the message down:
‘I have found a companion for thee; I have called a worker to stand beside thee… He is called and chosen and shall join thee. Behold he cometh; he cometh from afar. He cometh to help thee to carry thy burden and be a strength at thy side, and thou shall find pleasure in his service and shall delight in his fellowship.'”
Lester Sumrall was that companion. What ensued was a relationship not unlike that of Paul and Timothy’s and a ministry that changed the course of the world. Together, the two men forged new territory in the arena of spiritual warfare as they cast out devils, won new converts, established churches, and instructed men and women of God from Australia to England. After growing in the grace and knowledge of God, and meeting pioneers of faith such as Smith Wigglesworth, World War II separated Lester from his friends in England. Fortunately, the war also served to unite him to a woman with whom he would spend the majority of his years.
God’s Blueprint for a Happy Home
“On my way home by train, I stopped for gospel meetings in British Columbia, speaking in the towns of Terrace, Smithers, and Prince George. In each, I kept hearing about this lovely Louise Layman, that pretty, young missionary from Argentina – and the rich blessing that she had been wherever she went.
“I became even more curious to meet her. She sounded like quite an intrepid missionary. What kind of courage had brought a young woman up into Canada during the winter? Normally, only zealous male missionaries brought the gospel here. “I wondered if I would ever get to meet her.”
Lester would indeed have the opportunity to meet “Miss Louisa” at – in the most appropriate of places – a wedding ceremony in Buenos Aires, Argentina. Their yes met, they smiled at each other, and the rest…is history.
Lester Sumrall and Louise Layman were married on September 30, 1944. Taking the “unconventional” route to honeymooning, the newlyweds began a fifty-thousand-mile missionary tour and life together that spanned over forty-nine years. Throughout the course of their marriage they ministered and lived in various foreign locales and, as Lester Sumrall so often and proudly stated, “never had a quarrel.” God, rewarding Lester’s faithfulness, blessed he and Louise with three industrious sons (Frank, Stephen, and Peter) and eleven grandchildren, all of whom have witnessed the goodness that one man’s life can bring.
Lester Sumrall, with the help and support of his family and many friends, founded LeSEA (Lester Sumrall Evangelistic Association) in 1957: A ministry which has subsequently given birth to well over one hundred books and study guides, thirteen television stations, 2 satellite ministry, three FM radio stations, five shortwave stations reaching over ninety percent of the world’s population, and a quarterly magazine. Perhaps the crowning glory of Lester Sumrall’s work is his ongoing ministry to feed the desperately poor within the Body of Christ. Established in 1987, LeSEA Global Feed the Hungry® has given millions of pounds in food and supplies valued at 165 million dollars to those suffering around the globe. And again, as Lester Sumrall so often said,
“This is just the beginning. There are greater blessings ahead!”
Goodbye Planet Earth
“I am assured that this ministry will continue in the second generation, and I pray in the third as well, if Jesus tarries. We will experience success in our efforts to reach those million souls for Christ, if we continue to carry the same vision and consecration.
“Men who do not make provision for successors in business or ministry often leave behind problems that someone else has to clear up. Either that, or they leave no business or ministry at all. I feel that God will give a smooth transition for my successors, as I have provided them with an organization that can expand and grow. Instead of a mess, I will leave behind a well-organized, expertly managed evangelistic ministry. My sons will not have to struggle to match my accomplishments in the ministry either. They have developed a working relationship together that will far exceed anything I could accomplish alone.
“I can imagine my sons facing some dilemma in the ministry and asking one another, ‘What would Dad have done in this situation?’ I wish I could leave behind all the answers, but I cannot. In fact, that will not be necessary. I know the Holy Spirit is already guiding my sons as He has guided me. They will always have Him to turn to whenever they are not sure of the way.
“God draws patterns for lives of men and woman to instruct and direct them. He creates a special design for each rational being that is destined to live on this planet. If the individual wisely follows this divine blueprint, he will build a strong, successful, and happy character. Take time to analyze the life of a good man, and see that it was not achieved by accident or good fortune, but was a life in submission to the will of God.”
– Lester Sumrall