The Man Who Moved Men and Mountains

I grew up in a community just North of Athens, Alabama. Our pastor, John Crawford, invited a former employer to speak at our church. I wasn’t old enough to understand the magnatude of the moment. The man Bro. John invited to our church was Robert Gilmore LeTourneau, a multi-billionare and world famous inventer. I don’t remember all he said but I do remember that he lived on the tithe and gave 90% of his income, not his net worth, to the LORD’s work. The story of R.G. LeTourneau is facinating and I thought you might enjoy it.

RG LeTourneau is perhaps the most inspiring Christian inventor, businessman and entrepreneur the world has ever seen. A sixth grade dropout, Robert Gilmore “RG” LeTourneau went on to become the leading earth moving machinery manufacturer of his day with plants on 4 continents, more than 300 patents to his name and major contributions to road construction and heavy equipment that forever changed the world.  Most importantly, his contribution to the advancement of the Gospel ranks him among the greatest of Christian Businessmen of all time. Famous for living on 10% of his income and giving 90% to the spread of the Gospel, LeTourneau exemplified what a Christian businessman should be.

RG LeTourneau dropped out of school and began working in an iron foundry at the age of 14, in the year 1901. Numerous tradesmen jobs later, he discovered a passion for machinery, initially as an auto mechanic, and later as the manufacturer of the largest earth moving equipment on the planet. At the age of 28, he returned from a period with the Navy serving our country in World War I to a car dealership, of which he was half owner, that was steeped in debt due to a partner who took to drinking. LeTourneau removed himself from the business with $5,000 in debt. The year was 1915. Ouch. Jobless and beyond broke, he jumped at the opportunity to level some land for a wealthy rancher. RG claimed that this experience was the most satisfying job he had ever held. 

LeTourneau slowly expanded to larger and larger land leveling contracts. He continually under-bid his competitors to win jobs and would scramble to invent machines to speed up the work and keep him from going broke. Although there were many technological advances in other areas of commerce in the early 1900s, in the world of earth moving at the time, it was still in the stone age. Roads were built by employing large numbers of men with shovels and utilizing mules to drag small plows. RG LeTourneau was among the first road construction contractors to introduce machinery to moving earth.

The year was 1919 and as a Christian, he felt the tug to be doing more for God. He went to his pastor, Reverend Devol, for advice. RG thought that anyone who was wholly committed to Christ had to become a pastor or a missionary to truly fulfill the great commission. After deep prayer with his pastor, RG LeTourneau was shocked to hear Rev. Duvol say the words that guided him for the rest of his life, “God needs businessmen too.” This was a revelation to RG. He immediately began to consider his business to be in partnership with God.

Still, RG LeTourneau was puzzled as to why God would choose him to be Hisbusinessman.  Especially when, at the age of 40, in the year 1927, a big construction job went bad and put him $100,000 in debt. But as RG remarked later, after seeing what God could do to restore a business and a life, “He uses the weak to confound the mighty.” For history buffs, the end of the 1920s marked a unique event in American history, the start of the Great Depression. Not exactly the best time to be up to your eyeballs in debt and uncertain as to how to feed your wife and kids. 

The following story highlights a miracle that God performed while RG faithfully served God, not man. The surety company that had backed RG LeTourneau on the construction job that posted the $100,000 loss was going to see to it that RG paid them back every penny owed. So on LeTourneau’s next job, the surety company demanded RG work on Sundays or else they would foreclose on his business, his house, everything. Since RG’s business partner was God, he gave the problem to God to solve. The owner of the surety company, Mr. Hall, boarded a train to officially shut LeTourneau down, but upon arrival to the job site the next day, something miraculous occurred. The surety man had a change of heart and allowed RG to continue.

Although the job was completed without working on Sundays, RG was still deep in debt. He was able to buy some time with his creditors by committing to improve his financial reporting. The surety company installed an accountant named Mr. Frost to reign in the books. What Mr. Frost found was worse than he had originally expected.

Meanwhile, RG had skipped his yearly missions pledge the year before so he was committed to making good with the Lord. He told Mr. Frost that he had pledged $5,000 to his church for missions. Mr. Frost couldn’t believe it. RG was so far behind, even thinking of donating to the Lord was out of the question. Mr. Frost didn’t realize who RG was partners in business with. Unbelievably, the business managed to stay afloat and the missions commitment was paid in full that year. Then, his business hit a breakthrough.

For years, RG LeTourneau had sold the machinery he had built for himself when he got a little behind financially. Although he still considered himself, first and foremost, a road construction contractor, the selling of his earth moving equipment inventions had been a profitable sideline for him. RG’s attorney hinted at the idea of solving his financial woes by going full force into the manufacturing business rather than rolling the dice on the ups and downs of big construction jobs. RG then turned his complete focus to the manufacturing of his machinery inventions. After that, his financial woes were a thing of the past. The following are the revenue results his manufacturing business produced during a time when the rest of the country was plagued with the Great Depression:

Year 1932 – Net Profit: $52,055.61
Year 1934 – Net Profit: $340,275.49 
Year 1938 – Net Profit: $1,412,465.68

In 1935, with the gigantic profits pouring out of the manufacturing business, at the gentle suggestion of his wife Evelyn, they transitioned to a 90/10 split with the Lord. 90% went to the Lord and 10% went to RG and Evelyn. LeTourneau was fond of remarking, “It’s not how much of my money I give to God, but how much of God’s money I keep for myself.” With the money, they established the LeTourneau Foundation to manage the administration of donations. By 1959, after giving $10 Million in donations to religious and educational works, the LeTourneau Foundation was still worth some $40 Million.

In that same year, 1935, RG LeTourneau overcame a lifelong fear of public speaking and gave his first speech at the opening of his newest plant, to which he urged his fellow Christians in the room to do more for the Lord in their businesses. In attendance at the presentation were several area pastors, who immediately requested he speak to their congregation about Christianity and business. This was the beginning of a lifelong commitment to speaking on Christians in business. In later years, with the profits from his business, he was able to purchase airplanes so that he could speak to more and more audiences around the world.

RG LeTourneau was a mighty man of God whose life continues to inspire Christians in Business to this day. To learn even more, read the detailed account of his life, in his own words, in the book, Mover of Mountains and Men.

All but the first paragraph was copied from

The Barren Fig Tree

John Crawford

John Crawford

I grew up on a 40 acre farm in Limestone County [North Alabama]. Our house was less than a quarter of a mile from the church building. My parents never missed a service: not Sunday night, not Wednesday night, not a revival night, a special night, not even M-Night which no one will understand unless they are 60 plus. I was converted when I was nine. It happened in a Revival meeting in March of 1958 with John Ingolf preaching. My pastor at the time was John Crawford. His oldest daughter was my first girl friend, the first girl I kissed on the lips [she was 5 and I was 8]. Like most Baptist, I drifted away in the early years, backsliding at the age of 12. I picked up some really bad habits and at times acted like anything but a believer in Jesus Christ. At age 15, I got convicted about my behavior and rededicated my life but there was not a lot of consistency. One day, while in the cotton field, I attempted to witness to a friend and I was rebuffed. It knocked the spiritual wind out of my sails and I vowed that I would not attempt to do such a thing again. However, the LORD continued to deal with me about the sin of being unfruitful. At age 17, Bro. Calvin Coolidge Inman preached a message on the Barren Fig Tree in Luke 13…His basic premise was–people who don’t bear fruit are just taking up space. The invitation hymn that day was “Must I Go Empty Handed…must I meet my Savior so, not one soul with which to greet Him, must I empty handed go?” I couldn’t stand it, I went forward and took Bro. Inman by the hand–I said Bro. Inman, would you teach me how to witness?” He said, “I would be delighted,” and he was.

John Ingolf to Right

John Ingolf to Right

I have to admit that I did not plan to begin my discipleship right a way but Bro. Inman was a wise man and he knew that you bend the iron when it is hot. I went home that day, ate lunch and put on my sweats–some friends and I were going to play touch football but before I could get out the door, the phone rang and Mother said, “Son, it is Bro. Inman, he wants to talk to you.” I eased to the phone reluctantly and said “Hello.” Bro. Inman said, “You said you wanted me to train you, I am about to go visiting, do you want to go with me.” Really, I did not want to go but I was ashamed to say no, so I said “Yes, give me a minute to change clothes.” Bro. Inman was our next door neighbor so I knew he would be there in no time. He came and I got in the car. He began giving me basic instructions and I was praying under my breath. I was also watching where he was going. Sure enough, he turned on to the very road that I did not want to travel and headed for the very house that I did not want to visit. I said, “Bro. Inman, you are not going to Ollie’s are you?” “Yes, matter of fact, that is where we are headed,” he said. “We cannot go there,” I said and he said immediately, “Why not?” Then I had to confess the truth: “Bro. Inman, the truth is, I carry our corn and hay to the mill almost every Saturday and I have told a lot of off-color jokes at the mill and Ollie works at the mill. I am afraid that he will think that I am a hypocrite.” “Have you ask God to forgive you?” said Bro. Inman. To which I replied, “Yes, I have.” He said, “If Ollie brings this up, you will need to ask him to forgive you but you are my silent partner today: I will do the talking, you pray and listen.” Obviously, I agreed to those terms but I was still as nervous as a long tail cat in a room filled with rocking chairs.

Calvin C. Inman

Calvin C. Inman

Bro. Inman presented the gospel flawlessly and Ollie listened. Bro. Inman asks him if he wanted to pray and receive Christ and Ollie said, “Not today, but I am thinking about it. I know that I need to.” Bro. Inman made some closing remarks and I knew we were about to leave. I had been hiding behind Bro. Inman and I stepped out into the open and made my confession to Ollie. He never brought my sin up but I felt like I needed to be honest. I said, “Ollie, I have told some dirty jokes at the mill and I was wrong. I have asked God to forgive me and I want your forgiveness also.” I’ll never forget his response, he smiled and stuck out his hand for a hand shake and I gladly responded. He said, “Jack, I do forgive you and I am glad that you came with Bro. Inman today.” I was shocked. The devil had literally terrorized me, using my sin to accuse me and make me afraid. When we got in the car Bro. Iman said, “Jack, let this be a lesson: the devil will do anything to keep us from sharing our faith. You can never trust him, he is a liar and the father of all lies.”

Bro. Inman carried me visiting many times and I learned the Roman road just by listening to him. Seriously, I never sat down and worked on memorizing these verses. I heard him repeat them so much that I knew them by heart. One Sunday evening we were visiting after a week of VBS and there was this little boy about 11 years old who had been under conviction. We walked in and Bro. Inman told him, “Jack is going to tell you how to be saved.” I was scared spitless. I swallowed deeply and prayed a silent prayer for help; it was a silent scream. What happened next has always amazed me, every verse came to my memory and I walked this young man down the Roman Road. Bro. Inman knew he was ready and when I asked him if he wanted to pray, he said “Yes.” Even after he prayed, I was still in shock. I was not shocked that he prayed, I was shocked that I just quoted 6 verses by heart that I didn’t even know I knew. These two stories happened more than 45 years ago and yet I remember them like they were yesterday.

Calvin and Lucille Inman

Calvin and Lucille Inman

This story has a happy ending. I went on to college that fall and to Seminary 4 years later. It was years before I saw Ollie Adams again but when I did, he was not only saved, he was preaching the gospel. He presided at the Celebration of Life Service for one of our close neighbors. In January of 2012, I was honored to honor the memory of my pastor and mentor Calvin Inman. We had his CELEBRATION OF LIFE SERVICE at my home church, the Sardis Springs Baptist Church, the same church he served as pastor for 19 years. I had a good mentor and I am thankful.