R.G. LeTourneau: Mover of Men and Mountains
Though they may not recognize his name, virtually the entire world has been affected by the innovation of R.G. LeTourneau. Mover of Men and Mountains documents both the faith and profession of one of the world’s most influential people. Essentially an inventor of machines, LeTourneau (1888-1969) created many of the massive earth movers that miraculously accomplished what is now taken for granted.
LeTourneau’s inventions eventually measured movement of earth in thousands of tons, and made many modern marvels possible. His company subcontracted on the Hoover Dam, creating the challenging road that allowed heavy equipment to build one of the modern wonders of the world. In his book he recounts that thousands of heavy machines used by the Army in World War II were built by his company, including those that filled the bomb craters in Hawaii after the attack on Pearl Harbor, created runways out of nothing in North Africa, cleared beaches in Normandy, and island-hopped with the Marines in the Pacific. General Carl Spaatz—who would eventually become the first Chief of Staff of the newly formed US Air Force—even came to speak to his factory floor to inspire the workers with the tales of their machines in the combat theatres.
LeTourneau wasn’t always spiritually content in the work he did. As a laborer in construction and earth-moving, LeTourneau said “my job was to deal with material things, and not spiritual things.” Feeling convicted to do more for God’s kingdom, he attended a week of revival meetings, dreading that he would have to “give up my material way of life.” He didn’t mean material things like money or fame (neither of which he had)—he meant the hard day’s work of earthmoving, the heart of the lifestyle he loved and lived.
He prayed and told God he’d do whatever God wanted, but
“to me, service to the Lord, to which I had just dedicated my life, meant the ministry or missionary work.”
He asked the Reverend leading the revival,
“how can I know what He wants me to do? I know a layman can’t serve Him like a preacher can, but…does He want me to serve as a missionary?”
As reverends are wont to do, his response was “Let’s pray.” Afterward, the Reverend said,
“You know…God needs businessmen as well as preachers and missionaries.”
LeTourneau’s eyes were opened to a whole new perspective:
“Those were the words that have guided my life ever since…Many men have the same mistaken idea I had of what it means to serve the Lord. My idea was that if a man was going all out for God, he would have to be a preacher, or an evangelist, or a missionary, or what we call a full-time Christian worker. I didn’t realize that a layman could serve the Lord as well as preacher.”
Though he would be penniless several times over throughout his life, LeTourneau would eventually be a very rich man. He ultimately owned five plants, including one in Australia, and had his own twin-engine Douglas A-26 bomber and a personal pilot to fly around the world. And travel he did—primarily for ministry speaking engagements and missionary endeavors.
It is evident throughout the book that LeTourneau was an ardent Christian, and his faith guided his ethics and his business conduct throughout his life. He never forgot his calling as a “layman,” a “businessman for God.” As his company grew, he and his wife became famous for giving 90% of their personal and corporate income to charitable Christian causes, primarily through his own foundation that supported religious, missionary, and educational endeavors. (After the success of his Purpose Driven books, Rick Warren is also reported to have returned his years of salary and contributed 90% of his income to charitable causes.)
The book notes that the man with a seventh-grade education founded LeTourneau Technical Institute, in Longview, Texas. Forty years after the book was written, the Technical Institute is now known as LeTourneau University. It is one of the premier engineering schools in the country while retaining its focus on teaching its graduates to be ambassadors for Jesus Christ to the world. (LeTourneau University also has the unique attribute of having expelled, and then given an honorary doctorate to, well-known evangelist Franklin Graham.)
The university emphasizes LeTourneau’s vision of Christians being Christians in the workplace, “every workplace, every nation.”
Written in the late 1960s, the book does have one or two “non-politically correct” references. For example, LeTourneau proudly explains the effectiveness of his machines in mowing through the Amazon forest, a point that would certainly have caused him to be picketed and protested today.
LeTourneau’s Mover of Men and Mountains is highly recommended. There are a few instances in which the enjoyment LeTourneau had in his engineering marvels causes him to be very detailed, but the book is a very easy read and very interesting, even for those not terribly interested in machinery. LeTourneau strove to serve God as best he could wherever God placed him, and God’s influence on him is a constant reference throughout the book.
The decisions LeTourneau made throughout his life and business career, including the one that would keep him in the business world rather than the ministry, are important examples for Christians in the world today. Any Christian, including those in the military, can find inspiration in LeTourneau’s words to serve God well in the role in which God has placed him. Christians don’t need to quit their jobs and become missionaries to serve God; they should serve God in every workplace–including the military.