Lester Frank Sumrall was born February 15, 1913 in New Orleans, Louisiana to George and Betty Sumrall. His mother was a strong Christian, but his father was lukewarm in his faith. His mother committed him to God before Lester was born and prayed that he would become a preacher. He was born the sixth child of what would eventually be a family of eight children. Betty would invite itinerant evangelists to stay in their home while meetings were being held in their church.
This would often mean an extra family to feed and house and Lester didn’t like the stress that it added to the household. He decided he didn’t like evangelists and certainly never wanted to be one!
Betty Sumrall was an incredible prayer warrior and prayed for her family constantly. Lester saw some very miraculous events in their lives. One day she was diagnosed with breast cancer. She surrounded herself with women who would pray for her on a regular basis. During the night in the midst of this battle Jesus came into her room and touched her.
She was healed from that time on. When Lester’s grandfather had a stroke he became incapacitated. He could not feed or clothe himself. The family brought him into their house and Betty decided to get the women’s prayer group to pray for him.
They led him to Christ and began to pray. He was in a wheelchair and could not move his legs or arms. The power of God came upon him and he got up out of the wheelchair and could walk and move his arms. He returned home to live fifteen more years on his own.
Lester got in with a “bad crowd” and dropped out of school at sixteen. Shortly after he began to have health problems and spit up blood. He was diagnosed with tuberculosis, a veritable death sentence. He continued to worsen and dropped to 93 pounds and become bedridden.
Once more his mother called her prayer warriors together to regularly pray for Lester. On his seventeenth birthday the doctor declared he was about to die and even wrote the death certificate. In the night God gave Lester a vision.
On one side of his bed was a coffin on the other side of the bed was a bible. He was given a clear choice – either preach the gospel or die of tuberculosis that night!
He decided to preach the gospel. He was healed and the next morning he ate food for the first time in a long time, and within three weeks had packed his bag to hit the evangelistic trail.
It was a rough start. Lester and a fishing buddy, who went along as a song leader, hit the back woods of the deep south. They were unpolished and hard on people as Lester preached his messages.
Something must have been working because everywhere he went he got a group big enough to start a church and he would send to his denomination to send for a pastor for the new group. Hundreds were saved. Seeing his success they ordained him.
In 1931 God began to deal with Lester’s motives. He’d agreed to preach the gospel to save his life but he didn’t have a real concern for people. God gave him a vision of multitudes of people in foreign countries going to hell. God broke his heart for the lost that night.
God called him to be an international evangelist and preach the gospel to the whole world. He was never the same again. Eighteen months later God connected Lester with Howard Carter, an internationally known bible teacher and they began to travel the world together.
They traveled to Australia, Singapore, Hong Kong, Java, the Dutch East Indies, Tibet, Manchuria, Japan, Korea, Germany, Brazil, Bolivia, France, Spain, Portugal, and England. They would go to an area and Howard would go to one place to preach and Lester to another. Some remarkable healings and deliverance began to occur in Lester’s meetings. People were being healed and saved by the thousands.
During the war in the 40’s Lester returned to the US, Mexico, Central, and South America. Lester while in Argentina, met another missionary named Louise Layman. They hit it off and were married two years later. They began to minister as a couple in Cuba, Haiti, and Puerto Rico. At one point Louise got malaria but God healed her in answer to Lester’s prayers. They continued on to Guyana, Surinam, Brazil, Argentina, Peru, Ecuador, Uruguay, and Panama. They only slowed down when Betty found herself pregnant and they returned to the United States. God called the couple to set up a base in South Bend, Indiana for the next few years.
In 1950 God called the family to Manila in the Philippines. The work was tough going until a girl who was demon possessed was making national news. God asked Lester to pray for her. The deliverance and healing was so public and so dramatic that papers everywhere carried the story. The entire country became open to the gospel. He held revival meetings for six weeks and the crowd was estimated one night at sixty thousand. Clifton Erickson came over from the United States to help in the meetings. One-hundred and fifty thousand were saved over those weeks. A famous actor who couldn’t walk was healed which gave the group even more media attention. A lawyer who’d been on crutches for twelve years walked out holding them in his arms totally healed.
God called the family back to the United States in the 1960’s to begin a pioneering television work. His preaching began to be heard all other the US and the world. He also started a ministry to feed the starving worldwide after God gave him a vision calling him to care for the dying. He remained faithful to the visions God gave him and went home to be with the Lord on April 28, 1996.