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Editor's Note: This article originally appeared in the January 2007 issue of Charisma. We decided to republish it in honor of T.L. Osborn, who passed away on Thursday at the age of 89.
In an age dominated by mass media, lightning-quick computer technology and society's unquenchable need for information, it's unfathomable that hundreds of thousands of people could gather in a single location without attracting international attention.
But that's exactly what has happened for 53 years when evangelist T.L. Osborn and his wife, Daisy, who died in 1995, held open-field crusades in developing countries, drawing an estimated 250,000 to 500,000 people to each event. All told, millions of lives have been directly changed by Tulsa, Oklahoma-based Osborn International in the last 58 years.
Besides preaching at the crusades, Osborn prays for the masses—without laying hands on anyone—and subsequently sees countless miracles take place. Some of the more astounding occurrences have included the instantaneous healing of leprosy, blindness and crippled legs, and deliverance from demon possession. On more than one occasion, the Osborns witnessed uneven limbs growing out to the proper length.
Osborn is also one of the first charismatic ministers to distribute bulk amounts of translated evangelical literature. The most common practice has been to give a set of six Osborn-penned books to all crusade attendees who will accept the gift. As many as 70,000 copies of each title have been printed per outreach event, and one instance required an astonishing 56 tons to be shipped.
Osborn and his family have conducted their ministry with no fanfare, no attempt to conform to the personality-driven culture of the American church, and little regard for their own personal safety or comfort.
"That's where we've chosen to seed our lives and I'm happy about it," Osborn says during a rare interview granted to Charisma. "I live happy. I live happy to go again, help them again.
"Travel is awful, but when I think it's awful, I think of Paul. Paul did it. Paul rode on a donkey or on a camel or on a boat, and he didn't gripe. I won't gripe. I just keep going."
How It All Began
Randomly ask 100 native Oklahomans where the town of Skedee is, and at least 99 of them say they never heard of the place. In fact, it's conceivable that only the 100 or so people who live there and a few census takers actually know that the small landmass in Pawnee County exists.
But in 1923, this nondescript farming community produced a child who would quite literally change the world. Tommy Lee Osborn was the seventh and youngest son in a family of 13 kids. Ironically, his father was also a seventh son.
"That's supposed to mean something," he jokes.
Turns out, it did mean something.
Osborn's father was a nonpracticing traditional Baptist, but T.L. attended a Pentecostal church, where he played piano and accordion. A neighboring evangelist heard him play and asked if he would join him in his national travels. At that time, Osborn's brothers all had left home and he was the only son still there to help his 60-year-old father on the potato farm.
Osborn admits that he was reluctant, even a little scared, to ask his father for permission to leave Skedee and hit the road. That fateful day while sorting potatoes in the cellar, he was greatly surprised when his father said yes.
About two years into his travels, Osborn found himself at a revival in California. By the time the event ended, he knew he wouldn't be going back to the farm. He had caught a glimpse of the evangelist's daughter, and it was love at first sight.
A year later, in 1942, the teenagers were married—T.L. was 18 and Daisy 17. Not long after, they took on the pastorate in Portland, Oregon, for the Pentecostal Church of God of America. But after hearing a female missionary from India speak at their church, they immediately felt a tug toward international outreach.
The pull was so strong that the Osborns devised a five-year plan to evangelize India. Their church organization helped them raise the sponsorship money to go, but just 10 months in, they ran into an unexpected wall.
"We couldn't convince the Hindus and the Muslims about Jesus, about the Bible," Osborn says. "But they were very kind to us and the Indians love to talk about religion."
T.L. and Daisy were unfamiliar with the competing philosophies and had no convincing arguments that could sway the people. In fact, on many occasions those they attempted to evangelize tried to convert the Osborns to their faiths. This apparent failure left the couple "brokenhearted and ashamed" on their return to the United States.
"I said, 'I've got to go back to where people believe in the Bible,'" Osborn recalls telling himself. "'You can't do anything with people who don't believe in the Bible.' I didn't know that [the Bible] could be proven because I didn't know about miracles."
Eight Hours With the King
Not long after coming home, the Osborns became aware of the miracle-working evangelists ministering in the U.S. at the time. Although Aimee Semple McPherson had passed away in 1944, her reputation greatly influenced their desire to see miracles in their own services.
"That was the big thing that happened to us in India," Osborn says. "We realized that without the miraculous, we couldn't prove what we believed. I hadn't thought of that before India. So we were going to find somebody that performed miracles."
The search started in 1947 with Smith Wigglesworth, but as they planned to go to one of his meetings, the legendary preacher died. Later that year, they attempted to meet with Charles Price, but before they had a chance to attend a tent revival, he also passed away.
The distraught couple then learned that Price's post had been handed to Hattie Hammond, known at the time as the greatest female preacher in the Assemblies of God. She was also known for the remarkable miracles that took place in her meetings. It was the Osborns' meeting with Hammond that marked a significant turning point in their ministry.
Hammond encouraged them to look at their trip to India not as a failure but as their first glimpse into the massive harvest of souls that God had called them to reach. She also left T.L. with this curious admonition: "If you ever see Jesus, you'll never be the same."
It didn't take long for him to understand what her words meant.
"The next morning at 6 o'clock, Jesus Christ walked in our room," Osborn vividly remembers. "I saw Him like I see you. He didn't walk on the floor. He walked on the air. I'll never forget it.
"And I laid there. It was like I was dead. I couldn't move a finger or a toe. I finally laid on my face on the floor until 2 o'clock in the afternoon. It changed my life. I was totally, totally bathed in a new life. That's the best way to describe it."
For Osborn, it was his first of four distinct revelations of Christ. The second came when he encountered the ministry of Gordon Lindsay, a Kentucky native who founded Christ for the Nations.
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