The life and influence of Richard Hester extend from the farmlands of the great American plains, through Muslim neighborhoods in Lebanon, to Arabic refugee immigrant populations in Australia. It is a life dedicated to serving Christ in a ministry that spans more than six decades and three continents.
Missionary Richard Hester was born in an Oklahoma farmhouse in 1932, and learned the value of hard work at a young age. He attended church all through his childhood, but it was not until his first year at Panhandle A&M College in Goodwell, Oklahoma, that he came to know Jesus Christ as his personal Saviour.
Shortly after his salvation, Brother Hester felt a strong urging of God to serve Christ as a preacher. He enrolled at Bob Jones University in 1951, and it was there that he developed personal convictions about Bible doctrines and matters of personal holiness.
Richard graduated in 1954 and soon planted the Temple Baptist Church in El Dorado, Kansas. Soon after, he met and married his wife, Kathleen. In 1957, they attended a missions conference in Tulsa, Oklahoma, where God stirred their hearts for missions. A month after the conference both Richard and Kathleen separately surrendered to the mission field, and they began preparing to serve God as missionaries.
In 1957, Richard resigned the pastorate of their church, and moved to Springfield, Missouri, to study missions at Baptist Bible College and raise their support. In 1959, they boarded a Pan-Am DC7 and made their way to Tripoli, Lebanon. There they worked diligently to learn the language and customs.
After one year of study, Richard began preaching in Arabic, and together, the Hesters established the Faith Baptist Church in Tripoli. They began with nine people on folding chairs in their apartment. Some Lebanese began responding to the gospel, including several young people who were saved, baptized, and discipled. This laid a strong foundation for the ministry ahead that would go through many difficulties. During this time, their daughters Melody and Shirlene were born and later became great blessings to the ministry.
Through God’s provision and the sacrificial giving of these new believers, a parcel of land was purchased and a new church building was built and dedicated in 1967. In the midst of a strong Muslim population and much spiritual opposition, the Hesters continued to reach people for Christ, see them saved, baptized, and trained in God’s Word. They built a Christian summer camp with four two story buildings that still continues today.
God blessed the Hesters, and they continued to minister in Tripoli for nearly seventeen years. Lebanon was their life and their home. Tragically, however, a violent civil war broke out in 1976. Their family and ministry endured escalating violence on a daily basis. They faced the aftermath of a brutal bombing that tore through their church auditorium. Richard miraculously survived an armed ambush that nearly took his life. Through much prayer, and with heavy hearts, the Hesters determined they had no other choice than to leave Lebanon—at least for a short time until the situation improved. They were heartbroken to leave the field and the people who had been their ministry for the past seventeen years. But God would turn this tragedy into another ministry opportunity for the Hesters.
After leaving Lebanon, Richard continued to serve the Lord by preaching at missions conferences and teaching at Baptist Bible College. He continued to communicate with the church in Tripoli hoping to receive news that it was safe for him to return, but the reports he received were of ever-increasing violence and war.
While serving in the United States, Richard began to hear of Lebanese who were emigrating to Australia. An old friend from Lebanon met with Richard and asked him to consider going to Australia to minister to the Arabic immigrants there. After several months of praying and seeking God’s will, it became clear to the Hesters that the field of Lebanon would remain closed for the foreseeable future, and God was opening the door for them to serve Him in Sydney.
The Hesters arrived in Sydney, Australia, in 1976 where they ministered among an Arabic-speaking population of some 300,000 immigrants and taught in the Australian Sydney Bible Baptist College. In 1977, God used the Hesters to plant Faith Baptist Church in Sydney with English and Arabic services. That church body is still prospering today and is one of the strongest Baptist churches in the country of Australia.
Over the past two decades, while the Hesters continued to minister in Australia, they have also had the joy of returning for several preaching trips to Lebanon, where the church they planted in 1960 continues to tell the lost about Christ.
Richard’s health problems, which began prior to leaving Lebanon, continued to compound, and he was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in December of 1986. He has continued to serve Christ through his battle with loss of sight, weakness, and exhaustion. In 1996, Mrs. Hester suffered a slight stroke and has recently been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. Throughout their health trials, the Hesters have fervently labored in the local church. Through six decades of ministry and nearly sixty years of marriage, Richard Hester has continued to invest his life serving God and fulfilling the Great Commission.