He was born on a bitter-cold stormy day, January 11, 1932 to a rancher/farmer home on the plains of western Oklahoma. His father reached a neighbor’s house a mile away who had a telephone,and the doctor was summoned to come and assist the birth. Because of the deep snow, the doctor carried his black case and walked the last quarter of a mile. By the time the doctor arrived, the baby boy had already made his appearance!
There was much work on the ranch, and Richard learned at five years of age to feed the cattle, milk the cows and do the other chores common to country life. His mother was sick for a time, and his father told him he must learn to do all the tasks in the home before he would be big enough to do everything outside with his father. So he someway managed to keep food on the table, wash, iron and clean house, along with the detailed instructions and urgings of his sick mother. At seven years of age he began driving a tractor in the fields plowing, seeding, mowing and doing all the things that people of the land do. At the age of eleven his father fell sick during the Fall maize harvest, and he was called upon to meet the challenge. He finished the maize harvest after the first snows, driving the tractor and operating the combine, then trucking the maize to a large granary. Responsibility and hard work at a young age gave him a firm foundation for life and later service for Christ, when hardships would make it so easy to quit. His father taught him the value of money by taking the five-year old son to meet the bank president to ask for a $50.00 loan to buy a calf to feed out. Upon showing the finished product in a county livestock show, he sold the calf and tithed the profit. Later, he would work in the fields in return for the use of a twenty-acre plot which would be his to work, profit from and tithe on to the Lord.
The first eight years of education took place in a one-room country schoolhouse (District 27) with a potbelly stove centrally located to counter the winter’s bitter cold. Each of the 20-30 students from the eight grades would recite some of their lesson to the one teacher. The modern educational strategies were unknown; reading was taught phonetically, and mathematics had its tables to master.
Reading became very important for Richard at an early age. At the age of six, his mother had conducted a contest for him and his older brother by four years to memorize the books of the Bible, the presidents of the United States, and the 48 states of the USA and their capitals. One minor mix-up with “Bismark, North Dakota” cost him the contest and the loss of the prize, a shiny flashlight! He wept with a broken heart!
Attending a community church that later became Pentecostal in ministry was a set habit of life. The Bible was loved and respected in his home. However, there was not a strong teaching on just how to be saved and how to enjoy the assurance of salvation, and his often attempts to “pray through” to a salvation experience produced confusion and doubt. But he lived a clean life, free from the vices and defilements that a sinful society promoted. He has always been thankful that a cigarette never entered his lips nor alcoholic beverages, and that he would reach the marriage altar pure from sexual sins.
After one year of studying at Panhandle A & M College in Goodwell, Oklahoma, he came to a true knowledge of Christ as Saviour, even though he had always attended a church during childhood and had wanted to know how to be saved. In college he was being confronted by atheistic materialism that was destroying any vestiges of faith in the lives of many of his friends. He began to search and desired to know if the Bible were really true, and if so, does it show us how to get salvation and know that we have it? Shortly after conversion, the call of God to the ministry became a heavy burden on his heart from which he could not escape. He consulted his father who told him that it was the greatest privilege to be a minister if God calls, and he advised his son to make sure of the calling, and having answered the call to never turn back.
He completed his second college year and transferred to Bob Jones University to study for the ministry. Up until the last month, the plan had been to attend a Foursquare Pentecostal college in Los Angeles, but God was faithful and would not leave His child in the frequent doubts and queries which he was experiencing concerning some basic doctrines of the Bible. During the period of three and one/half years at BJU God wrought some far-reaching changes in his life. Firstly, he soon determined to leave the system of doctrine that, in his view, over- emphasised human experience and feeling instead of faith and God’s promises.
Secondly, he settled on the independent Baptist doctrinal position and set out to look for it-going briefly to churches of differing persuasions in the process. The search ended abruptly at First Bible Baptist Church in Wichita, Kansas, where he found a church that believed what he had come to believe that the Bible taught.
Lastly, biblical principles for standards and disciplines would become a real part of his life through the training at BJU. He became fully persuaded of the doctrine of ecclesiastical separation which rejected an accommodation of false doctrine and unbelief in ecclesiastical relationships for the sake of promoting a program. He was taught that “it was never right to do wrong, in order to get a chance to do right.” During this time of training, the importance of the purity of God’s Word became clear to him, with the controversy raging over the Revised Standard Version of the Bible which had just come out. During this time a popular evangelist made the change to “ecumenical evangelism” that embraced Bible believers and liberals together for the sake of “winning more people.” Richard had experienced the frustration and weakness of a sentimental, emotional theological stance, and his newly-found foundation of eternal, biblical principles gave a firm conviction and direction for the young preacher amidst these controversies. These same biblical principles for separation and purity would be further strengthened and reinforced several years later at Baptist Bible College when he was preparing for missionary service to Lebanon.
The Lord opened doors to hold several evangelistic meetings with the assistance of three talented musicians. One of these meetings was held in his country home community at a schoolhouse, where several adult neighbors, parents of his friends, and young people accepted Christ. As a result of that meeting, his younger brother also accepted Christ.
Following graduation from BJU he went to El Dorado, Kansas, to plant Temple Baptist Church. A congregation was established and a church building erected. While playing the organ in another church revival, he met his wife Kathleen, also a farm girl, who had a strong desire to serve the Lord and had prayed for a preacher husband. She had promised the Lord that she would be willing to be a missionary if He wanted. In the Methodist church where her family attended, she defended the virgin birth of Christ to the pastor who was a student at a nearby liberal Methodist seminary.
Richard was concerned for missions while at BJU and had promised the Lord that he was willing to go anywhere the Lord directed. Later as a new pastor he attended the Tulsa Baptist Temple Missions Conference in 1955 and 1956. He and his wife attended in 1957, and the Lord ignited that love for missions. A month after the missions conference both Richard and Kathleen separately surrendered to the mission field, which was a further confirmation of the Lord’s working and direction in both of their lives.
In preparation for mission work in Lebanon, they both attended Baptist Bible College in Springfield, Missouri, where he took a year of missions courses, and she graduated as the class speaker for the ladies. In 1958 they were approved as missionaries and arrived on the field in Tripoli, Lebanon in 1959. He began preaching in the Arabic language in 1960. A ministry of church planting, evangelism and camp ministries was carried on in North Lebanon for nearly seventeen years.
Lebanon was their life and home. But a tragic civil war would disrupt their place of ministry. His life was miraculously spared in an ambush by six armed men. The Hesters with their two daughters later left Lebanon for what they thought would be only a brief absence until things improved, but it turned into a permanent change of field.
The camp/conference facility they had built near the “cedars of Lebanon” remained in ruins for twenty years, visited only by goat herds in their season. It is now gradually being restored through the labours of the Lebanese church. The home the Hesters built was occupied by Syrian soldiers until 2005. But the souls that were won and trained for Christ are continuing on.
After leaving Lebanon the Lord soon led the Hesters to an extension of their ministry with the beloved Arabic people, and they arrived in Sydney, Australia in 1976. There they would minister among an Arabic-speaking population of some 250,000 immigrants as well as teach in the Australian Sydney Bible Baptist College. Faith Baptist Church Arabic was planted and is prospering until now.
Another Arabic church was started as a mission, and that ministry is reaching out. There is a fundamental, baptistic, and separatist testimony among the Arabic ethnics of Sydney.
Richard’s health problems which began prior to leaving Lebanon and continued to compound were diagnosed as multiple sclerosis in December 1986. The progressive loss of sight and the weakness and total exhaustion have limited his ministry in one sense, but have, in another sense, opened up a dramatic dimension of ministry never before known to him. No doubt has been left: the Lord has done all things well and to Him belongs all the credit.
Since completely turning over the leadership of Faith Baptist Church to a “Lebanese son in the ministry,” he and his wife have found themselves in great challenges for ministry. He became the principal of the Sydney Bible Baptist College in 1995 at a time when the college faced closure. God has done and continues to do great things at the college, and it is has returned to growth. Richard stepped down as principal in 2009 when he felt his task was finished and the college continues to have a strong ministry.
Additionally, in 1999 he took up as interim pastor for another Arabic church that desperately needed help. After nearly four years of ministry in that church, the leadership has now passed to another “Lebanese son” who is a real blessing. The church continues with a good growing ministry.
These challenges demanded all that both of the Hesters could give. In his words, “Kathleen is my constant helper; chauffeurring, helping to revive me out of the chronic physical valleys, reading letters and articles which are beyond my ability to read, and generally being my eyes and ears.” The MS has left him with about a quarter of one eye’s sight, hearing problems and a chronic syndrome of fatigue and weakness. A slight stroke (TIA) in 1996 slowed Kathleen’s abilities to cope physically as well.
A new ministry has evolved since 2004 of writing some Bible Survey materials. That has resulted in two resource textbooks, Old Testament Bible History Guidebook and New Testament Bible History Handbook. He also developed student workbooks and supervisor’s manuals along with 60 hours of DVD lectures illustrated with thousands of photos, visuals, maps and some animations.
Around 15 Bible colleges in the USA and Canada are using the textbooks for Bible Survey classes. The books had a special printing in the Philippines and have been used in over fifty Bible institutes there. The materials have gone to more than 40 foreign countries and are used in various capacities. The Old Testament and New Testament Bible Survey Courses are now online for free use by anyone who wishes to enroll. The books are now translated into Spanish and will soon be available along with student workbooks. The website, www.Bible-Survey.com provides full information about the online courses as well as church institute or group survey courses. In 2012 Richard also wrote an autobiography, Cast Your Bread to document some of what God has faithfully done during their ministry of over 60 years. The website www.MissionaryOutpost.com provides full information about this book and things of interest regarding the Hesters. To God be the glory!
Richard and Kathleen traveled to their beloved Lebanon and the USA in 2011 for their farewell visit. They are no longer able to travel. Richard is still able to speak in English and Arabic several times each month especially in the two churches in which he invested many years. Other occasions and conferences provide other opportunities to minister.
The Hesters feel strongly that their lives in Australia will continue to have purpose throughout the years that God sees fit to give them. In 2013 Kathleen had to give up her driving due to the effects of Alzheimer’s disease. Richard has dedicated himself to fill the gap for Kathleen’s failing memory and the things it impacts. He tells everyone he hopes he can repay some of the loving, sacrificial care that Kathleen has lavished on him throughout the many years of his sickness. The Lord’s provision has been most comforting. The Hesters go to church via the “limousine ministry” of Faith Baptist Church in Regents Park where they are members. One of their daughters lives next door and is a huge blessing to them. Truly, “My God shall supply all you’re your need according to His riches in glory by Christ Jesus!”
Richard and Kathleen have a consuming passion to be a blessing and encouragement to all whose paths they cross. Psalms 71:16-18 expresses well their heart-felt testimony and passion for this sunset-era of their lives:
“I will go in the strength of the Lord God: I will make mention of thy righteousness, even of thine only. 17 O God, thou hast taught me from my youth: and hitherto have I declared thy wondrous works. 18 Now also when I am old and greyheaded, O God, forsake me not; until I have shewed thy strength unto this generation, and thy power to every one that is to come.”
The final two words which the Hesters would like to leave from over sixty years of ministry is, firstly, that of God’s faithfulness, loving care and guidance. He is a God Who can take seeming tragedy, destructive uprooting, poor health and any other difficulty, and make them all a vehicle driven by His eternal purposes for blessing to souls in the task of world evangelism. Richard has said many times, “The greatest blessing to our lives and ministries has been the tragedy of Lebanon and the dominant sickness that drove us to the very edge of having to leave the ministry which we loved more than physical life itself.” The neurologist had advised Richard of the necessity to leave the ministry with its stresses for the sake of the MS condition. Richard’s answer was: “The ministry is my life; I would rather die in the ministry than to leave it and live.”
Secondly, the last word concerns their desire to be faithful and “finish the course.” Richard speaks often of how he felt so insufficient and incapable of entering the ministry when God called. There was that depressing comparing of himself with others of great and many talents. Then came the helpless cry of his soul to God in surrender and promise to give the “little” he had to the Master for His use.
Finally, the deep conviction came that God would use the weak vessel, and this truth ever fuels his heart’s burning desire to be faithful and never quit, to not compromise eternal truth regardless of the cost, and to hold to the course. That is it: God’s faithfulness and the human passion to be faithful to the Faithful One until the course is finished!