June 18, 2015

Robert Robinson, ‘Walking Miracle’ Who Opened 1,500 Churches in India, Dead at 72

, news editor, Adventist Review

Robert L. Robinson, a missionary and church administrator who opened more than 1,500 Seventh-day Adventist churches and two schools in India despite serious health challenges, has died after a sudden heart attack. He was 72.

Robinson — whose 37 years of mission service took him to Zambia, Malawi, Botswana, Tanzania, Sri Lanka, Russia, and finally India — could easily have opted for a quiet life in his hometown of Sutherlin, Oregon, after being diagnosed with type 1 diabetes at the age of 3.

But he determined on his sixth birthday to live a life of joy.

“I’m 6 and I’m sick, but I will smile and be happy,” he declared.

That attitude summarized the way that he handled the pain and discomfort that he faced throughout his life, said Brenda Robinson, his wife of 49 years.

“Every day he assumed was his last, and every day he determined he would accomplish all he could in the service of loving and caring for others as Jesus did,” she said. “His was a simple faith. If God said it, he believed it. He loved Jesus with all his heart and whatever opportunity came his way he believed was God’s providential leading.”

Rathinaraj John, president of the Adventist Church’s Southern Asia Division, which includes India, said Robinson would be sorely missed in a Hindu-dominated region where it is challenging to share Jesus.

“Bob Robinson was a great blessing to Southern Asia,” John told the
Adventist Review. “Through him we were able to build more than 1,500 churches and a couple of schools in India.”

Robinson, who served administrative assistant to the division president, responsible for the development of churches, schools, and other aspects of the division since 2000, opened more than a third of the some 4,000 churches that currently meet in India.

Robinson worked like a whirlwind, bringing scores of missionaries from abroad to help out in evangelism, traveling with pastors and volunteers to evangelistic programs across India and Nepal, and overseeing the translation and publication of books and tracts in local languages, John said.

“He organized anything well in advance and coordinated it so it went smoothly without affecting other programs,” he said.

In addition, Robinson traveled to the United States regularly to raise money for evangelistic outreach and education scholarships for Indian children. Remarkably, he managed to accomplish all that while dealing with serious health challenges, including a life-saving kidney transplant in 2011. His son-in-law donated the kidney when Robinson’s condition grew critical and doctors could not find a suitable organ.

After the surgery, Robinson returned to India and threw himself even more vigorously into his evangelistic work, said Measapogu Wilson, president of the church’s East-Central India Union.

“He did so much in such little time that Pastor Bob’s name has become synonymous with church growth and financial support in India,” said Wilson, who worked with Robinson for more than a decade. “He was a doyen at recognizing genuine need and was a model Adventist in preparing the world for the Lord’s coming.”

Robert Robinson and his wife, Brenda, opening a church in India. (All photos courtesy of Brenda Robinson)

“A Walking Miracle”

Robert Lavern Robinson was born on Sept. 11, 1942, in Colville, Washington, to Sam and Neta Robinson, owners of Robinson Building Supply in Sutherlin, Oregon. The third of nine children, he never lived a day without medical challenges because of his diabetes.

“But he never let it discourage him much or keep him from the goals he set for himself,” Brenda said. “His family and I often referred to him as a ‘walking miracle.’”

Brenda met her future husband as students at Walla Walla College (now Walla Walla University). They sat in the same row during chapel worship services, where the students had assigned seating, and got married in 1965, a year before he graduated.

Even as a student, Robinson gained a reputation as an enthusiastic go-getter who was undeterred by poor health. Robert McChesney, a college classmate and lifelong friend, recalled a frightening moment when Robinson suffered a hypoglycemia attack as the two drove up the Blue Mountains on a camping trip in 1963 or 1964. Robinson, however, was unfazed. He stopped the vehicle at a convenience store to buy some sugar, and the camping trip continued.

“That’s how he was about everything,” said McChesney, who later worked as a missionary in Africa at the same time as the Robinsons. “He never made excuses for his diabetes or anything else. He always had a can-do attitude. There was nothing he couldn’t do, and that influenced everything that he did.”

After stints as treasurer at two U.S. academies, Robert Robinson worked as an academy treasurer, hospital administrator, and ADRA director in four African countries from 1975 to 1987. He returned to the United States to obtain a master’s degree from Oregon State University in 1990 and then went on to serve as treasurer of the Sri Lanka Mission from 1990 to 1997, and treasurer of the Euro-Asia Division, based in Moscow, Russia, from 1997 to 2000.

His wife worked closely with him during many of those years, and her involvement grew when they moved to India.

A Serious Infection

Robinson was pressing ahead with his work when an infection started in his right foot in March 2015. As the infection grew worse, he flew to Portland, Oregon, for treatment on March 27.

But the doctors had to proceed with caution because they worried that the medication and procedures required to stem the infection might damage his transplanted kidney. In addition, his heart needed a new aorta value, a surgery that had to be delayed until the infection healed.

“During the hospital stay he desired so much to get well so he could return to India, and it appeared for some time that things were going in the right direction, but the odds this time were against him,” Brenda said.

Robinson suffered a massive heart attack on the morning of May 3. Doctors fought for hours to save him, but it was all over by 6 p.m.

“Now he rests waiting for the Life-Giver to awaken him,” said Brenda, who with her husband had been preparing to celebrate their 50
th wedding anniversary on June 20. “Although I sustained the greatest loss of my life when Robert closed his eyes for the last time on May 3, I have the blessed hope of seeing him again.”

Robinson was laid to rest at the Fair Oaks Cemetery near Sutherlin, Oregon, on May 10. Memorial services have been held over the past month in the United States and in India.

He is survived by his wife, Brenda, and three adult children, Michael Jon Robinson, a physician in Guam married to Tina; Bobbie Jo Srikureja of Spokane, Washington, whose husband, Wichit, is a physician and the kidney donor; and Tonya LeAnn Rogers of Middleton, Idaho, whose husband, John, serves as treasurer of the Idaho Conference. Each of the Robinsons’ children has three children, giving them nine grandchildren: Nathaniel, Hannah, Andrew, Elianna, Jenae, Gabriella, Sean, Ian, and Joshua.

Robinson’s love for Jesus is shared by his grandchildren, who actively assisted him in his work, Brenda said.

“For so many years, they have helped their grandfather in his work of evangelism, fund-raising for the schools he built and providing financial support for the boarding students who attend these schools,” she said.

Brenda is currently living in India, wrapping up her husband’s work and making sure that the balance of the funds he raised make it to their desired projects.

In addition to raising up more than 1,500 churches, Robinson built two schools with donated funds in the city of Miryalguda and in the Sunderban Islands. The
Adventist Review reported in December 2014 about how students from his Miryalaguda Seventh-day Adventist High School shared the Adventist health message with several thousand people at a cost of only $200.

Read “50 Children Test New Initiative to Share Jesus in India”

Robinson was ordained as a pastor in November 2005 in Pune, India.

“Pastor Bob along with his wife, Brenda, were missionaries who I believe were divinely appointed at just the right time for the Southern Asia Division,” said Wilson, president of the East-Central India Union. “We quickly realized that his heart was unequivocally devoted to evangelism.”

He said Robinson lived a humble life, eating, traveling and lodging by the most economical means.

“I'm pretty sure Pastor Bob kept heaven busy with all the time spent in prayer for his health and safety while traveling through dangerous terrain and hostile conditions,” he said. “He gave of his very best to the Master, even in his last days. … His way of life supplied ample proof that when we serve God, He provides sufficient grace, one day at a time.”