Now in his 40th year as an evangelist, retired Vietnam combat veteran Sgt. Tim Lee of the U.S. Marine Corps often travels around the U.S. telling the story of how he lost both legs to a land mine.
Lee will speak Saturday at 6 p.m. at the men’s dinner at the First Baptist Church in Sherman.
“My dad was a Southern Baptist pastor for almost 60 years, and I was raised in a great home — a Godly home,” Lee said. “There were five of us children, and I became a Christian at a young age. But then as a teenager, I began to drift away from God.”
As a multi-sport athlete at his high school in Southern Illinois, Lee said sports had become his gods.
“I set track records in the long jump and hurdles at my high school, but I kept getting further and further away from God,” Lee said. “My life was really messed up. I got with the wrong crowd and made a lot of wrong decisions.”
After high school, Lee attended college and worked nights, but with his life moving in what he describes as the wrong direction, he found himself getting fired from his job and kicked out of college.
“I was walking past the post office in my hometown of McLeansboro, Illinois, and saw a sign saying the Marines were ‘looking for a few good men,’” Lee said. “I was looking for something to do with my life, so I joined the Marine Corps.”
While in boot camp at Parris Island, South Carolina, Lee said the Marines reinforced many of the things his father and mother had taught him in life. He excelled, receiving a meritorious promotion before moving on to engineering school, where he received another meritorious promotion. His next assignment was Vietnam.
“I had been in Vietnam for about nine months, and I didn’t go back to a lot of the things I had done in my teenage years,” Lee said. “But still my life wasn’t right with God. He would speak to me, but I wouldn’t listen.”
Lee recalled that on March 8, 1971, God got his attention.
“I was leading my men on a mine sweep,” he said. “This was my job as a combat engineer, and I had walked mine sweeps from the time I had gotten to Vietnam. Our job was to locate land mines that had not been detonated and clear the area of those devices. On that day we were building a road and needed to clear the area for the bulldozers and other men to come in and do their work”
Lee said that at the noon hour his best friend in Vietnam, a black corporal named Lee Gore, offered to take over as point man.
“Lee was a Christian, and he was actually living for God,” he said. “He was a great witness and a great testimony. I was saved, but I was still running from God.”
Lee told his friend that he would finish out the day and that he could take the point the next day.
“About 45 minutes later, I stepped on a 60-pound mine,” Lee said. “It threw me several feet in the air and ripped both my legs off my body. I should have been killed instantly. It was big enough to destroy a Jeep.”
Lee said that they had entered a major mine field, with a another mine taking the leg off a different soldier at that same moment and an additional mine being detonated by one of the bulldozers. Suddenly, Lee and his fellow marines were engulfed in chaos, confusion, smoke and noise.
“I was in extreme pain, of course, and was unconscious for only a couple of minutes,” he said. “I looked up and my head was in the lap of my friend, Lee Gore. Tears were running down his face, and he was begging God to help me.”
In the smoke, blood and chaos, Lee had reached his moment of total surrender.
“I cried out to God too,” he said. “I wanted to live. I begged God to let me live and to get back home to my parents, and if he would, I would do with my life what he wanted.”
Lee was flown by helicopter to a hospital ship anchored offshore. Owing to the gravity of his wounds and the extreme loss of blood, none of Lee’s men thought he would survive the 20-minute flight.
Lee did survive and soon would begin a long and arduous recovery. After two weeks on the hospital ship, he was sent to the island of Guam.
“I went from 187 pounds to a little under 80,” Lee said. “Then they sent me to the Philadelphia Naval Hospital where I spent the next eight months and had 13 major operations. I should have died. There’s no reason practically, from all you could see, except for the fact that God had a plan for my life.”
Lee believes that in the years following his release from the naval hospital, God’s plan has been steadily unfolding.
Once released from the naval hospital, and with much of his life still ahead of him, Lee followed in his father’s footsteps and entered the ministry.
“I pastored for five years in Southern Illinois,” he said. “I was happy, and my wife was happy. I figured that was probably what I would do for the rest of my life — pastor a small, rural, country church.”
Even though he was content, Lee said that God was opening doors that would have a profound effect on his life and his ministry.
“During those five years of pastoring, I would preach 12 to 15 crusades a year in Southern Illinois, St. Louis, Southern Indiana and Kentucky,” Lee said. “And, then a pastor invited me to come to Oklahoma City and work out of his church as a staff evangelist.”
Lee said that he and his wife stepped out in faith. They sold all of their furniture, bought a 40-foot fifth wheel trailer, and a four-door Ford pick-up. Evangelizing from coast to coast and border to border, they lived out of the trailer for the next four years.
While in Charlotte, North Carolina, in 1979, Lee received a call from a man who was to moderate a worship service of 3,000 people.
“He had never heard me speak,” Lee said. “He said, ‘Tim, I want you to be ready. At the end of the service, I may have you come up and give a five-minute testimony.’ When the second speaker finished, he called me up to the platform. A couple of guys helped with my wheelchair, and I gave my five-minute story.”
Lee said that out of that five-minute testimony he received 81 invitations to speak. His evangelistic ministry has blossomed from there with an average of 400-500 invitations to speak per year. In one year, he received 1,300 invitations.
Now, from the Tim Lee Ministries, located in Garland, Lee has spoken numerous times to audiences of 12,000-13,000 at Liberty University in Lynchburg, Virginia. He speaks four times a year to new recruits at the Marine Corps Recruit Depot at Parris Island, where he is scheduled through 2021.
“That’s a big deal for me because I went through boot camp at Parris Island in 1969,” Lee said. “I’ve kind of returned to my roots there, and they’ve given me the title of ‘legend speaker.’”
Lee will also speak at the church’s Sunday morning worship service beginning at 10:45 a.m. and during evening worship beginning at 6 p.m. The church is located at 400 South Travis St. in Sherman.