In memoriam: Missionary emeritus Robert Lee Hensley, 84

Robert Lee Hensley, 1936-2021

Robert Lee Hensley, an International Mission Board missionary emeritus who shared the gospel among American Affinity Peoples in Brazil, died June 6, 2021, at his home in Amarillo, Texas. He was 84. 

Hensley was born on July 6, 1936, in Crowell, Texas, to the late Ralzie Eldon Hensley and Gertrude Helen Ford Hensley. His family soon moved to a cotton farm near Sundown, Texas. According to his family, at age 16, he dedicated his life to serving God. He received the Associate of Science from Decatur (Texas) Baptist Junior College (now Dallas Baptist University), the Bachelor of Arts from Wayland Baptist College (now University), Plainview, Texas, and the Master of Divinity from Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary, Mill Valley, Calif. 

At Wayland, he met Farolyn Ann Taylor, who had also dedicated her life to serving God. They were married in 1957. After seminary, Hensley spent two years planting a church and pastoring it in the California desert. In 1964, the Foreign Mission Board (now International Mission Board) appointed the Hensleys missionaries to Brazil.

In Brazil, Hensley planted nearly 100 churches throughout the state of Goiás. According to his family, his dedication to hunger relief resulted in small projects such as building a water tower for a new community and large projects such as building the first fish hatchery in Goiás to teach people how to raise their own fish. He led disaster relief during a major flood and built dormitories so young men from the interior of the state had a place to stay in the city while they went to school.  

For many years, Hensley managed the Baptist camp, which he founded, was the executive secretary of the state Baptist convention, preached in churches without pastors, helped churches going through particularly difficult times and coordinated evangelism projects. He helped plan the Baptist seminary in Goiânia, where he later taught, and assisted with the building of the Baptist Hospital.  

In his last decade in Brazil, Hensley co-founded and co-directed with Farolyn a drug and alcohol rehabilitation center for women. Before he retired, said his family, the state governor awarded him a key to Goiânia, the capitol of Goiás. In 2020, the Brazilian Baptist Convention and the city council of Goiânia honored him with a medal of merit and a certificate at the centennial celebration of Baptists in the state of Goiás.

Since 1976, First Baptist Church of Borger, Texas, embraced Robert and his family, both during furlough and while on the mission field. The church sent a group of its members who worked alongside Brazilians to evangelize neighborhoods and plant and build churches.  

After 33 years as a missionary, Hensley retired in Borger, where he ministered to the senior adults of the First Baptist Church and was pastor of Bunavista Baptist Church. Farolyn passed away in Borger in 2005, and he married Vlandete do Rosário Silva, who has also dedicated her life to serving God. Together, they ministered to churches without pastors and churches going through particularly difficult times in the Texas panhandle. Eventually, Robert and Vlandete moved to Amarillo to be closer to family. Robert preached his last sermon at 82 years of age in Brazil. 

Hensley is survived by his wife, Vlandete; his daughters Liana Sawyer (Jay) of Amarillo, Sharol Shutts (Mike) of the African nation of Uganda, and Melanie Cuellar (Jesse) of Round Rock, Texas; his sister Barbara Haile of Midland, Texas; his brother Randy Hensley of Leander, Texas; eight grandchildren; and three great-grandchildren.   

A celebration of life was held June 11 at First Baptist Church of Amarillo, with burial at Westlawn Memorial Park, Borger, Texas.

Read an obituary here.