A Life, A Labor, A Legacy
In 1952 my parents relocated to a farm two miles from Leonard and Edith DeBuhr’s home. I never dreamed it would be one of the early turning points of my life. During the succeeding years I had the privilege of watching and listening to this godly, gracious, and gifted man. He was a gentleman every day of his life, conveying grace to all. When I was 18, Leonard pointed me to Luke 19:10 that eventually was used in my salvation. As a son in the faith, I personally came to deeply love this man. In the words of Paul in Colossians 4:7, he was a “beloved brother, faithful minister, and fellowservant in the Lord.”
Learning of His Grace
Leonard DeBuhr was raised in a godly home with parents in assembly fellowship. At the age of 27, in the year of 1938, reading John 3:36, during meetings conducted by brethren Oliver Smith and Leonard Sheldrake at Hitesville, the grace of God reached this young farmer. He had learned what grace was as a boy playing with matches in the garage. A fire started and before it could be put out, the garage and contents burned to the ground. He dreaded the evening meal. What would Dad say? Supper time arrived; he went in and took his normal place. His dad prayed and thanked the Lord for sparing Leonard. Throughout the entire meal he heard not one word of rebuke. He said later, “That day I learned what grace was.” In the twilight of life, and especially the last five years that left him nearly blind, he appreciated 2 Corinthians 12:9, “My grace is sufficient for thee.”
Leaning on His God
His unreserved commitment stemmed from an experience in the kitchen three days after his conversion. Taking three steps from the sink, he stopped and said, “I’m not my own; I belong to Christ. He bought me with precious blood; I’m His.” This was the key to our dear brother’s fruitful labors in winning souls and strengthening assemblies. As he sought God’s mind in gospel work, he often prayed, “Lord, if You’re going to go where my burden is, can I go along?” In my desk today is a letter he wrote many years ago with three vital points that have helped me greatly. “Do the best you can, keep the motive right, and stay at His feet.”
Laboring in the Gospel
His exercise in the gospel was soon detected, and in 1946 the Hitesville assembly commended him to the Lord’s work. Tent meetings the very next year with George Gould Jr. in Parkersburg, Iowa, were a remarkable time with God working in the salvation of many. Twelve years later in 1959 with Eric McCullough at Stout, IA, for 16 weeks, the grace of God was again seen in a marvelous way. The fruit of these efforts has not only produced stable and consistent lives, but also quality men in the leadership of many assemblies. In his excellent book, Golden Lamp-stands of Northern Iowa, an Iowa map indicates some of the 200 little villages where he, along with others, carried the gospel of Christ. Throughout his 50 years of active service, multitudes have been saved and many added to assembly fellowship in Iowa, Wisconsin, and Minnesota. In addition, the assembly in Willmar, Minnesota, had its beginning through his labors.
Love as a Gentleman
He loved to preach to “whosoever,” but it would be wrong to not mention as well his unique style of ministering the Word. He seemed to excel in speaking of common everyday things to believers, giving very practical teaching. The Lord’s people were often exhorted to have love one for another. He often pleaded with the believers to never mar the fellowship, never divide the flock. He developed that unique gift of speaking in such a way that we not only remembered what he said but the way it was said. His kind, beseeching approach made our conscience soft and tender to the claims of Christ.
I thought of the scope of Leonard’s influence with believers when Roy Weber recently reminded us at a conference that even the passing of Peter’s shadow had influence, much like the impact of brother Leonard in our day. To my regret it was a common thing for me to leave a conference and quickly forget much of what I had heard. But invariably it was brother DeBuhr’s message that lingered in my mind weeks later. While I was working with him in a series, he said to me, “When you minister to God’s people, do it with gentleness and love. They are the Lord’s sheep, not yours.”
Lamenting at the Grave
I’m reminded of 1 Samuel 25:1, “And Samuel died and all Israel . . . lamented” (JND). When he could no longer stay in his home and moved to Alaska nearly two years ago to live with his daughter and family, we felt a great loss. Leonard longed for the day of being absent from the body and present with the Lord. Via phone he told me weeks ago, “I’m just waiting, Al, just waiting to go.” At the large funeral, we could say the words of Jacob when asked in Genesis 33:5, “Who are those with thee? And he said, the children which God hath graciously given thy servant.” Not only was he the Lord’s servant, but also a godly shepherd whose heart and soul were with the sheep. We rejoice that his bodily weakness is now over and he’s at home with the One Whom he faithfully served. Russell Nesbit preached a fitting and stirring gospel message. He said, “Leonard lived in heaven and told people how to get to heaven. It’s only right that I speak of the same subject.” Without a doubt, Leonard’s big smile reminded us all of his daily joy in anticipating going to heaven.