Tribute: Walter Nels Gustafson

Our esteemed brother, Walter Gustafson, at 98 years of age, awoke in the presence of his Savior on Sunday, June 14, 2020, after serving Him for over 66 years. He had been commended from the Boston assembly, serving in gospel work and ministry among God’s people, as well as authoring many articles for various magazines and a commentary on 2 Chronicles.

Walter was especially stirred to seek a standing with God at the age of 17, though he was raised in a home by unsaved Swedish immigrant parents. He joined a church and even taught Sunday School. He would often say, “I didn’t smoke, I didn’t drink, and I never took the Lord’s name in vain once that I know of.” Though his life was moral, he became aware of something he didn’t have after he heard a man’s conversion account. He had never heard the word “saved.”

With a work transfer, Walter met a believer from the Boston area assembly. In the gospel meeting to which he was invited, the story of Nicodemus resonated with him, then 20 years of age, as he also realized his own need to be born again. In the following week’s gospel meeting, Walter was convicted that his “righteousnesses” (as stated in Isaiah 64:6) were indeed filthy rags. The next week, Walter faced the fact that he was lost, admitting that Isaiah 53:6 described him going his own way. He was saved while on his knees as another brother read the last part of Isaiah 53:6, that the Lord had laid on Him his own iniquity. He realized for the first time that Christ had died on the cross of Calvary for his sins. A short time later, Walter was baptized and received into fellowship in the Boston assembly.

Walter worked in Mechanical Engineering after graduating from high school. When drafted as a non-combatant into the armed forces during WWII, he was first sent to Great Britain. While overseas he continued to fellowship with Christians whenever possible. Upon his return to Boston, Walter continued his fellowship in the Boston assembly while working to help support his mother and siblings, as his father had died when he was away. He was thankful to see two sisters saved and also his mother before she died.

Walter was blessed with a wonderful memory, and his voracious study of God’s Word was evidenced in his preaching. His first conference message was given in Byfield, MA, on the “unequal yoke.” Joe Pearson encouraged Walter in saying that he felt the Lord had helped him, yet warned him that those who speak publicly would be tested on what is said. Walter found that to be solemnly true in the next eight years as he was tested on the divine principles about which he had spoken. Walter became increasingly exercised about the gospel and the Lord’s work. He left his secular employment in 1953 and was commended to full-time service six months later at the age of 34. He often worked with younger men, some of whom were later commended to full-time work. In his first gospel series, the Lord graciously blessed in the salvation of a woman who was touched by his conversion.

Samuel Rea, an older brother who had been commended to the work, invited Walter to join him in Sunnyslope, AZ, for gospel meetings. On this visit (his first time in the West), Walter met Grace Ruchti. They were married in 1956 and took up residence in Connecticut. During the next few years a son and two daughters were born. After moving to Maine where the family lived for seven years, they relocated to Pennsylvania in 1971 where Walter and Grace continued in happy fellowship in the Hatboro assembly.

During all those years, he held many gospel series in the US and Canada, the longest being a fruitful 13-week series, the more common being 6-9 weeks. Walter was known for his excellent recall of Scripture, his message illustrations, and his unique record keeping. During an overseas trip in 1977 to marry a young couple in the UK, he visited assemblies and helped at a few conferences, later reporting that he had preached 85 times in 70+ days during the trip!

Grace faithfully supported her husband as together they raised their children and shared in the blessing of five grandchildren. In early 1991, Grace went to be with the Lord after suffering for a number of years with cancer. In 1992 Walter married Joan Godsoe. She has been a devoted wife and valued help to Walter as they continued together in the work of the Lord. They traveled often across the US and Canada, seeking to encourage many small, isolated assemblies. Walter began to focus more on ministry, with an exercise to teach the principles and practice of gathering to the Name and Person of the Lord Jesus Christ alone.

With the passage of time, Walter curtailed his travels to pursue authoring the commentary on 2 Chronicles for the “What the Bible Teaches” series. Following those ten years of finishing and publishing the book, he also wrote numerous articles for five assembly publications. Joan became his amanuensis, aiding in the needful busy work of his writings.

In later years, Walter was limited to a walker or wheelchair for mobility after he broke his hip in a fall in 2014. His travel was then limited to mostly the east coast of the US and Canada. Joan faithfully drove him to various assemblies and conferences, since only bad weather and unsafe roads could keep him home. Even with physical restrictions, he continued his diligent studies of Scripture, while still writing and occasionally ministering in nearby assemblies. He wrote over 50 articles, including eight as yet unpublished. Three articles were sent for publication in the month prior to his homecall in June 2020.

Walter leaves behind his loving wife, Joan, a son, Walter, and two daughters, Ruth (Tom) Hoy and Jean (Don) Smith.

Walter will be especially missed in the Hatboro assembly. The highlight of his week was attending the assembly meetings. He was always prepared to participate, even though he knew he might not have the opportunity to do so. His contributions in the mid-week Bible study were helpful and greatly appreciated, and his sacrifices of praise each Lord’s Day morning were fresh and Christ-exalting.

To many, he was described by the words Paul left with the saints in Corinth. Walter was “steadfast, unmovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord.”