Lucas 21 & 22 (June & December 1996) 129-35
A Life of Service:
Leonard E Buck (1906-1996)
I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.
The apostle Paul’s last words to younger Timothy are so appropriate for this occasion. “The time has come for my departure. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.”
How is it possible to summarise the good fight and the nine decade marathon race of Leonard E Buck? I have concluded that anything said will be inadequate — so please forgive the omissions — but he expressly said that he did not want a long and drawn out service! He did not want you to remember him for that. So Judy will speak of the enormous importance of his wonderful life partner, Jane, and their family life. I do not want you to forget that as we now think of his life serving in the world of business, church, mission and community.
Leonard Buck was born in Melbourne to William and Tessa Buck in 1906. In this chartered accountant’s home, faith in Christ and serving Him were central, and young Leonard gave his life to Christ as a boy. In his teenage years he strayed from this commitment, and his parents were deeply concerned, and praying for him. He re-committed his life to Christ at a Saturday meeting of a Methodist Local preachers’ Kings Birthday Weekend Convention in June 1927 in the Auburn Methodist Church. On the Monday morning Rev WP Nicholson, who had just arrived in Melbourne, was preaching. Leonard Buck’s own words describe what happened. “At the conclusion of his message which was on the infilling and empowering of the Holy Spirit, I responded to the invitation by Mr Nicholson for those who wished to know the empowering of the Holy Spirit in their lives for service to come forward for prayer. I experienced an immediate anointing of the Holy Spirit’s power which has continued throughout almost 70 years of service for the Lord Jesus Christ — in the Church, in evangelistic, missionary and in convention ministries. It was a miracle. It brought a total change in my life, and my faith has never faltered in the years of service that have followed.” This life changing encounter with the Spirit of God was the springboard for all that followed in his Christian walk.
He had started a business in Flinders Lane, but now he also had a great heart for evangelism, and became involved with evangelist George Hall, preaching the Gospel in all sorts of places. In 1933 when George Hall went to Japan, he took over that work, which was simply called Mr Len Buck’s city work — preaching on the wharves, in the prisons, to the men building the Shrine of Remembrance, to boys in the reformatory and those on the beaches.
In 1929, with George Hall, Leonard Buck approached the first Principal of the Melbourne Bible Institute, Rev CH Nash, to start the City Men’s Bible Class. Mr Nash agreed, and this Bible Class became a powerful influence in bringing together and teaching Christian business men. Historian Dr Stuart Piggin has described these men like this — “Nash’s disciples formed a small army, drilled in the Bible, in the spiritual discipline of prayer, and in a vision for the Gospel, and at the end of World War II they readily assumed the reins of the evangelical institutions started by their forebears ... They did not engage in business for its own sake, but because it gave them the means and the power to effect great ends ... theirs was the intense conspiratorial pleasure which all enjoy, who join together to plot for eternity.” CH Nash moulded them into a formidable force for the Gospel, made up mainly of laymen. Leonard Buck said, “The Chief taught us a lot about leadership, and the place of laymen in it”. Ralph Davis, another member of that group (later President of MBI/BCV Council), described it like this: “There was certainly nothing special about the quality of our lives as Christians. There were, however, a number of characteristics which gave us common gound for action. I attempt to outline them:
1. We had a common interest in soul winning and serious discipleship.
2. There was a readiness and commitment to tell the Gospel to the lost.
3. We were learning Biblical discipleship together in actual working conditions.
4. We were learning together to pray.
5. We were seeking a positive active relationship with our churches.
6. We were growing together in the Lord, relating business and family life to our activities in evangelism.
7. We had no spiritual secrets, save in the Cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by Whom the world is crucified unto me, and I unto the world.”
The story of what God has done through the lives of these men who were bound by this vision and commitment is amazing.
In 1936, after a City Bible Class meeting, 27 men went to the Buck showroom, and the result was the birth of Campaigners for Christ, which continued and expanded his evangelistic activities.
He also became deeply committed to the Melbourne Bible Institute (now Bible College of Victoria) and the Upwey Convention (now the Belgrave Heights Convention) in these years, and that has continued in life membership right through to last Thursday. He loved the Bible, and deeply believed that it must be read, well taught, and put into action. He believed in Bible Colleges, and Bible teaching conventions.
But his concern was not only evangelism in Australia. A great passion had developed to take the Gospel to the world. In 1939 he joined the Council of the Unevangelised Field Mission, and within 9 months he was appointed chairman.
When the war came he started Everyman’s Welfare Service. His friend Charles Sandland described those beginnings like this: “With a persistence that would not accept ‘No’ for an answer, he got the ear of the ‘powers that be’. He became recognised by the Army as Chief Commissioner of Everyman’s, and by his dignified bearing and distinctive uniform, he could well have been mistaken for the Colonel of the regiment. By his persuasive approach, he seemed able to demand from Generals, and whoever, almost any concession or support he felt to be needful.” Such was his indefatigable persistence on Kingdom business.
In 1940 he took Everyman’s to Malaysia with the RAAF, and then to Singapore. When Singapore fell, he was on the last ship out, which was attacked by the Japanese. The Everyman’s mobile unit on deck was destroyed, and his fellow worker killed. After a period in Indonesia, he returned to Australia in 1942 and was then all over the country from Townsville to Perth, setting up Everyman’s Welfare Centres in the army camps. After the war, it was out of his concern and compassion for the terrible conditions of the Papuans involved in rebuilding Port Moresby, that he urged the Federal Council of Campaigners to have the vision and faith to start an Everyman’s Centre in Port Moresby. His faith won the day. That Centre has had a remarkable influence, now seen in the lives of many prominent Christian leaders in Papua New Guinea. The presence of uniformed Everyman’s officers here today, and a special message from the Chief of Staff, bears testimony to this continuing caring witness for Christ in the armed forces.
Following the war a major focus of his interest was his involvement with the Unevangelised Fields Mission (now the Asia Pacific Christian Mission). In 1960 he gave up the wholesale part of his business to become Honorary General Director as well as Chairman — positions he held for the next ten years. It was a pivotal time for the mission. The vision and urging to expand into Indonesia and Dutch New Guinea (now Irian Jaya) was his, in the face of the fears of some that the mission was spreading itself too thin. But his thrusting vision and bold faith would not compromise with limited thinking. Many were inspired and convinced to give themselves for missionary service through his ministry and leadership. When he retired at 65 in 1971, there had been enormous growth and consolidation.
In his capacity as Secretary of the Hawthorn circuit of the Methodist Church, he also made an enormous contribution to Methodist missions in the South Pacific.
In 1959 at a mission Council Meeting in Paua New Guinea, seeds were sown regarding the establishment of a training college for Christian leaders to meet the needs of the rapidly growing churches. Through Leonard Buck’s vigorous support, the Melbourne Bible Institute Council set up a committee to get the project off the ground. With the first Principal, Gil MacArthur, appointed, but no ground or buildings and little money, they rode a motor bike (and fell off it) around the highlands of PNG as they searched for suitable land. It was typical of his selfless tenacity and courageous faith. In a marvellous way God answered faith and prayer in the securing of land and staff, and a building programme began. The first students came in 1965. Leonard Buck was President of the Christian Leaders’ Training College of PNG Council for 20 years. He continued a vital interest in the College with annual visits for meetings until his last visit in 1994. His combination of faith and business sense was also vital in the development of the Alliance Training Association, an offspring of CLTC, which had a tremendous witness in the business world in PNG. A magnificent library at the centre of the campus of CLTC at Banz now marks the enduring nature of his tremendous contribution to CLTC, and a new generation of Christian leaders in that nation.
But in the latter years another compulsion and vision was emerging for the prisoners. He was used again by the Lord in the creation of Prison Fellowship in Australia. He was Chairman of the first National Board and served on the International Board as well. He was instrumental in starting the ministry in the PNG he loved, and in Singapore. He was a close confidant of founder Chuck Coulson, and gave shape and direction to a ministry that now encompasses 75 nations around the world. His contribution during visits to Belfast, Korea, Nairobi and Washington are vividly remembered by the world wide Prison Fellowship Family. In his 90th year he was still the Patron of Prison Fellowship Australia. His own words described his affection for this unique ministry when last year he wrote this: “Prison Fellowship of Australia has had a reviving stimulating affect on churches. We’re inclined to look on the outward. But God doesn’t; He looks on the heart of a person and sees the possibilities. Remember, we serve the Lord Who was a ‘crim’. He was an outcast, spat on, despised. And that’s why He’s so concerned about prisoners — because He loves.” In 1989 Leonard Buck was honoured by Her Majesty the Queen with the order of Australia for contributions to a number of Christian ministries, including Prison Fellowship.
He was never one to live in the past, but he would learn from it, and always be pushing forward in the faith. This all sounds a rather serious story, but there was always a lot of good fun with his smile and sense of humour along the way.
But now like the writer to the Hebrews in the great 11th chapter on faith, I have to say at this point, “and what more shall I say. I do not have time to tell” about his strong and enduring commitment to the Methodist and later Uniting Church in which he was a local lay preacher for over 60 years, his work in the Interdenominational Missionary Fellowship (forerunner of Mission Interlink today), his remarkable leadership of the Prayer Committee for the 1959 Billy Graham Crusade, his vision and work to form a National Fellowship for Revival in the Methodist/Uniting Church, and many other involvements even too numerous to mention in what has been a remarkable life of enormous achievement for the Kingdom of God. As a result people rise up literally all around the world and give thanks with us for him today. The truth is, as his 93 year old friend Mr Charles Sandland observed after his death, “We have lost a giant”.
I suspect, however, that he would also be getting fairly impatient with me at this point, for enough has been said! He would want us all to understand that it is not Leonard Buck that we should focus on. He would rather our focus be on the Lord Jesus Christ, Who rescued him, Who called him to start this great race, and Who met him and empowered him by His Spirit for the Gospel fight.
In one of the last meetings he led as Chairman of the CLTC Advisory Council in Australia in September 1994, he said this with his usual challenge and vigour: “If I had a preaching ministry today, I would preach about the fulness of the Spirit, the revival of spiritual life, the daily surrender, and the sacrifice of it.”
May his words as one who has finished the race, encourage us to receive God’s gracious empowering, and live for Him in our own race in the world of today!
* David Price is Principal of the Bible College of Victoria. This address is the eulogy delivered at the service of Thanksgiving for the life of Len Buck held at the Hawthorn Uniting Church, on 7 May 1996.
© Evangelical History Association of Australia and Southern Cross College, 2005.