By Karl Diestelkamp
Preaching the gospel is what Leslie Diestelkamp did. It was not a “job” or a “profession,” but a labor of love in service of the Lord and Savior to whom he had given his life and soul in 1925. Early memories are of Dad farming and preaching; working in construction at Ft. Leonard Wood, Missouri and preaching at the Fort, in CCC camps and at Waynesville and Rolla, Missouri; working in factories in St. Louis and Green Bay, Wisconsin and preaching; moving a lot, or so it seemed to this boy, never because we “had to,” but to preach where there was a special challenge or need. Later we would find ourselves standing in a railroad station watching Dad, Mom and “little Roy” leave on the first leg of the first two-year stay in Nigeria, West Africa to preach to those great people in that great and fruitful land. Much later, after Mom died, we would see him off at the airport as he left for two years in Australia to preach wherever he could, “down under.” Then it was meeting him at the airport following his two month stay in the Philippines and finding him almost unable to walk due to the effects of malaria, amebic dysentery, malnutrition, dehydration and exhaustion, requiring twelve days treatment in the hospital be-cause he had been preaching and “living with the brethren.” Yes, he always seemed to be going some-where to preach, but that is what he understood Mark 16:15 said preachers should do, and he was a preacher, so that is what Leslie Diestelkamp did.
In the last 41 years many people heard my Dad preach much more than did most of us in the family, for we were in scattered places and some of us were also preaching. He encouraged many men to preach whenever, wherever and however they could but he never pressured. When I wasyoung, people would ask Dad, in front of me, “Is Karl going to preach when he grows up?” Dad’s answer was, “My boys can do anything they want to do as long as it is an honest occupation.” No pressure, but once a decision was made to do so, he was a great source of strength, help, and counsel. To him, the greatest work a man could do was to preach the gospel to save lost souls so he tried to help those who demonstrated faith, ability, desire, and moral character to do what they could. He urged men to “go” even if they had to support themselves and he challenged churches to “send,” re-minding them that the church was in the”spending” business and not the “saving and storing up” business. He was truly disappointed that many churches, with much money in bank accounts, would not respond to worthy appeals. His usual approach was to put emphasis on “world” evangelism, reminding his brethren that “the field is the world,”and while some-one needs to go others also need to send. He would tell churches of the real opportunity they had “to have a part” in this great work and assure them that the local church would tremendously benefit once they got involved, scripturally supporting de-serving preachers, in some other part of the “field.” Response was usually generous and, taking no credit him-self, he would say, “My brethren are the greatest.”
I do not know of anyone who ever questioned Dad’s moral integrity. In the family we never doubted that he would try to do what was right, regardless of what it was. When he made mistakes he was eager to make things right. He loved preachers and loved to be among them to learn from them and to share the experiences, excitement, and satisfaction of seeing souls saved and churches growing. But Dad was always deeply grieved to hear of some Christian who had been overtaken in doctrinal error, indifference or immorality, and that motivated him to write articles and letters of warning and gentle admonition to benefit everyone. He was alarmed at the number of preachers who were unfaithful to their wives and lamented not only the sin, but also the wide damage done to the cause of Christ. He begged such brethren to repent for the sake of their own souls even if they would never “preach” again. He regularly taught that a preacher should not study with (or do anything else with) a woman without his own wife or a reliable man also present. He said it was “precaution against rumor and false accusation, to say the very least, and possibly a deterrent to temptation, sin, scandal, destroyed homes, and the loss of souls, at the worst.”
Leslie Diestelkamp was blessed with a clear voice that carried well outdoors as well as in most meeting houses. His message was always serious, but delivered with a smile and through the years he suggested to several preachers that they needed to learn to smile after all, preaching the gospel was a joyful opportunity. In the last several years his voice was substantially weakened with age and doctors told him that his vocal cords were virtually worn out. When Dad’s hearing began failing, he was especially frustrated when a speaker would drop his voice so he could not hear. I suggested that perhaps some men did this for “effect.” He said, “The `effect’ is that people did not hear him! A preacher’s first responsibility is to be heard. If people can not hear him or understand him, it matters little whether he has the truth or not.” If there was a meeting in reasonable driving distance he would be there to hear and any preacher would have his undivided attention. When we were going through the suit he would be buried in, we found some business cards with his name and address on them, some tracts he had written including one titled, “Advice For Beginners,” and a meeting announcement from a nearby congregation that is all just what we would expect to find.
In speaking and writing, Dad was not known for lofty oratory, profound vocabulary or “deep, scholarly” presentations, though he was personally “deeper” than some imagined. His preaching was clear, plain, straight to the point, and liberally punctuated with illustrations that helped nail down the point he was making. He would say, “Illustrations should illustrate, not just take up time and space.” His goal was to present lessons everyone could understand. Writing of his own early preaching efforts he said, “I learned to preach a little by studying my Bible a whole lot, and finally launched out to take the gospel to as much of the world as one man could do.” He expressed concern that it seemed that some men were “studying a lot of books about the Bible, while not studying the Bible much at all.” He had no use for what he termed “sermonizing” where little or no Scripture was used and where no applications were made. A preacher’s task was to “preach the word” and get the truth across with clarity.
One of the great joys of my life was to accompany him to his beloved Nigeria in January 1985. His voice problems caused him to promise he would not preach more than twice a day a definite frustration. In spite of that limitation he could not preach at all the last few days of the month we were there. It was thrilling to see him reunited with so many faithful brethren he had known for so many years and to see their genuine appreciation of their old teacher. On several occasions someone would approach him and say something like, “You will not remember me, but I was baptized after hearing you preach on the streets of Lagos in 1959 (or some other year). Thank you for coming then.” One preacher who was taught by another man Dad had taught said to me, “I am appalled to think where we would be in western Nigeria if brother Diestelkamp had not come to our country when he did. I would not be a Christian, because there would not have been anyone to teach my own teacher. I thank God.” Certainly his labor in Nigeria was his most fruitful work. In two tours of service, totaling three and one-half years, 17 churches were established and over 1300 people were baptized. He had spent four fruitful months in the east and then moved to Lagos to pioneer work in the large cities and small towns in the west and midwest. Four strong Nigerian preachers went with him to the work: E. Ekanem and D.D. Isong Uyo (both now dead), E.J. Ebong and Solomon Etuk. Upon learning of the death of Dad, E. J. Ebong, now a veteran preacher himself, wrote our family: “. . . Thank God that you had a godly father who brought all of you up in a godly way . . . That gallant soldier in the forefront of the army of Christ, who arrived Nigeria June 30, 1959… had done marvelous work among us. Through him, thousands are led out of error of which I am one also today in the fore-front battle. I thank God that I worked with him and had many things to learn from his life. May his precious soul rest in peace.” Many, many of the faithful in poverty-stricken and politically oppressed Nigeria will mourn their loss of a true brother and friend and rejoice that he has departed “to be with Christ; which is far better” (Phil. 1:23).
I am certain that Dad’s message to all his friends and brethren would be, “Preach the word!” He is missed al-ready, but he would want others to “fill the gap” left by his death and carry on the fight for truth with zeal and purity.
Guardian of Truth XXXIX: No. 23, p. 12-13
December 7, 1995