You know who I wish could be at the twentieth commencement exercise for West Coast Baptist College this week? Leo Walther.
And even though in my head I know that Heaven is infinitely better than college graduations, in my heart, I sort of think Leo would like to be here too—or at least to watch from the grandstands of glory.
WCBC alumni, and current upperclassmen as well, know exactly what I mean. If there was ever a man who loved West Coast Baptist College and its students, it was Leo Walther.
I remember the day Leo Walther first came to Lancaster Baptist Church. He was fifty-seven years old, and he wasn’t in church because he had a hunger for truth. For years, Leo’s wife, Evelyn, had prayed for his salvation and had asked him to attend church with her. He wouldn’t go, however, saying he would be a hypocrite to attend church because of the business he owned—a liquor store.
But when Leo and Evelyn’s son and daughter-in-law moved to Lancaster and two soulwinners from Lancaster Baptist came by their home to welcome them to the community, the young couple agreed to attend church. When they called to tell Evelyn, she convinced Leo that she and Leo needed to drive the sixty miles from Sunland to Lancaster and go to church to support their children. He grudgingly agreed to attend “this once.”
But Leo returned the following Sunday, and the next, and the next. As he continued to hear the preaching of God’s Word, his heart began to soften. The Holy Spirit convicted him of his lost condition and convinced him of his need for Christ. Finally, one Sunday Leo trusted Christ as his Saviour. That very morning, he asked to be baptized—immediately.
From the moment of his salvation, Leo’s life was transformed. Like a thirsty sponge, he absorbed all the preaching and teaching he could. And he quickly began serving in the church. Eventually, he and Evelyn relocated from Sunland to Lancaster just so they could more fully invest their time and service in Lancaster Baptist Church.
Leo’s first area of service was ushering. He served in this capacity for every service and made himself available for special events, including the annual Spiritual Leadership Conference when he served all day for every service. Another early area of ministry was in duplicating messages—first on cassette tapes and then on CDs. Eventually, Leo was the volunteer coordinator for the media center, spending many hours each week duplicating CDs and DVDs. Both of these were ministries that Leo continued until his Homegoing.
But the ministry that captivated Leo’s heart was West Coast Baptist College. From the day the college opened its doors in 1995, Leo began pouring his life into the students. He would drive to the campus dining hall at 6:30 a.m. to have breakfast with students. He learned their names and their prayer needs. He would sometimes slip a $20 bill to a student in need, and he once took a group of nine girls who were without a date to the college banquet. He attended all of the home basketball games and often drove the team to away games. Additionally, Leo was the volunteer campus host, often making airport runs to pick up chapel speakers or to drive students to and from LAX airport.
Leo so invested in the students of WCBC that, outside of his family, they literally became his entire social life. He loved them, spent time with them, gave to them, and prayed for them.
So great was Leo’s influence on the students of WCBC that when the Lord called Leo Home in June of 2013, hundreds of students and alumni attended his funeral, and hundreds more watched it by live stream. Through the ministries of WCBC alumni, Leo’s influence has been invested around the globe.
For over a decade now, I’ve been praying for a much-needed building on the campus of West Coast Baptist College—a student commons building. Leo and I even prayed together for this building. And the Lord is answering these prayers through the current construction of a 54,000 square-foot facility that will expand educational space, while providing a much-needed center for campus activities, social fellowship, and athletic events.
Truly, I wish Leo could see these walls going up. I can just picture him inside, rooting for the Eagles team from the gym bleachers, encouraging students across a table in The Point restaurant, or listening (one of the things Leo did best) to a student share an urgent prayer need in the Hanger fellowship area. Yes, Leo would love the student commons building, and he would, no doubt, spend many, many hours there investing in students.
This is why when we broke ground on this building last June we chose to name it “The Walther Center” in memory of our dear friend. There never was a man who loved his Lord, his pastor, his church family, and the students and graduates of West Coast Baptist College more than Leo Walther.
And this is why at our twentieth commencement exercise this week, we’re taking an offering toward the completion of this building, which we pray can be fully paid for by the ribbon-cutting ceremony next month.
If you knew Leo Walther and would like to invest in the legacy which he has left as well as in the future laborers that he so loved—students at WCBC—I invite you to participate in this offering—either here on campus May 6, 2015 or online.
Ultimately, we give for the glory of God and the advancement of the gospel through the training of laborers. Even so, those of us who knew Leo Walther find an extra measure of joy in investing in a cause and group of people that he loved.