Free Indeed: Remembering Lester Spencer

July 4, 2006, was a day of freedom for Lester Spencer, one of the first Navigators, who went home to be with His Lord on Independence Day.

Les was one of Navigator founder Dawson Trotman’s first disciples. He was serving on the USS West Virginia, stationed in southern California, when he met Dawson in the early 1930s. Les and men like him motivated Dawson to devote himself full-time to reaching and teaching sailors.

In the book Daws, long-time Navigator Betty Lee Skinner spells out Les’s early days in the faith and his contribution to the formation of The Navigators. Betty spoke of one particular evening when Dawson and Les were studying together in Dawson’s car.

[They] were parked by a schoolhouse, poring over the Scriptures when a security guard approached and asked what they were doing. “Reading the Bible,” Dawson answered, and seized the opportunity to witness. The three went inside, where Dawson turned from one passage to another to explain the Gospel and answer all the defenses of the hapless guard, who now wished they would move on. Spencer watched, impressed by Dawson’s skill in using the Bible.

On the way back to the landing he said, “Boy, I’d give my right arm to know how to use the Word like that.”

“No you wouldn’t,” Daws baited him. After a brief exchange the sailor insisted, “I would. I mean it.”

It was the response Dawson wanted. “All right, you can. And it won’t cost your arm, but you’ll have to be willing to dig in and study and apply yourself. I’ll give you all the time you’ll take.”

From then on, Spencer was at the Trotman home whenever he had liberty. . . . Spencer was getting his spiritual sea legs as he spent hours with Dawson . . . learning to memorize and study the Word and use it in witness, and learning to pray with purpose. A Christian since age eleven but with little opportunity to grow, he now showed a Scots-Irish steadiness in applying himself to everything Daws taught him. He shared enthusiastically with shipmate Gurney Harris and encouraged him to visit the Trotman home.

“Daws, I’d sure like to get Gurney over here to learn what you’re teaching me,” he once remarked.

“Sure, he can come,” was the answer. “But why don’t you get him started? Just pass on to him what I’m givin’ you.”

“I haven’t had the training,” Les objected.

“Doesn’t matter.” Dawson looked him in the eye. “If you can’t teach him what I’ve taught you, I’ve failed.”

The conversation proved a turning point for Dawson’s ministry. It established in his mind that the goal of his teaching needed to be training others to pass on what they had learned. Les became a shining example of that effort as he saw other sailors—including his friend Gurney—give their lives to Christ.

Lauren Libby, U.S. Navigators Senior Vice President, said, “Dawson and Les embodied the truth of 2 Timothy 2:2: And the things you have heard me say in the presence of many witnesses entrust to reliable men who will also be qualified to teach others.  God’s commitment to us is this: The least of you will become a thousand, the smallest a mighty nation. I am the Lord; in its time I will do this swiftly.” (Isaiah 60:22). God did this through Les Spencer. He became the leader of the American Sunday School Union, developed the Christian Service Department at Multnomah School of the Bible, and worked with a Christian camp in Oregon.”

Les, who was 94, is survived by his wife of almost 70 years, Martha, and their children; a son, Don; daughters Carolyn Hopkins, Barbara Martin, and Mary Jo Henry. Les proved an active minister throughout his life, and an avid lover of God’s Word—the truth that set him free.


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