Les Van Essen was a humble but confident preacher with a dry wit that diffused often tense situations. He loved singing hymns and roused many a congregation to give glory to God through song. He also loved to preach—which he did until turning 84 and still desired to do until his death, Jan. 15 at age 87. Though he lived with cancer for 30 years, his family says he never focused on that or complained.
Les was born and raised near Leota, Minn., one of 11 children. A graduate of Calvin College (now University) and Seminary, he was ordained in 1961 and then served for 20 years as a missionary in Nigeria with Christian Reformed World Missions (now part of Resonate Global Mission). He went on to pastor Immanuel Christian Reformed Church in Burbank, Ill., for 11 years and New Hope Church in Lansing, Ill., for nearly nine years before retiring in 2002.
In his retirement years, Les continued to serve as an interim pastor in churches throughout the U.S. He also dared to attempt anything—from becoming a ham radio operator to making his own dark room for developing photographs to helping build a water supply system for a mission compound. He enjoyed every kind of game, and for him no gathering was complete without one.
Les is survived by Elaine, his wife of 61 years; five children and their spouses; 17 grandchildren; and nine great-grandchildren.