L.E. Maxwell: An average man used by God – Part 1

2022 is Prairie College’s 100th year. Along with our students in chapel, we have been looking back at the roots of Prairie, and at the people and the practices that have made Prairie what it is today. Our starting point has to be the story of L.E. Maxwell, the founder of one of Canada’s oldest Bible Colleges.  This was written and presented by Ruth Maxwell, a granddaughter, who lived with her grandparents for 4 years.  Part 2 will be published in 1 week.  

Leslie Earl Maxwell was born in Mentor, Kansas, on July 2, 1895, to Edwin and Marion Maxwell and was the eldest of 9 children. As a family, L.E. would say that they were a non-descriptive lot, not closely knit, and with nothing unusual about their average run-of-the-mill lives. He described himself as an average sinner, son of an average farmer, with average parents, and an average family.
Everything about them seemed ordinary.

He described himself as an average sinner, son of an average farmer, with average parents, and an average family.

Although both sets of grandparents became God-fearing, L.E.’s childhood home was generally godless and rough. However, his Grandfather Maxwell and his Aunt Christina Maxwell, aware of this, began praying for him. L.E. shared that later in his life he recognized that God’s mercy was on him all throughout his youth. In his late teens, his Aunt found him a job in Kansas City, Missouri. This was a merciful lifeline for L.E. that ended up completely changing the direction of his life. After attending church with her one night, he knelt by his bed and asked God to forgive his sins.

Soon after, L.E. was drafted to serve in World War 1 in France with the US Army. Although he never met another believer during those 2 years, he knew God kept him from sin and kept him alive for a purpose. Therefore, on returning home, he planned on training for ministry. With limited funds and the need to help care for his widowed mother and siblings, he applied to Midland Bible School in Kansas City led by Dr. Stevens. His ambition was for overseas work so he practiced stern self-discipline to make ends meet financially and to be a ready soldier of Jesus Christ. In February 1922, Stevens approached L.E. about accepting a request from Fergus Kirk in Alberta, Canada for a two-year position teaching Scripture to young people in Three Hills. It was not a simple decision as L.E. saw four barriers to this. He did not like:

  • Farming
  • The cold climate
  • Teaching 
  • Preaching

He knew that accepting this position would be a true example of “dying to self” for him. Despite his hesitations, God nudged him towards gladly accepting the invitation.
What he did not know was that his enthusiastic “yes, for two years” would eventually extend as he settled in for the rest of his life and embraced God’s plan for him.

In mid-August, just six weeks before arriving in Three Hills on Sept 30, 1922, L.E. wrote “I am just completing my Bible course.  I have had a full consecutive study now of all the Bible. People need the Bible, so I am glad to have gotten the Word in its simplicity. I’ll never run out of a message!” Gratitude for studying the whole Canon of Scripture became a conviction, resulting in the Bible emphasis throughout the past 100 years here at Prairie. Nine days after he arrived, the first Bible class was held on October 9th, 1922 in the McElheran farmhouse with 8 people in attendance. In those early years, classes often concluded with sessions of prayer and waiting upon God.  

Gratitude for studying the whole Canon of Scripture became a conviction

Looking back on the beginnings of Prairie, L.E. was keenly aware of God’s work in bringing Prairie into being. Early on God spoke to L.E. about serving without expecting anything in return. Hoping for nothing became a recurring theme in L.E.’s life and ministry. A salary was not always an option, but L.E. was always given food, housing, and was warmly welcomed into others’ homes. 

Three years later, L.E. returned to Kansas to marry his fiancée, Pearl Plummer, a fellow student at Midland Bible School. They agreed together that Pearl would focus her attention on the family and not be involved in the public side of the school.  Pearl beautifully fulfilled this responsibility. Her ability to care for her family and stretch the pennies was legendary! I watched her take threadbare collars off L.E.’s shirts, reverse them, and hand stitch them back on so they could last another winter. 

Self-disciplined habits shaped L.E.’s life. 

Early devotions each day, listening to the news 3 times daily, cooking breakfast regularly and going to bed at 10 pm. Known for being energetic whether behind the pulpit or outside, he walked each day, blue skies or blizzards, as long as he could. Seeing him gardening or shoveling ice and snow off the sidewalks was normal.

Read the continuation of L.E.’s story next week…

Ruth Maxwell, 1977 Bible College graduate, is a granddaughter of L.E. Maxwell, daughter of Ernest and Freeda Maxwell, and sister to Mark Maxwell. At Prairie she developed a heart for discipleship. During 36 years with SIM, she has engaged in discipleship, mentoring, coaching, member care, and leader care. Seeing God continue His good work through Prairie and it’s grads reminds her of God’s astounding faithfulness.

Watch Ruth’s full presentation to the 2021/22 students at Prairie College here.


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