J. Lester Eshleman, M.D., 87

January 21, 2009

JAN. 30, 1921-JAN. 18, 2009

J. Lester Eshleman, M.D., went to be with the Lord on Jan. 18, 2009.

Born in Maryland on Jan. 30, 1921, to his late parents, Laban and Anna Eshleman, Lester served 50 years of his life as a surgeon, missionary and pastor in Africa. His life was an enormous inspiration to all of those he met and with whom he worked. His compassion, faith and emotions pervaded everything to which he put his heart.

Lester grew up in the Mennonite community in Hagerstown, Md. He worked as a farmhand until he was 18 years old, when God called him to go to Eastern Mennonite Bible School and Seminary in Harrisonburg, Va. Upon completion of seminary in 1945, Lester attended Hahneman Medical School in Philadelphia, Pa., where he graduated in 1949.

In 1947, he married Lois Martin.

During his third year of medical school, he was ordained by lot to the ministry at Rocky Ridge Mennonite Church in Souderton, Pa., where he and Lois served for the next four years as dedicated co-pastor and wife. Their inspiration blended a melting pot of peoples and galvanized a fledgling mission church into a meaningful community.


After completing a year-and-a-half surgical residency, he and Lois, a nurse anesthetist, went to Shirati Mission Hospital in Tanzania, where they served as a husband-and-wife surgical team in the 1950s and 1960s. Their daughter, Charlotte, and son, Lynn, were born during this time.

In 1966, the Eshlemans returned to Pennsylvania, where Lester completed a residency in urology at the Graduate Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania. During this time, he also co-pastored at Parkesburg Mennonite Church, and preached in numerous Mennonite churches in Pennsylvania, sharing his missionary experiences and work.

In 1972, Lester and Lois went to Kinshasa, Zaire (now Congo), where he worked as a urologist at Mama Yemo Hospital for six years. This is a 2,000-bed hospital set up by then-president Mobutu in honor of his mother.

Lester and Lois returned to Tanzania in 1979, but this time to Kilimanjaro Christian Medical center in Moshi, Tanzania. There, Lester spent the last 20 years of his surgical career setting up the Institute of Urology. This institution provided urologic treatment and training of urologic surgeons from seven East African countries with a combined population of more than 100 million. For this accomplishment, he was awarded the St. Paul medal by the British Association of Urologic Surgeons in 1998. This is a medal awarded to surgeons with outstanding contributions in Third World countries.

While at Moshi, he and Lois also helped start the Newlands Mennonite Church and Primary School for more than 200 children of all faith backgrounds. Lester and Lois returned to the States in 1997 to Landis Homes retirement village. During the last 12 years of his life, Lester served at Landis Homes Retirement community as part-time pastor and board committee member. He and Lois made weekly rounds among the sick and the shut-ins at Landis Homes to pray with them, and offer sympathy and compassion.

Lester died quietly in his home with his faithful wife, Lois, at his side.

He is survived by his wife, Lois; daughter, Charlotte, and her husband, Amos; and son, Lynn, and his wife, Carole.

The family is grateful to Hospice of Lancaster County for the care and concern shown to the family in his last days.

Lester will always be remembered by his family, friends and colleagues as a man of profound purpose and faith, combined with a heart of deep compassion and care. He once said, "The greatest privilege in life for Lois and me has been to be able to minister both to the souls and the bodies of mankind." Truly this was his legacy.

A brief graveside service is planned at Millwood Mennonite Church, Amish and Buena Vista Roads, Gap, Pa., on Thursday, Jan. 22, 2009, at 10:30 a.m. A memorial service is planned at Landis Homes, West Bethany Chapel, 1001 E. Oregon Road, Lititz, PA 17543 on Saturday, Feb. 14, 2009, at 2 p.m. The family will greet friends after the service.

In lieu of flowers, contributions may be made to the Landis Homes Caring Fund.

Furman Home for Funerals, Leola, Pa.

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