My Dad’s Life-Altering Steps of Faith

This Father’s Day, I found myself reflecting on a specific attribute of my dad, James Ellis Buchan, Sr.: his steps of faith that became life-changing, not just for him but for the entire family. As shown in the Old Testament story of Abraham, the “father of faith,” God’s blessings often seem tied to our willingness to step out and do things that are unfamiliar and perhaps even scary (Genesis 12:1-4).

Born in 1920, many of my dad’s formative years were spent during the Great Depression. He and his family lived in Mingo Junction, Ohio, where his father and most of the other townspeople worked for the steel mill. Even those who didn’t work at the mill were affected by the soot it spewed out each day. When I would later visit my grandparents there, I remember feeling like I needed to take a bath three times a day because of the grime that permeated the town.

MOVING TO COLUMBUS: Life for Dad and the rest of us would have been drastically different if he had remained in Mingo. Opportunities were sparse there. Dreamers would eventually have to leave town in order to grow.

My dad’s first college experience was at a tiny Pennsylvania college named Washington & Jefferson. Tracing its roots back to a log cabin in 1781, even today the college has fewer than 2,000 students. Dad was on the basketball team, which he enjoyed. But soon it was time for his first major step of faith: transferring to the Ohio State University and moving to the big city of Columbus. He worked hard at OSU and eventually enrolled in law school – but then World War II broke out.

ENLISTING IN THE ARMY: The military promised young men certain perks if they enlisted instead of waiting to be drafted, and this led to Dad’s second major step of faith. He enlisted in the army reserves, having been told that combat would only be required in the case of a “national emergency.”

The military’s assurances turned out to be pretty hollow, Dad discovered. When Hitler’s army invaded Africa, a national emergency was immediately declared. Dad’s second year of law school was interrupted not just by his enlistment into the army reserves, but also by deployment into the Timberwolf Division, which fought some of the fiercest European battles of WWII. After victory was achieved over Hitler, there was talk of sending Dad’s unit to fight in the Pacific – but the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki ended the war before his involvement became necessary.

If things had turned out differently, Dad could easily have been killed in combat, and my brother Bob and I would never have been born. It was a traumatic time, but God protected him.

BECOMING A LAWYER AND ENTREPRENEUR: After surviving the war, Dad finished his law degree and married my mom. He was an attorney back in Columbus for around four decades.

Being a successful lawyer was an impressive accomplishment, but I was perhaps even more impressed by the steps of faith Dad took as an entrepreneur. Along with siblings and friends, he purchased rental houses, built an apartment building, owned three bowling alleys, and invested in two drive-in movie theaters. Somehow he did all this while never missing my sports events and recitals.

FINDING A NEW CHURCH PATHWAY: Dad brought us up as Methodists, taking us to church practically every Sunday. But he eventually became annoyed by “Situation Ethics” and other liberal teachings the church began to promote. He courageously spoke out against these relativistic views, but to no avail.

After my brother and I left for college, he and Mom searched for a church that stayed closer to the Bible. He had been a faithful Methodist for decades, so this required another step of faith. As I look back, I’m proud of my dad for taking a stand. Many people remain in spiritually dead churches all their lives, never willing to search for something better.

RETIRING IN FLORIDA: Dad had enjoyed being an attorney and entrepreneur in Columbus, so it was another big step of faith when he decided to retire and move to Florida. Never fond of remaining idle, even in retirement he purchased some rental homes in Florida and even ran a clothing store. He was always learning, growing, and investing.  

Dad also thrived on giving advice to his sons and grandchildren – whether that advice was requested or not. All the way until his death at age 94, his wisdom was legendary. No one ever shared a problem he couldn’t devise an answer for. During one of my visits, we amazingly talked nonstop for 11 hours, solving nearly all the world’s problems.

Whenever I face some kind of dilemma in my life today, I wish I could still pick up the phone and call my dad. I know he would have eagerly listened, providing me with innovative solutions. As I reflect back on our conversations, I realize that he often encouraged me in my own steps of faith. And while most people increasingly “play it safe” as they get older, Dad never stopped being a risk-taker.

There was a lot to love about my dad, but today I’m especially grateful for how his bold steps of faith impacted my life, and the lives of so many others as well. If you find that you’ve been trapped in your comfort zone too long, I hope you’ll be inspired by his example.

Is there some step of faith God is leading you to take today? The Lord is with you, just as He assured Joshua when the Israelites were about to enter the Promised Land: “Be strong and courageous! Do not be afraid or discouraged. For the Lord your God is with you wherever you go” (Joshua 1:9). Not only will steps of faith change your own life, but your courage will also impact people around you and the coming generations. Be bold – like my dad!