Leenaert Bouwens (1515-1582)
Leenaert (sometimes spelled as 'Leonard') was born in 1515 in Sommelsdijk, Holland. As a youth he was a member of the Rhetoricians (Rederijkers), an oratory society in the Netherlands. Little else is know of his early life. He was converted to the Mennonite Church and ordained a minister in 1546. Menno Simons ordained him as an elder in Emden in 1551.
Leonard traveled to Friesland, East Friesland, Groningen and the islands of the North Sea to baptize and to administer communion. In later years he also journeyed to North Holland and Flanders. His wife was concerned about his safety on these trips and appealed to Menno to release her husband from his office.
In his reply, Menno writes:
'My inmost soul is grieved in your behalf, more so than I can write. For I understand from our beloved brethren that it is so very difficult for you to acquiesce to the desire abd petition of the afflicted and shepherdless congregations in regard to your beloved husband.'
But then he continues:
'As the Church so earnestly desires of him to serve in this capacity, and his conscience, doubtless, constrains him to comply, how could I then oppose it, especially since I find nothing in Leonard to give any Scriptural ground for advising against his ordination.'
In conclusion Menno stresses the importance of resigning to God's will:
'May the almighty, merciful Lord do in this matter according to His divine pleasure and guide the heart of my beloved sister, so as to be resigned to His holy blessed will.'
Apparently, Menno accomplished his purpose with this letter. Leenaert became one of the most active evangelists among the early leaders. A list he kept of the people he had baptized during five distinct periods from 1551 to 1582 contains more than ten thousand names. Leenaert died a natural death in Hoorn in 1582.