Robert R. Hilke, Jr., “Conversion and Testimony of Bob Hilke” Excerpt from bobhilke.com
Until 1985 I had never known of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. I only knew of the Mormons what was in my school history books. I certainly had never understood that there was a book known as “The Book of Mormon”. At the end of December 1984, I was visiting my parents for the holidays. Just as I was preparing to leave to return to Minneapolis, I remember telling my parents that I would likely select a church to belong to within the month. I had been attending a number of different churches and had been narrowing down my selection to several. I had been raised in the United Church of Christ, which is a merger of Methodist and Congregational. On many occasions I had attended Mennonite, Baptist, Evangelical Covenant, Catholic, Lutheran, Assembly of God, and Presbyterian Church services. Because I play violin, I was frequently invited to play at various churches in my hometown. I have belonged to choirs in the United Church of Christ, Methodist, and Presbyterian denominations. When I attended college, I associated mostly with the Presbyterian Church. Having the opportunity to attend these various churches, I had learned of their many different approaches to the gospel, and some of the many different doctrines taught in each church. It was time for me to decide where I belonged, and during the year of 1984, I had made quite an effort to attend various churches in an attempt to find the one that was right for me.
On January 8, 1985, at about 10:00 p.m., I received a phone call from Bob Holker. He told me that something special had happened and he needed to speak with me. He asked if I would come to his home to see him. So we arranged to meet that Saturday. On Saturday, Bob told me about this very large planet far off in the universe called Kolob. Then he challenged the theory about the native Americans coming across the Bearing Strait and told me he believed that they actually came by boat, and that they had prophets on this hemisphere. He told me of a couple of their prophets, and then presented me with The Book of Mormon. He asked me to read the book. I told him I would, but I did not have time to ask many questions about it since I had another appointment for a performance at the Ordway Theater, which is in St. Paul, and I had to leave. Driving to the Ordway, many questions and thoughts crossed my mind, including the following:
I kept wondering why Bob had called me out of the blue to give me this book. He had only met me once before, several months prior to this.
Bob had achieved great success in life, and it appeared to me that The Book of Mormon was something that he had read which had given him a lot of direction in his life and perhaps contributed in some way to his success and happiness.
At this time I did not realize that there was a specific church associated with the book. I thought that perhaps the book was something that people of any faith might find to be important to them within the context of their own religion.
I thought that Bob must review a list of people he meets and spend his weekends inviting them out to his house to give them each one of these books.
By the time I had finished the performance at the Ordway Theater, my curiosity regarding this book was very great. When I got to my car, I picked up the book, and before I started looking through it for the very first time I remember saying a prayer something like: “Dear Lord, please help me to know what to think of this book.” Then I opened it and began to look through it. As I held it in my hands and began to page through it, I began to tremble and a great exhilarating feeling came over me. I was sitting in my car, parked in downtown St. Paul, all by myself, holding this book and trembling. What an experience! I thought, “Wow, this is awesome!” I had never before felt such a compelling and exhilarating feeling about any book, or anything else for that matter.
I drove home and brought the book into my apartment. I proceeded to look through the book some more and to read the several pamphlets which Bob had sent with me. Again, as I sat on my sofa and looked through the book I trembled and had the same exhilarating experience as I had in my car! I resolved at that moment that I must read the entire book and find out for myself exactly what it is. Over the next week, I spent four days reading The Book of Mormon, from cover to cover – I even took a day off work just so I could stay home and read. I could not set the book down! I also read the pamphlets, which included the Joseph Smith Testimony, What of the Mormons, and a larger booklet called Man’s Search for Happiness. By the time I finished reading The Book of Mormon, I had a testimony that it is true. By reading the pamphlets, I also had begun to realize that there was going to be some change in my religious affiliations if I adopted this book as true.
I called Bob Holker back later that week to tell him I had read the book, and that I desired to learn more about it. He seemed to be impressed that I had read the whole book. He asked me to come to his home again, and he introduced me to the missionaries, Elder Shane Sorenson and Elder Dean Wessendorf. I readily embraced the principles they taught, and I was baptized three weeks later on February 9, 1985, just one month before my 25th birthday.
About the time of my baptism, Bob told me of some other circumstances leading up to his invitation for me to come to his home. Bob’s Bishop, Robert Gerlach, had suggested to Bob that he should do some missionary work. Bob could not think of any of his friends who might be receptive to receive The Book of Mormon, so he made it a matter of prayer to inquire of the Lord who he should share The Book of Mormon with. On the night of January 3, 1985, he stayed up until about 4:00 a.m. praying to know who he could share The Book of Mormon with. The very next night, he was reading “Gifts of the Spirit” by Duane S. Crowther. On page 17 there is a section entitled: “Pray in ‘mighty prayer’”. It reads: “The prayer which brings results is offered when the individual is ‘praying in the Holy Ghost,’ and when a continued effort, involving one’s complete energy, is exerted…” This is of course just what Bob had done the night before, and as he was reading this section, he felt there was someone in the room with him, so he looked to his side and he saw my face right there beside him just within arms reach. He immediately knew that this was the answer to his prayer and that I was the person he should share The Book of Mormon with! He wrote in the margin of the book this message: “REC. A DIRECT IMPRESSION OF THE FACE OF A YOUNG MAN BOB ________? HE IS READY FOR DISCUSSIONS. (1-4-85) FRI. EVE. 8:47 P.M.” At this point he did not know my last name, but recognized my face from a business meeting several months prior to this where Bob had spoken and where I had sat in the front row. He knew his secretary had introduced us, and he remembered my first name as we had been introduced after that meeting. Since it was Fast and Testimony week, Bob stood in Sacrament meeting that Sunday and told the congregation what had happened, and that he was sure I would be baptized within two months. He still did not know my last name! It was the following week that he called me.
I have often reflected on this experience, and marveled at the wonderful way in which the Lord had orchestrated this series of events leading up to my conversion. He did not take away anyone’s free agency, but He certainly did set the stage to give me a very favorable opportunity to learn of and accept the Restored Gospel. I believe this is at least in part because of my sincerity in seeking which church to join, and also my life-long desires and efforts to seek and do the Lord’s will. On many occasions since my youth I had made it a matter of prayer to know the will of the Lord, and to be able to share the gospel with others some day. My baptism was precisely one year and one month before my 26th birthday, allowing me a one-month window of opportunity in which to embark upon a full-time mission as a single Elder. My farewell for leaving to the England Leeds Mission was on my 26th birthday. Certainly, the experiences leading up to my baptism illustrate the following principles:
Prayer – the Lord answered Bob Holker’s prayer in finding someone ready to learn of the church, and He answered my prayers in seeking which church to join.
Faith – Bob Holker exerted great faith praying and in trusting the Spirit enough to receive such a great manifestation as a vision and had the faith to follow through with what he had learned. I exerted faith enough to trust the Lord in leading me to know which church to join, and in following the promptings of the Spirit which I received as a witness of the truthfulness of the Book of Mormon.
Modern revelation – Bob Holker received a vision as an answer to his prayer to know who to share The Book of Mormon with, and I received revelation in the form of confirmation from the Holy Ghost that The Book of Mormon is true.
I am indeed very grateful that the Lord allowed this modern day miracle to occur so I could find and be baptized into the LDS Church. I am also very grateful for Brother Holker – that he was living his life in such a way as to receive the inspiration that led to his sharing The Book of Mormon with me, and that he followed through with the direction which the Spirit gave him. There has never been any question in my mind since my initial reading of The Book of Mormon as to the truthfulness of this great book. Nor has there been any question in my mind regarding the divine nature of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints since I learned of it. My conviction in this matter has only been strengthened as I continue again and again to receive confirmation from the Holy Ghost. I consider it my humble privilege to know of and to be a part of the Restored Gospel of Jesus Christ. There is no doubt in my mind regarding the divinity of Jesus Christ. I know with all my heart that He is the Son of God, the Redeemer of mankind, the Savior of the world, and He is my personal Lord and Savior. With as much certainty, I know that there is a God in Heaven who is Father of us all. We are His spirit children, and I believe we each have the potential, by following Jesus Christ in the Plan that Heavenly Father has prepared for us, to return to His presence. With as much certainty, I believe that Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ appeared to young Joseph Smith in answer to his humble prayer – once again the Lord opened the heavens by revealing Himself to mankind through a modern-day prophet. Through the prophet Joseph Smith, The Book of Mormon was translated, the Priesthood was restored, and many other great and marvelous revelations and works have been brought forth on the earth in preparation for the Second Coming of the Lord Jesus Christ. This is my testimony, in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
– Robert R. Hilke, Jr.