Additional Photos after Testimony
4742 cdd USS Gridley
Volume 19 Number 251
Scripture: Galatians 6:8
“If they plant to satisfy their sinful selves, their sinful selves will bring them ruin. But if they plant to please the Spirit, they will receive eternal life from the Spirit” NCV (Bible Paraphrase)
Hello, my name is Pastor Steve Ekholm with Living Hope Church, Mora Minnesota. Everyone calls me Steve. I was born and grew up in Minneapolis, Minnesota, the oldest of two children. My dad was an ATT Executive and mom was a para professional administrative assistant for several Minneapolis schools.
We were a nominal Christian family and attended church when mom insisted. I attended Bloomington Kennedy High School entering a world I was ill prepared to handle. I began hanging with drinkers and partiers and was soon a foul-mouthed alcoholic. Alcohol became a crutch for everything in my life. My countenance changed from a happy young man to an angry man with a constant frown on my face. My life was structured from one party to another. One stupor to another.
I was invited to hear Wally Hilgenberg speak at a youth group. For those of you who don’t know him, Wally was a linebacker for the Minnesota Vikings 1968 – 1979. Wally was one of eleven Minnesota Vikings to play in all four Superbowl appearances. Who wouldn’t go hear him?
Wally was speaking about what courage it takes to be a stand-up Christian. All the times mom took us to church I never heard about this and a seed was planted when he introduced me to the terms like “Filled with the Holy Spirit” and “Born Again.”
Next day I was back to swearing, partying and my alcohol crutch. I graduated high school during The Gulf War, code name Operation Desert Storm, vs Iraq. I enlisted in the US Navy.
Looking back, during eight weeks of Basic Training in the Navy, the Wally Hilgenberg seed began to grow. Basic Training offered an opportunity to learn leadership. I took it. There was only one position left for leadership when I applied. That’s when I first learned the Lord had a sense of humor! I was accepted in leadership training as the Religious Liaison for our entire Basic Training Group.
My Petty Officer was clear when I started. He instructed me to encourage as many men as possible, in our unit, to attend church. Our goal was to build attendance to win the Golden Chalice Award verses other Basic Training Units. My Petty Officer commanded that we win the award or else. I didn’t want to know what else was!
There I was, a fouled mouth, drunk who squeaked through High School now in Navy Leadership Training. My first and only assigned mission was to expand church attendance.
One by one I spoke to the men in my unit bribing them with time off from training on Sunday if they attended church. A good dozen accepted. For the next eight Sundays we all attended church. Our first church service was Holy Spirit driven, but I had no idea what was going on. As soon as I sat down, I began crying. Then the sailor next to me began crying. Right down the line. By the end of the service everyone was crying. To this day we have no idea what was said, sung or what the preacher did. We just cried.
We returned to our barracks and we could not wait for the next Sunday Church Service. We attended the next service and cried all the way through. When we returned to our barracks, we all encouraged everyone to join us. As they did, they cried too. This went on for the entire eight weeks.
I had an opportunity to discuss my crying with our Basic Training Navy Chaplin. He said, “It is obvious home sickness. Go to your barracks and read the Book of Psalms!” That was it. He had nothing to offer. He had no idea what “Born Again” meant or who the Holy Spirit was.
I did my part in Leadership and we won the Golden Chalice Award. I successfully graduated from leadership training. But I never stopped partying, drinking and swearing!
I was assigned to the USS Gridley, a Leahy-class guided missile cruiser, stationed in San Diego, California. Once settled in San Diego, without going to church, I spiraled out of control. My drunkenness increased with the super easy access of alcohol. And frequent trips to the wild border town, Tijuana, Mexico, was only a short train ride away. I became depressed and suicidal thoughts consumed me.
I called my dad and mom and shared with them my torment. I hung up from that call and went out and got drunk to drown my depression.
My mom, bless her heart, sensed I was in deep trouble. She did what she could as fast as she could. Mom picked up the phone in Minnesota and did not stop calling numbers until she connected with the Captain aboard the USS Gridley, in San Diego Harbor.
The entire ship chain of command was immediately put on notice about me (Thank you mom!) and I was placed on a suicide watch. I returned to work awaiting mental testing and doctor interviews.
While working I heard a voice — it was my mom — she said, “Go talk to the ship Chaplin.” I ignored it. I heard it again, and again. Finally, I threw down my tools and headed toward the Chaplin’s office. My immediate commanding officer said, “Seaman Ekholm, you cannot leave your post.” I responded, “I must go see the Chaplin.” “Ekholm if you leave your duty post I’ll write you up and you’ll end up in the Brigg (Navy talk for jail).”
I was desperate to be set free from my torment one way or another. I left my post going straight for the Chaplin’s Office. When I arrived, the Chaplin had been waiting for me outside his office door. He had been notified by my commanding officer that I was on my way to see him. The Chaplin greeted me by pointing his finger at me and barking out, “Seaman Ekholm, if you want to know about The Lord Jesus Christ, come in my office.”
There were no other options. It was my time. I entered the Chaplin’s office.
The Chaplin began, “Steve, I know your feelings and what you are going through.” It was as if he was reading my mind! He reached for a small booklet by Billy Graham entitled, “Steps to Peace with God.”
He started at the beginning, one page at a time. The cloud of suicidal thoughts disappeared, and the booklet led me page by page to salvation in Jesus Christ. I signed the booklet and dated it. The Wally Hilgenberg seed had grown into a full-grown tree as I experienced the peace of Jesus Christ and stepped into my own Born-Again experience.
Immediately I felt as if a backpack of bricks was taken off my back. My suicidal thoughts vanished for good. Immediately all cravings for alcohol and my desire for partying were gone. My ugly foul-mouthed language disappeared. Joy and happiness replaced the back pack and I had a new bounce in my step. Jesus and the Holy Spirit was in control of my life.
I returned to duty with a smile on my face and joy in my heart. Everyone noticed. Then came the test. I was ridiculed for finding Jesus. My “friends” invited me to have just one beer. To hop on the Tijuana, Mexico, train with them. To swear just once. But I couldn’t do it. Over time they accepted the new me. I was baptized on ship and began to read my Bible.
The ships command cadre who was ordered to keep a suicide watch over me, one by one commented on the new me. The smile on my face and the joy and happiness I carried followed me all over the ship.
At the end of my two years of Navy active duty I returned to Minnesota a new man desiring to follow Jesus. I went to college and found a church that led me into the baptism of the Holy Spirit. Now I was beginning to fully understand what Wally Hilgenberg was talking about when he said it took courage to be a Christian. I was re-baptized and called into ministry. I entered Bible College and began learning what the Lord would have me do for Him!
I met my first wife while in Bible College. We married and had one child. We entered children’s ministry together and the Lord worked through us touching the lives of hundreds of children for the Kingdom. We learned that healing and restoration was not just for adults. The Lord blessed our children’s ministry and it grew way bigger than we could have ever imagined. We were married for thirteen years when the Lord called her home.
Two years later my son and I were introduced to Ginger. We married and today we Pastor Living Hope Assembly of God Church in Mora, Minnesota. The Lord has blessed us with a ministry of restoration and healings. We have been here for the past six years and the Lord has transformed lives and physically healed many.
Along the way I’ve learned firsthand what Wally Hilgenberg talked about all those years ago. It takes courage to be a stand-up Christian. How about you? Are you willing to stand up and stand out for Christ in a world that is over run with drugs, alcohol, sex, lying, cheating and pornography?
My favorite Bible verse is Romans 5:8 “God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” NKJV
For me the Cross represents HOPE. I am a perfect example. Before the Cross I was aimlessly hopeless and suicidal. Satan had control of my life. After my encounter with the Cross joy and happiness entered my life and HOPE for a future of Kingdom living became a reality.
This Cross planted today is a symbol of HOPE to all who drive by. When the burdens of life become too much to bare, come to the Cross. Here in this place we preach the Cross of Jesus Christ
Pastors Bill and Carol, thank you for the Cross. Please tell your readers that God can use anybody. If he can use me there is HOPE for everyone. You see I was a nobody and through the strength of what Jesus Christ did on the Cross He has given me HOPE and made me somebody in His Kingdom. He did it for me and He can do it for anyone who asks!
Prayer: Father thank you for the HOPE that Jesus Christ gives everyone who will humble themselves and ask. In the name of the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen!
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