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June-July 2022

Congregation on Call


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Uncle Bob

By Jennifer Thomsen


Have you ever known someone who was bigger than life? To me, it was Uncle Bob. To the rest of the world, he was Robert Badder. He was full of life, funny, caring, mischievous, a motorcycle rider, fashion conscious, and always very kind. Whenever Uncle Bob was around, I felt safe. He even made sure my dad didn’t “mistreat” me or do anything Uncle Bob didn’t like. (For the record, my dad did not mistreat me. His big brother just had to remind him who was the baby.)

Some of my earliest memories are of my uncle. He gave the best birthday presents. Who wouldn’t want a stuffed monkey that sucked its thumb and wore an apron? Every Saturday, when we visited my grandparents, he was there. He took time for all his nieces and nephews, but in my eyes, I was his favorite.

At age five, we moved several states away. Just before we left, he handed me a note that said, “When you are in need of protection, just call Uncle Bob.” That tiny piece of paper gave me such comfort. It hung on my closet door, and I always knew if I needed anything, he was a phone call away.

As I got older, I realized there was something wrong about Uncle Bob. He did not have a relationship with Jesus. I prayed for him every night, sometimes even setting aside certain days to ask God to help him realize how much he needed Jesus. “God, just make him love You!” I begged.

At age 13, we moved back to Michigan. I vividly remember a Sunday night service when my pastor, George Johnson, spoke on telling others about Jesus and their need for salvation. When the invitation began, I grabbed my dad and asked him to pray with me for Uncle Bob. After the service, we dropped my mom and sister off at home and drove to my uncle’s house.

That was the hardest conversation I have ever had with anyone to this day. With my dad’s help, we shared with Uncle Bob his need for salvation. It’s safe to say the conversation did not go as I had hoped and imagined. I just knew if I really asked Uncle Bob to do something, he would do it. I left his house in tears. Not only had he not done what I wanted him too, he said some things that hurt me deeply.

After that conversation, things were off in our relationship for years. I still knew my uncle loved me, but he had hurt me, and for a while, he kept me at arm’s length. I felt the tension, and it was painful. But it didn’t keep me from praying for him. I remember kneeling at an altar and telling God, “I don’t care what it takes; help him come to know you.” I said those words through tears, giving God permission to use me, to do whatever it took to make Uncle Bob come to a saving relationship with Him.

When God worked, it was not how I imagined. Several years had passed. I was married and had a newborn daughter. (By the way, Uncle Bob still gave good gifts. Before my daughter was born, he gave her a Detroit Red Wings warm-up outfit. I dressed her in it every time I had a chance.)

Then the call came. My mom told me Uncle Bob had cancer. The prognosis was terminal, and he wouldn’t be with us much longer. I always heard God could use prayers that were only tears and groanings, but I had never experienced that. Before I knew it, I was face down on the living room floor, begging God to save Uncle Bob. For the next day, I prayed for Uncle Bob—no words, my heart simply crying out to God.

And then another call came. I can’t even remember who was on the line, but I heard the best news ever. I immediately called Uncle Bob in the hospital. While he no longer had the booming, robust voice I knew, it was still him. He said, “Tell me happy birthday!”

Through tears, I said, “Happy Birthday, Uncle Bob.”

It wasn’t the day he was born into this world but the day of his spiritual birth. Both of us began to cry. He told me that every day since that late evening visit to his house years before, those words had remained with him. Not a day went by he didn’t remember the conversation.


He went on to describe things he had been seeing in his hospital room. I’m not sure if it was his condition, the medication, or truly spiritual beings at war. But there in that hospital bed, Uncle Bob decided he needed a relationship with God. He apologized and thanked me. Neither was necessary. I was so happy, and any hurt had been forgiven years earlier. I was just thankful.

Before long, we found ourselves walking to Uncle Bob’s crypt. His ashes were there, but he was with the Lord. I was sad, but I was also happy. It took 15 years after the late-night conversation, but God answered my prayer. And I look forward to seeing Uncle Bob again someday.

This experience taught me some important lessons. Never underestimate the power of prayer and the gospel. Be willing to have the hard conversations with those you love, or even complete strangers. You never know how or when the seeds of hope and salvation may grow and bear fruit in someone’s life. Finally, never stop praying. No one is beyond God’s reach, and His timing is always perfect.

Several years after Uncle Bob died, my husband let me in on a secret. He was a little scared of Uncle Bob. He knew that if he ever hurt me—not that he would—my uncle and my dad would set him straight. Over time, I learned others didn’t see my uncle as I saw him. He was a little rough around the edges, a tough guy, and not anyone to mess with. In fact, after his death, we learned during his military career he once “borrowed” a tank and took it for a joy ride—just because he had always wanted to drive one.

I never once considered he was anything other than a great uncle, the kindest person, and my own personal bodyguard. I still miss him, and I mourn that my daughter never knew him. They would have loved each other. I wish he had an opportunity to give her a note to tell her, “When you are in need of protection just call Uncle Bob.”

About the Author: Jennifer Thomsen is assistant to the general director and director of field ministry personnel for IM, Inc.

©2022 ONE Magazine, National Association of Free Will Baptists