Friday, September 8, 2017



By Ada Nicholson Brownell

It was 4 a.m. Sunday. Gary Hilgers staggered into the house and got into bed. He knew a brief moment of loneliness when he remembered: Dona had taken the children and left last week.

This is it. I’ve had all I can take,” she had said. “Don’t come crawling with a lot of promises this time, because I’m not coming back. You’ll never change.”

Gary turned over and tried to make himself comfortable in the bed that hadn’t been straightened since Dona left. “Oh, well,” he muttered stubbornly. “I don’t care. Dona wanted to run my life—always nagging.”

He put Dona out of his thoughts and began thinking of how he could win back the money he had lost last night. Tomorrow would surely be his lucky day!

Latte Sunday morning Gary dragged himself out of bed, still exhausted but anxious to get going. He had kept the same schedule for three years: going to work’ getting off work; drinking and gambling until the morning hours; coming home to face Dona and his broken promises.

Dona had left him several other times, but he had always talked her into coming back. This time she seemed to mean it. “There’s no hope for you, Gary,” she had said. “You’re an alcoholic, even if you’re only 22.”

It was true. He couldn’t shake his thirst for liquor. At times he had delirium tremens. He was afraid of being along. Yet he enjoyed the excitement of gambling and liquor helped her forget his family waited at home.

Later that Sunday morning he was playing poker when suddenly he turned his cards face down on the table and quickly laid his cigar on the ash tray. Sharp pains stabbed through his chest. A long drink from the bottle didn’t help. Something stirred inside him. What if you should die right now?

When his friends asked what was wrong, he tried to laugh, but the pain stayed. The thought kept pulsating through his brain: If you die right now, you will go to hell.

Gary had been reared in a Christian home but hadn’t thought of God or church for five years. Now he had an irresistible urge to go to church!

From childhood he had an unusual desire for excitement. By the time he was 10 he had figured way to avoid going to church, and he involved his eight-year-old brother John in his schemes.

When Gary was 11, his mother had a stroke and cerebral hemorrhage. The third day she seemed to rally. She talked to the children, then prayed aloud that each of them would meet her in heaven. Within an hour she went into a coma, and late that evening she died.

Gary’s grief gradually turned into bitterness. After all, the rest of the boys his age had mothers; but Gary had to do his own ironing and cook for John and himself. A married sister took the baby brother, Rex.

By the time he was 12, Gary will try anything that offered a thrill. He took his father’s car and drove it recklessly. He began smoking regularly at 14. Once he and three friends ran away to California where they got into trouble with the law and were placed on probation.

Although under the legal driving age, he got a job transporting cars for an automobile auction company. He stayed out of school a week at time to do this.

Gary met Dona in high school. The first year they were married he changed jobs 10 times. Finally at 19 he began selling cars and decided this was his vocation.

He worked hard and made as much as $300 a week. Then he began gambling. Sometimes he lost more than a week’s income in one night. He began drinking to drown his money problems and became an alcoholic.

God was forgotten. Gary was extremely bitter. It seemed everything he did only complicated his life more. His conscience became so scarred he didn’t care how much he hurt Dona. He didn’t have time to give his children love and affection, and most of the time he didn’t care.

But God remembered his mother’s petition, submitted more than 10 years before.

That Sunday at the poker table, Gary couldn’t escape the thought: If you die right now, you will go to hell.

Abruptly he left his friends. Although had had been drinking, suddenly he was cold sober. He started looking for his wife and found her. “I’ve got to go to church,” he said frantically.

Dona laughed. She figured it was a scheme to get her back, but she went with him anyway.

Gary didn’t know where a church was. He contacted his father who directed him to South Denver (Colorado) Assembly of God where H. J. Jackson is pastor.

It was 8:30 p.m. when Gary and Dona arrived. The service was half over, but that didn’t matter. Conviction stripped Gary of pride. Guilt was so heavy that he felt it was crush him. He cried unashamedly during the sermon.

Then the guest preacher. R. Fulford, gave an invitation to those who wished to be saved.

Gary raised his hand and urged Dona to raise hers. She refused. When the minister invited sinners to pray, Gary literally ran to the altar. The minute he knelt he raised his hands and asked God to forgive his sins. The pain disappeared. He fell prostrate as the power of God struck him. Immediately he was filled with the Holy Spirit and began to praise God in other tongues (Acts 2:4). When he rose from his knees two hours later, Dona was gone. She didn’t understand Pentecostal worship and was frightened.

Dona waited for Gary at home. “I’ll go to my church, and you go to yours,” she said. “I’m going to start back to church and I’ll even teach a Sunday school class.”

Gary threw away his cigarettes, and Dona noticed he didn’t use one curse word that whole evening. Formerly Dona had often cringed at his foul language. Now he treated her and the children with a new tenderness.

But Dona was not yet convinced. “It’s all part of a scheme to get me back,” she kept telling herself. “It won’t last.”

Three days later, she began to accept that something actually happened to her husband. When he said he would be home for dinner, he was there. No more broken promises! No more smoking and drinking. And no more gambling! He only looked up his old friends long enough to tell them what had happened in his life. He took time to play with the children. And he and Dona talked for several hours.

After watching him for a week and a half, Dona was convinced. Evidently there was something to this idea of becoming a new creature in Christ, after all. So now it was her turn. She refused her husband’s invitations to accept the Lord, but one evening when he was working Dona went to church with her aunt and gave her heart to God. Two weeks later she was filled with the Holy Spirit.

Soon others in Gary’s family were stirred. His sister and her husband were saved, and they are no engaged in Teen Challenge Ministry in Southern California. Then John’s wife came to Christ. A few months later, both John and the younger brother Rex knelt at the altar for salvation.

The Hilgers are active members of First Assembly of God in Lakewood, Colorado. Dona is youth president and Gary is Sunday school superintendent. He also is sales manager for an automobile agency in Denver. With five children, theirs is a happy home.

“I hadn’t really lived until I got saved,” Gary says. “Life began for me that day in 1959 when God gave me a new birth.