Public speaker Bob Hostetler often opens his keynote speech with a joke that haunted him as a child—and he always fell for it.

“Hey, Bob, nice sweater.”

“Gee, thank you,” the flattered youngster would reply.

“I had one just like it … and I just donated it to The Salvation Army!”

“I was often teased, and my childhood seemed a little bit lonely,” Bob reflects now. “It wasn’t until much later when I realized what a blessing it had been to be raised as a part of The Salvation Army.”

Mixed Blessing

“My two older brothers and I were raised in The Salvation Army,” says Bob. Before he was a year old, his family moved from Michigan to Ohio, where his mother worked in The Salvation Army’s finance department and his father served at a corps (church).

“We were there early Sunday mornings, helping with the feeding program,” Bob recalls. “After that my father taught Bible study. Then there were the Sunday evenings.” And as Bob recalls, the family spent three additional nights at the corps every week. “We would march down the street from our corps and hold street meetings.”

The lack of understanding of what The Salvation Army did for the community soon became a source of ridicule and fun in the lower middle-class neighbourhood where the Hostetlers lived.

“When the red kettles came out at Christmastime, my biggest fear was that I might run into a classmate while ringing the bells,” says Bob. “It was so embarrassing. In my neighbourhood, nobody understood what The Salvation Army was.”

Bob Hostetler
Bob at the pulpit of the Salvation Army church in Old Orchard Beach, Maine

Grace in the Midst of Tragedy

During the summer of 1971, Bob’s parents announced that they would be moving to St. Louis. “My oldest brother was training to be a Salvation Army pastor, and my other brother was in college.”

Bob’s father had accepted a position at The Salvation Army’s Harbor Light and Harbor House Program, a half-way house for those on their way to full independence from addiction.

Bob did not learn until much later that, just prior to moving, his mother had discovered a lump on her breast, but decided not to do anything about it so it would not upset the move. By the time she sought medical help, the cancer had spread. She had a double mastectomy and went into treatment.

“Mom made it to my oldest brother’s commissioning as a Salvation Army pastor in June 1972. And soon after returning from that trip, she went into the hospital. She died that September.

“But I don’t mind telling the story of that tragic chapter in my life,” Bob continues, “because it was as if God had graciously moved us to the city where my mother would have her parents and her sister nearby.”

Christianity, Camp and Love

By the beginning of 1973, Bob’s father had accepted a position with the Salvation Army headquarters in Cincinnati.“I didn't know then that I was clinically depressed, still grieving the loss of my mom,” he says. 

For 2½ years, Bob didn’t go to school. His father would drop him off at the front door every morning, Bob would walk in—then walk right out the back door. On the fast track to nowhere, Bob spent his days reading and listening to music.

But then some things happened that changed his life, the most important being that Bob became a Christian.

Then, he was hired as a staff member at a Salvation Army summer camp.

“I just felt at home,” he says. “The setting fed my soul.”

Bob also made friends, among whom was a young girl named Robin. “Being at camp for the summer gave me something to look forward to during my depression.” The following year, Robin and Bob started dating.

“But within the first year of our relationship, Robin found out about my high school situation, and let me know, in no uncertain terms, that her plan for the future didn’t include a relationship with a dropout.”

This was sufficient motivation for Bob. “I missed my high school graduation because we were on our honeymoon.”

Bob Hostetler
A 30-year veteran of Christian publishing, Bob Hostetler is a literary agent with The Steve Laube Agency. Helping writers share the message of Jesus through writing is part of Bob's overall mission in life

Return to Salvation

Salvation Army officership was in the young couple’s future, and they became pastors in 1980. In addition to his training for ministry, Bob later earned degrees in English from Cincinnati Christian University and English communications from Bloomfield College in New Jersey.

Bob and Robin served as pastors from 1980 to 1992. In 1987, they were transferred to the American Salvation Army’s national headquarters, where Bob worked as a writer and editor for the church’s publications.

In 1992, though, Bob felt God drawing him in a different direction. In 2000, Bob and Robin co-founded Cobblestone Community Church in Oxford, Ohio, but he never lost his love for The Salvation Army. 

Robin and Bob moved to Las Vegas in 2019. “We began attending The Salvation Army there and when COVID happened, we worshipped online. Eventually, we reactivated our soldiership after many years.”

Now a member of the Army’s church in Las Vegas, Bob oversees a welcome/first impressions team that helps newcomers acclimatize. “The Salvation Army is a bit different than what most people have encountered as a church experience.”

Continuing Passion

Parents of two, grandparents to five, Bob and Robin have also fostered 10 boys. Bob has been a disc jockey, pastor, magazine editor and freelance book editor. His 50 books, which include The Bone Box and American Idols (The Worship of the American Dream), have sold millions of copies, but his love for people keeps driving him on.

One of his latest projects, aside from his extensive speaking ministry, is writing for The app offers games, digital comic books and videos that aim to transform people’s lives.

Gaming can be a dark and dangerous place for kids. “We’re out to change that world and reach that generation.

”It’s an ambitious endeavour, but the feedback has been very positive already and Bob is up to the task.

“Who knows how many years I have left?” he smiles. “But my mission—‘To know God and to make Him known’—continues to be a passion for me. That’s why I continue to write, and that’s why I continue to try to reach as many people as possible.”

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