Award presented by Keith and Linda Sarver
Editor’s Note: In the following, Keith and Linda Sarver share why they nominated the Hilkemann’s.
Linda and I are privileged to nominate the Hilkemann’s for this year’s Alumni of the Year Award.
I first met Arlen when I was a student living in Schmidt Hall. I vaguely knew Marilyn from Montana when I was working with her brother at KGLE in Glendive, which is about 100 miles south of Wolf Point where she grew up. One day she and her cousin Judy came to the station and I was introduced to them.
In the summer of 1972, I and the Hilkemann’s had a summer missionary experience in Alaska. I worked at KCAM in Glennallen in the interior of Alaska. Arlen and Marilyn worked at a Bible camp near Juneau, down in the panhandle. When the summer was over, we drove together from Seattle back to Montana.
Linda and I have supported the Hilkemann’s during their 40 years of ministry both financially and prayerfully. Over the years, we have watched them from a distance via prayer letters. We are impressed with their quiet and steady spirit.
For a period of three years we were “neighbors” when I taught at Lustre Christian High School 35 miles north of them. One summer I had the joy of helping them with a VBS for a day. The school had perhaps four or five kids who were either all from one family or perhaps a mix of neighbors. Most of us would probably never consider having a Bible school for such a small number. However, Arlen and Marilyn conducted the school as though they had a full-blown student body. They had the Bible lesson, singing, crafts, and games—just like most Bible schools!
Arlen and Marilyn have worked most of their career on the Fort Peck Indian Reservation where progress is slow at best. Now they are actively ministering to patients and family members of transplant patients at Mayo Clinic, while waiting for and recovering from Arlen’s own heart transplant. We can honestly say that they are hoeing the long row.
Hilkemann’s truly exemplify the goal of Grace University to produce servant leaders.
Arlen and Marilyn’s story.
Arlen and I met at Grace in 1968. In those years, the freshmen were seated in alphabetical order, so Dave Hansen sat by Judy Heidner and Marilyn Heidner sat by Arlen Hilkemann. Arlen and Dave were roommates and Judy is my niece. Hansen married Heidner and Heidner married Hilkemann. Talk about a “match factory”!
Arlen says he married me because I took good notes, especially in Dr. Benton’s class where, if you dropped your pencil, you were a page behind on notes. I especially enjoyed my Christian Ed classes. Dr. Anna Reiger was an excellent teacher, although she was horrified when I told her about the VBS I had taught for an American Sunday School Union missionary in Montana. Like country school, I had four age levels all in the same classroom. Our missions classes were geared for foreign missions, but many of the principles we learned apply to ministry to Native Americans here in our country.
We have three sons, David, Mike and Joel. Their wives and our 10 grandchildren are a real blessing to us! They attended Millar College of the Bible in Pambrun, Saskatchewan, which is much closer to home than Grace. While none of them are in ministry as a career, they are active in church leadership and ministry. Mike and Joel have been tending to our home and financial affairs during the 10 months that we’ve been gone.
Even before graduation from Grace, we headed to Montana to work with the American Sunday School Union mission on the southeast Montana Field. We started in the tiny community of Brusett, pastoring the Blackfoot Sunday school and working part time for local ranchers. After 2.5 years, ASSU asked us to relocate to Wolf Point, taking on the Northeast Montana Field. Since that’s where I grew up, we had an inroad with Native American people on the Fort Peck Indian Reservation. As a matriarchal society, it was helpful that I had been classmates with some of the mothers and grandmothers of the children we have in Bible Club.
Before coming to the Mayo Clinic, we had six Bible Clubs on the reservation and one off the reservation. We also had Bible studies in Native American homes and a nursing home in a town 50 miles away. Every other Sunday, we had two little house-churches in ranching country—one was 150 miles from home and the other 100 miles. Vacation Bible Schools and camp (Beacon Bible Camp) kept us busy in the summer. During our nearly 40 years of ministry, the name of our mission has changed from American Sunday School Union to American Missionary Fellowship, and is currently known as InFaith.
Arlen’s first indication of health problems came in January 2012 with shortness of breath, but it wasn’t diagnosed as heart problems until August that year. Soon after, a doctor told us that the only hope for his severely damaged heart was transplant. We went through Phase I and Phase II of the transplant evaluation at Mayo Clinic. In January 2013, we came to Rochester to get an LVAD, an external pump to assist his heart. Mid-surgery the doctor decided that Arlen needed a total artificial heart instead. The LVAD kept him alive and functioning quite well until August 16 when he got a heart transplant.
There have been some “bumps in the road”, like bleeding ulcers and a perforated ulcer, but Arlen is now out of the hospital and slowly improving. The Lord has given us opportunities to minister to people in the hospital, especially other people needing transplants. Now we are living at the Gift of Life Transplant House, so there are lots of people to share with on a regular basis. This has been a time of growing closer to the Lord and to each other, as well as getting an increased passion for the lost around us.
Arlen loves to garden, cut firewood and hunt, and Marilyn enjoys baking (lots of cookies for Bible clubs), reading and sewing, especially piecing quilts. Some day we would like to travel to the Grand Canyon and back to Alaska. Our missionary internship was at Juneau, Alaska, with Gospel Missionary Union.
We appreciate the honor being given to us by Grace University, but the honor really goes to our Good Shepherd, who has led us and often carried us through the dark valleys. We appreciate the education we received at Grace Bible Institute, and pray that the same Christian principles will be upheld by Grace University until the coming of our Lord.
Love in Christ,
Arlen & Marilyn Hilkemann