Earlier this year, William (Bill) Hoke, longtime missionary to India, celebrated his 100th birthday. To honor his century of life and service in the Brethren in Christ Church, we are reprinting an excerpt from the beginning of a short biography he wrote for My Story, My Song: Life Stories by Brethren in Christ Missionaries (Brethren in Christ World Missions, 1989).
Bill as a young boy
My parents, John and Belva Hoke, lived on a 110-acre farm in Miami County, Ohio. The land was good and my parents worked hard. My father was born and raised in the Brethren in Christ Church, but married an attractive young girl from the Christian Church. Following their marriage, they drifted away from both churches.
I was born on April 9, 1917. My parents loved me, but during my first seven years none of us went to Sunday school or church.
It was during the Brethren in Christ General Conference held at the Highland Church that a change took place in my life. My parents kept guests and attended some of the evening services. A large tent for evangelistic services was pitched just north of the church and the three of us were in the meeting. My mother went forward to the altar for prayer and I followed her. She was saved that night and I, too, found Jesus Christ as my personal Savior. I recall getting up and going back to my father, climbing on his lap, and asking him to give his heart to Jesus. That was the beginning of a new life in our home. We started attending the Pleasant Hill Church. Two years later I was baptized and received into membership.
Bill as a young man
I was sent to Messiah College Academy for my senior year of high school. As I look back now, I know that this decision on the part of my parents was a wise one and influenced my Christian life. I will always remain grateful to them for it. Two great leaders in the Brethren in Christ Church influenced my life during that year. President C. N. Hostetter, Jr. was one, and the winter evangelist, Bishop E. J. Swalm, was the other. Although I love the Lord and was active in the Gospel Team program and preached a few times, I discovered a deep need in my life during the winter revival. The Holy Spirit brought me under great conviction to yield my will completely to the Lord.
One evening, in a class prayer meeting preceding the service, I confessed to my classmates my need. To my amazement none of them seemed to be surprised. Two of my classmates offered to stay and pray with me. That night the Lord met the longing of my soul for peace and gave me an abiding assurance of his fullness. I said an eternal yes to his will and that commitment has held for over 50 years. In fact, the commitment to do the will of Christ has deepened and has been lived out in my life in numerous assignments in mission work in several countries….
As a young boy back in Ohio, I used to enjoy hearing the missionaries when they came to speak at our church. I also got to go to Ludlow Falls, Ohio, and look at the photo albums that Sister Ellie Rohrer brought from India. My parents had missionaries from India in our home—Rev. and Mrs. Charles Engle—and I recall the tremendous feeling in my heart as I listened to them. Following my deeper relationship with Christ and during my senior year of high school, I used to close my eyes and see a map of India, just as plain as if a real map was before me. This experience happened again and again. I began to conclude that the Lord was giving me a message. I felt that some day I would serve the Lord in India.
During my freshman year at Messiah College, I first laid eyes on a lovely brown-eyed freshman [Mary Hess] from Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. She was such a nice person; the more I saw of her, the more I wanted to know her better. However, I didn’t ask her for a date until I found out, through others, that she interested in mission work in India. We were engaged in 1937, before graduating from junior college, but were not married until two years later. After Messiah College we went to Taylor University at Upland, Indiana, were graduated from there on June 6, 1939, and married a few weeks later, on June 28, at the Pequea Brethren in Christ Church by Mary’s uncle, the Rev. Henry N. Hostetter.
Bill at 100
Postscript: Mary, Bill’s wife of 55 years, passed away in 1994, and the next year, he married Nancy Kreider, former missionary in Zimbabwe. They live at Messiah Lifeways and are members of the Grantham Church. Bill has written three books about his life: A Rich Heritage, A Rich Retirement, and A Rich Mosaic. All are available on Amazon (go to amazon.com.kindle-store and search for the title and author). To the editor’s knowledge, Bill is only the second Brethren in Christ missionary to reach the century mark (Charles Engle, another missionary to India and the one who visited Bill’s home all those years ago, reached 101 years and 10 months).