Riverside Church

Former Gang Member Ministers in Prison, Starts a Church, and Runs a Bible School (Part 1)

STILLWATER, MN (ANS) From being a gang member and living a life of frequent violence, to becoming a pastor and celebrating the 20th anniversary of his church this year, Rev. Bill Hieb now runs an international Bible school focused on training missionaries in several countries to spread the Gospel.

“My life is a testimony in the early days of what was known as bad, and so good has come out of it I trust,” he told ASSIST News in a recent interview.

Hieb was born in 1951, in Stillwater, the birthplace of the State of Minnesota. He lived there for a few years before moving to St. Paul. “And it was in St. Paul which I consider my formidable years of growing up and being educated, as well as being exposed to some of the issues of life,” he said.

Pastor Bill Hieb and his wife Kay.

“My family was a large family and we had a little bit of a religious background in regards to going to church — the golden rule and just general morality sorts of things. But I come from a larger family of brothers who were all pretty athletic and all who were involved in sports and fist fighting and things associated with neighborhood gangs and things like that where fighting was a big part of our family culture.

“It began with my father who was a Golden Glove fighter, and two of my brothers were pretty good fighters. So the younger brothers looked up to the older brothers as far as their fighting skills and we would teach each other. We would teach each other the finer points of pugilism.”

Hieb explained that “it wasn’t actually boxing per se — it was street fighting and we became feared as a family for our street fighting capabilities. In fact it became a life style of violence which resulted in a couple of my brothers being put in prison. One was in prison for manslaughter. So our family culture was one of violence. Personally I had a couple of hundred fights and on a weekend — that was what we would look forward to — just getting together with gangs and groups of young people and we would fight two three times a weekend.”

Hieb said that at that time there wasn’t too much involvement in drugs or alcohol, “it was just it was about winning and defeating your opponent in a fight. We picked a lot of fights. But as we got a little older the gang influence became more prevalent in our community and we began to travel at night with weapons and we’d encounter other gangs and it was like typical West Side Story type of deal.

“I remember my first exposure to anything Christian was when I was a very young man of like six, seven years old. I went to a Baptist youth conference and they shared the Gospel and I remember standing up to receive Christ in the balcony. So I did respond, but it never really — as I later found out –didn’t seem like it’d ever taken root. The next encounter I had was a substitute school teacher had given me a book written by David Wilkerson ‘The Cross And The Switchblade.’ which had a very profound impact on me.”

Hieb said that he saw himself in that book. “I saw the beauty of the book in terms of how Nicky Cruz and some of those fellows came to Christ, but I also saw the violence that was involved in it and so I was kind of torn. But I stayed with the street violence and myself ended up in jail a number of times. I was arrested ten to fifteen times, did some time in reform school as a young man. But it was after the reform school when I became much more involved in drugs and alcohol. That was a spiral that led me into absolute depravity of drug addiction,” he said.

“As I got older I wasn’t nearly as violent because I wasn’t physically able to engage in that kind of combat any more. So I began to medicate myself rather extensively. And so I knew I was getting sicker and sicker and I went to my employer and I said to him I think I have a problem with drugs and alcohol and he said I think you do too. So I went into a drug rehab center for a month to get cleaned up and was sober about a year as a young man. I was in my late twenties by this time.”

Hieb went to a silent retreat for three days — no talking, just men seeking God, and was the youngest man there. “We listened to the minister as he preached on Romans chapters six, seven, and eight and it had a profound impact on me, so much so that I went back to my room and there was a Bible there and I began to read from the book of Matthew and I got to about chapter seven, maybe chapter six I don’t remember, but I remember saying out loud ‘this is true.’ This Jesus really was and He really did these things. This is true. I sat the book down and began to ponder the things of God and I began to struggle internally, emotionally, spiritually — there was a war going on for my life. And I remember crying out to God ‘what do you want from me?’ And He said through the spirit in my heart I heard a quickening that said ‘you just need to let go and surrender.’ And it was a struggle, there was a lot of agony and tears involved that day, and I let go. I just literally released everything in my life unto God.”

Hieb got up, got dressed and outside there was a blizzard-like snow storm. It was February 7, 1981 a Saturday afternoon at three o’clock.

“I got up and began to walk through what was known as and still known as the Stations of the Cross. And I had what some people would refer to as an open vision where I was actually on the road to Calvary among in the crowd watching Jesus carry his cross towards Golgotha. And he fell for the third time and I remember crying out ‘Simon help him.’ and I just broke. I fell in the snow and I had a very large black beard and the tears were freezing on my face, and I had a profound encounter with Christ on the road to Calvary.”

Hieb got up and went back to his room, laid down and the struggle continued. “And I cried out to God one more time and I felt the presence of God like never before. It seemed like he was with me in that room for three or four hours. And I got up the next morning and I went running to the minister and I told him what had happened to me and he started to cry and he looked at me and he said do you know how good God has been to you? Being young and immature I smiled and cried back ‘yes I do.’”

But the story doesn’t end there, he said. “There was a former contractor that I had hurt financially, very extensively. I went to apologize and ask him to forgive me, and as I was sitting there talking to him he said to me it sounds like you’re Born Again. And I said I didn’t know anything about being Born Again or about the church or the Bible, or Christianity.

“I’d heard it preached and I read it, and I believed Jesus, but I didn’t understand the Gospel because I wasn’t involved with any Christianity. So he said it sounds to me like you’re Born Again and I said I don’t know if I’d go that far, just in my ignorance.”

The man asked him to do a favor: “I’m going to ask you to go tell my wife what you just told me. I said sure. He said no right now, so I got in my truck and I drove to his mansion and I went into the house and she was standing by a fireplace

I walked towards her and I told her what happened to me. And she began to weep and looked at me and said ‘Bill, we’ve been praying for you for ten years.’ I said thank you.

And I left there knowing that something spiritual had really happened in my life and that I needed to consider what I was going to do about that.”

Hieb knew another Christian at work whose name was Wesley, a much older man as many of Hieb’s friends were at the time. “And he began to disciple me and encourage me to get into a church and to understand the Gospel and he personally discipled me through the book of Acts. He died a year ago, he was like a father to me. It was very difficult to see him go. But I know that he’s in glory and I thank God he was in my life.

“So I became zealous in the Word and seeking God and praying. I learned how to pray and fast. I was going to church, listening to the Word and studying. I would listen to Christian television back in the early days of evangelical Christian television. I don’t listen to much of it these days. But there was a call on my life, I just didn’t really know what it was or how I would go about responding.”

A third friend of Hieb’s said he believed he was called to be a pastor. “At the same time I sensed the Lord saying he’s talking about you and I immediately got frightened because I didn’t feel that I wanted to pastor anything.”

Hieb says he “just let that sit and didn’t get too involved” because he was a little afraid of it. He found a good church in Hudson, Wisconsin, led by Pastor Tim.

“I deeply loved him, I quote him more than any other man — he had a significant impact on my life,” Hieb said.

Hieb began working in a prison ministry, where a lot of his friends were.

“Many of them had died, but many of them were still in prison. I would go to the prison and minister every Saturday for eight years. Eventually the prison said you need credentials to do this or we’re going to have to release you. I went to my pastor and said what do you think and he said yes. So we pursued credentialing and I got my credentials as a minister of the Gospel and I continued working in Stillwater Prison. I also went to work for Chuck Colson’s Prison Fellowship and was a certified instructor for them.”

Hieb really enjoyed prison ministry, and was very active in that role.

“I was able to relate to the men because of their lifestyle, their street sense. I’ve gotten set free from street ethics, but there’s still a tendency for me to understand acutely ‘the criminal mind’ if you will. Even though I have a renewed mind, I understand and can relate to where they are. Most of them have experienced rather unhealthy father figures and so their role model maybe as a father is just so distorted, as was mine. My father was an over the road truck driver and we didn’t see much of him and when we did see him he was angry and he did take that out on us physically and on our mother.”

Hieb said he has dealt with the father wound because his father came to know Christ “and I loved him, particularly at the end.”

He continued: “I was honored to be able to officiate at my father’s funeral both in Arizona and Minnesota and gave an altar call in front of my entire family in Minnesota and all my brothers stood up and responded to the invitation — every one of them. And I’ve since buried, officiated, two of my brother’s funerals as well as my mother. So in some sense I’m what you’d consider the family patriarch, unfortunately, even though I’m not the oldest. They all call me and look to me for various insights. It’s an honor.”

How and in what ways in those years did he see that God was preparing him for what he’s doing now?

CLIMB Institure logo.

“Well, like I said, even when He prepared me for the license to go back into the prison ministry, one of the questions that was on the paper they asked me was we want you to get up in front of a church and tell them why God’s call is on your life. I was lying in bed, and I was asking God in prayer what am I going to tell them? I’m not just going to say that I want a license so that I can go into the prison, if your call is on my life I need to know that. This is not just a registration.”

Hieb says he got up in the middle of the night and sought the Lord for an answer.

“It was like the Lord was saying to me I can give you the highest office if you’ll accept the lowest call. And I said I’ll take it. And I wept all the way to work. Because I knew all my life I wanted to be something and that God was calling me to be something by being nothing. And I answered that call, I accepted that assignment. So I moved out of jail ministry into planting a church and that church has flourished in many respects.”

Hieb has pastored Riverside Church, in Somerset, Wisconsin for the last twenty years. He and Kay, his wife of 22 years, will celebrate the church’s anniversary on March 7th. Between them they have 5 children and 9 grandchildren.

“The church hasn’t really flourished in the eyes of some — it has under a hundred people, but I found what it is I was created for. I even tried to run from God and go on a missions trip by myself, and when I came home I told God ‘see I’m not a pastor, I’m a missionary. I can do that alone, I don’t have to interact with people and conflicts.’”

His step father was a police officer and Hieb had considered other career options, including being a physician.

“I wasn’t really interested in law enforcement as much as I wanted to be a physician. I believed I was being groomed all my life by my family to be an obstetric/pediatrician. That was a passion of mine for many, many, many years. I worked in a pharmacy and I began to study, I even went to a military high school before I got arrested and incarcerated,” he said.

“I come from a family of soldiers, and I was going to be an officer and a doctor. But that didn’t happen. That was my plan — man plans his ways but the Lord directs his steps. The Lord had a different plan. I wanted to be a photographer also. I loved to travel, I love cross-cultural interaction. I’ve learned a couple of languages, not completely, but partially — enough to get by, Russian and Spanish. I took German in high school. So I can fit in in a lot of different cultures with my appearance. I look both like an Arab and a Jewish man and I could fit as a German I suppose, certainly Russian which is what I am. But I thought that missions was going to be my call, but it is in the sense that I’ve been on over fifty missions trips and planted many churches. There was a time in our ministry when we had over a thousand churches — less than a hundred people in our own church — but over a thousand churches worldwide! I don’t understand that.”

Hieb has worked in Kenya, Uganda, Malawi, Ukraine, Guatemala, Indonesia, Mozambique, India, and Mexico.

“I’ve been very busy planting colleges. We have many, many colleges around the world. Guatemala, Kenya, India, to name a few.”

And it was out of that missionary vision that CLIMB School, an international ministry, training missionaries in several countries (www.climbschool.com) came about.

The Christian Leadership Institute of Minnesota & Beyond (CLIMB) is a non-profit Christian Institute networked and dedicated to helping churches provide a planned Christian education curriculum to their community.

The CLIMB curriculum provides the basic scriptural teaching base necessary to maintain credit integrity; all-the-while allowing a church to teach their own doctoral flavor on any particular subject. There are no start-up fees to begin domestic CLIMB classes. Small tuition fees per student are charged in order to provide instructor and administration fees.

You may contact Rev. Bill Hieb for more information on the CLIMB School at registrar@climbschool.com .

Read Part 2 of this article HERE.

By Michael Ireland
Special Reporter, ASSIST News Service.
Article Originally published at http://www.assistnews.net/stories/2013/s13010029.htm on January 7th, 2013.