In 2023, Bob Hoskins, author, missionary and founder of OneHope, will celebrate 80 years of ministry with his son Rob Hoskins, OneHope president, continuing the vision God gave him to bring God’s word to every child. More than 1.9 billion children and youth have been reached with a relevant gospel message since the founding of OneHope in 1987 with plans to reach 138 million children and youth in 154 countries around the world this year.
The child evangelist
It all began for Bob at the age of seven when the eager little boy went forward during a special church service hungry to receive the Baptism of the Holy Spirit. “I’d only been there a few moments when I fell prostrate under the power of the Spirit and for the next several hours. I don’t recall it as a dream or a vision. I felt myself being lifted out of my body and somewhere in the heavenlies Christ appeared to me, and for the next several hours took me on a vast journey.” Bob described it as “a long story of fighting with the Lord because he told me what He wanted me to do, and it wasn’t what I wanted to do. At the end I surrendered. I said, ‘Lord, I’m just a little boy. I don’t know how to preach.’ And He said, ‘If you’ll go, I’ll go with you, and I’ll show you what to do.’”
Imagine the drama when Bob told his father he was supposed to start preaching at age seven. “My father said, ‘No, when you grow up, then…’ For three days I was crying in my room. And I said why won’t you let me do what I promised Jesus? So, my father very wisely took time off to fast and pray, and the Holy Spirit spoke to my father and said, ‘Everything he told you is what I told him. You are to do what he tells you to do.’”
Bob describes his father as a gangster. Raised in a home with six siblings by a very abusive father, at the age of 16 Bob’s father threw his own father out of the house then had to support his siblings during the depression, so he built a still and sold illegal whiskey. Coming home from a party late one night, he and his wife saw some lights in a field and went to join what they thought was another party, only to discover a tent revival. Curiosity drew them in. “The very next night they returned and gave their hearts to Christ, received the Baptism of the Holy Spirit, and a year later I was born in a Christian home,” Bob said with emotion. “For I could have been born into a gangster’s home.”
At the age of four Bob asked Jesus to come into his heart. “I started reading when I was five and by the time I was seven, I could read the entire Bible.” In retrospect this was perhaps God’s preparation. After giving his first sermon at age seven in Ponca City, Oklahoma, other churches asked him to come, and by the age of nine, they had moved to California and Bob was preaching to thousands every week.
“Very soon because there were crowds, I had a lot of entrepreneurs, promotors trying to fasten themselves onto the ministry,” admitted Bob. “They referred to me as Little Bobby the Boy Preacher and the publicists called me the Miracle Boy Preacher, the Wonder Boy Preacher. His vocabulary is astounding. His knowledge of the word is amazing. They had all kinds of superlatives in the advertising.”
Bob travelled across the USA until he was 18. “Then the Holy Spirit told me to go to what was then British Guiana. I didn’t even know where it was, but miraculously God opened the door. Within a few weeks I ended up there and God sent an incredible revival. By the third night we were in a stadium preaching to 30,000 people a day for six weeks. It was the founding of the Assemblies of God Church in Guiana, which is one of the largest indigenous churches in Guiana.
Continuing in missionary evangelism, Bob went to Africa and Asia. He married his wife Hazel, and they traveled around the world together. “Then God began to burden me for the Muslim World, and when Rob was about three months old, we moved to Beirut Lebanon to establish a base of evangelism in the Middle East,” Bob said.
Reaching the Middle East
Ministry was more challenging and required a different approach in Middle East. His initial attempts at a crusade drew much smaller crowds. Then an opportunity to preach to the Arab world on TV was presented. However, Bob said, “When the first show aired, the place exploded, and the government said you cannot have religion on TV. My program was cancelled, and I said God, why did you bring me here? I’m an evangelist. I’m a preacher. And I can’t go to Saudi Arabia. I can’t go to Algeria. I can’t conduct crusades in those cities. Why am I here?”
After scouring the Koran, Bob found Jesus within its pages and created a set of literature pieces that reintroduced people to Jesus beginning with the Muslim book. These were sent out in the mail and within a few years there were 400,000 people in 26 Arabic countries studying those materials. When these people turned to Christ, they were discipled through the “cassette church.” This was in the 1960s. Bob built a studio in Beirut and recorded full church services. “We would send them a cassette and say bring some friends into your home and share this with them. Now there are hundreds of churches, who never saw a missionary, in North Africa, the Middle East, and one of the strongest movements still in Iraq was established through the cassette church.”
In 1976 Bob was targeted by a terrorist group that considered him an agent of the Israelis. Seeing this as a hindrance to the church, he evacuated his family to the south of France. Bob would travel back and forth, until one day he returned to find their apartment and car had been blown up. His son, Rob, was 11 years old at the time.
Bob’s son, Rob was born in Maine where his mother Hazel’s family were pastors. “She had a rich faith heritage, and I think that’s what my dad saw in mom, just an incredible woman of the word and prayer. Her father was a pioneer church planter in New England and in Canada. We were just there for me to be born, and I was late. They had to induce labor on me so dad could return in time for the crusade. I was literally thrust onto the mission field. Three months after being born in Maine, I spent the first 11 years of my life in Beirut,” explained Rob.
Rob remembers being evacuated and said, “these stories are the soil in which his seeds of faith have grown into the trees of what we are as OneHope today.”
Forced to leave Lebanon, they were refugees and initially moved to San Jose, California, where they were received by his uncles who had a church there. “Dad was still trying to manage the church that was in crisis because of the war, so he went back to Lebanon. That’s when we found out the house and everything we owned was gone and dad was being targeted by this group. One night I remember my mom told us she was woken up in the middle of the night. She said, I’m not sure why, but we need to pray for dad.”
They later discovered that while trying to salvage their mother’s piano out of the rubble, Bob had been followed. Finding refuge with their maid and housekeeper in a fifth-floor apartment vacated by a fellow missionary, they heard a commotion and discovered two armored carloads of commandos storming the building in search of him. “I told the ladies to get in the bathroom and lock the door and planned to surrender myself in hopes they would not be found. I’m waiting at the door, and I hear yelling and pounding and screaming as they come up the stairs to about the third floor then they suddenly stop and run back down. I look out and see them talking and a second group comes and then a third came in and went out. Then they sped away.” The guard confirmed the next morning that the commandos had been looking for Bob, and said, “I don’t know what happened.” However, Bob said, “We knew what happened.” When telling this story to Dr. Robert Ashcroft, the attorney general’s father, a few weeks later, Ashcroft said, “I think there was an angel about 10-feet tall, standing at the top of that third-floor landing and when those guys saw him, they high tailed it out of there and said, ‘you go get him!’ And their buddies ran into the same thing.” And Bob agreed, “I really believe that’s probably what happened.”
Being led by the Holy Spirit, Bob was also a good businessman and marketer. So when he couldn’t travel to middle eastern countries anymore, he again ministered in a different way, placing ads in Beirut newspapers offering literature. One of his ads read:
John F. Kennedy was the most powerful man in the world, but he couldn’t stop one assassin’s bullet. Will John Kennedy live again? For answers to questions about life, write P.O. Box 5724, Beirut, Lebanon.
He also ran an ad with a rather provocative picture of Marilyn Monroe, which in the Middle East would catch attention, and said:
She’s considered one of the most beautiful women in the world, rich, famous, and yet she took her own life. Why would she kill herself? For answers to questions about life, write Box 5724, Beirut, Lebanon.
“That’s how I enrolled 400,000 students in about five years in the Way to Life Correspondence School,” said Bob. “And I remember as a boy packing those letters for him,” Rob added. “And the thing that most impacted me is dad began to realize the power is not in the sower; the power is in the seed. It wasn’t in the messenger; it was in the message. God’s word is what transforms hearts.”
The literature ministry was moved to Cyprus and the Middle East Evangelical Theological Seminary Bob started in Beirut was moved to Egypt where there are now eight campuses. Then in 1980, Bob was asked to take charge of Editorial Vida (Life Publishers) and moved the family to South Florida. “When I started, there was very little material available in Spanish, and I had a dream of expanding it into other languages to reach the world through literature. God helped us do that.”
A new vision
Then in 1987, Bob received a vision of the children of the world being attacked by Satan. “For days I was weeping for what I saw – millions of children being slaughtered – and prayed, Lord what am I seeing and what should I do? And the Lord said the only thing that will save them is truth and the truth is in my word. Take my word to the children of the world and do it through leaders.”
That’s when the vision of OneHope was birthed under Vida Life Publishers with the mission of God’s Word, Every Child. Bob sent letters to major leaders in South America and was invited by the Minister of Education in El Salvador to give scripture to every student in the nation. El Libro de Vida or Book of Hope was created to share with the children in El Salvador and that was the beginning of OneHope.
Soon after, the Minister of Education in Honduras invited them, and Bob asked his son Rob to help.
Now a youth pastor in California, Rob and his wife Kim took about 30 youth on a mission trip to Honduras to distribute the Book of Hope in schools.
“I get down to Honduras and he had mobilized the church to take God’s word in because we believe we’re evangelists, but the local church is the disciplers. OneHope serves the local church.
“So we show up and the principal of this schools says this is the largest high school in central America. We have 14,000 students here, and I thought, wow! They lined up for us to do assemblies all day long from morning to afternoon for three days. We’d get to share the story of Jesus. We did music. We gave testimonies. I preached a little bit, and we gave every child a copy of God’s word. I thought, this is incredible. This is like a crusade… The next morning kids were just swarming the bus because they wanted to meet these Americans. These kids thought they were like rock stars and wanted their autographs on the books.
“I was making my way through the crowd and this one kid grabs me. His name was Carlos, and he was 17 years old. He said, ‘yesterday you came into my classroom and gave me this book,’ and he pulled out the El Libro de Vida – The Book of Life. He said, ‘I read it three times last night.’ Carlos shared that his father had died and left his mother in poverty to raise him and his three brothers and sisters. He hated his government and had been training with a Marxist group to overthrow it. He said, ‘I’m just so angry. I’ve seen Jesus, but he’s always been hanging there dead on a cross, so I thought Christianity was about death. Then I read your book and it said Jesus is alive. I came here this morning to ask you, is Jesus alive?’ And I said, Carlos, Jesus is alive, and he can be alive inside of you. By this time the 17-year-old terrorist had tears flowing down his cheeks. That day I understood, not the effectiveness of a strategy, but the power of the holy Spirit in this vision God had given dad through the word. And that was the day I committed myself to say, this is worth giving your life to for the Carloses of the world. Since 1988, Kim and I have followed this vision and my dad has been my biggest cheerleader.”
Bob continued to run Vida Life Publishers with Rob overseeing OneHope full time until 1996 when the publishing company was sold to Zondervan and OneHope became a separate ministry. At some point, Bob said “We were doing about a million and a half children a year and the Lord spoke to me and said, you need to put in place everything necessary to double your output next year.’ I shared it with Rob and we started to write out a strategy.”
Doubling in a year
That summer Bob received a call from a friend in Oklahoma City who wanted him to meet David Green, founder of Hobby Lobby. By God’s providence, David and Barbara Green, along with their son Mart and Diane Green had heard about OneHope while visiting a new church for the first time. They picked up posters that said for $50 you can reach 150 kids. Bob soon found himself in a board room with the Green Family, who had 68 stores. They told him David felt God told them to go into business to give money away to missions. David asked Bob how many children he could reach if money was no object.
Meanwhile, unaware of his father’s encounter, Rob was in the Philippines meeting with their Ministry of Education to bring the Book of Hope to their schools. Initially the minister denied his request, saying they followed the American education system and in 1963 when America took the Bible out of the schools, they did too. “I felt this spiritual indignation come over me,” said Rob and “started going through the statistics about the rise in suicide, alcoholism, drug abuse and the drop in educational scores since this happened. The minister said, ‘the same thing has happened’ here then he dictated a letter to his principals giving us permission to take the Book of Hope into all the schools in the Philippines (That’s 6 million kids in high school alone). Before he signed, he asked, ‘Can you do this?’ And everything inside of me said, there is no way. I know what this is going to cost. But that spirit of faith of a 7-year-old boy rose up inside me and I said, yes, we can do it, knowing that we couldn’t do anything, but the Holy Spirit can.”
When Rob called his father shortly after, he said, “I’ve got good news and bad news. The good news is we can reach every child in the Philippines. The bad news is we need $2 million right away. And my dad started laughing on the phone” for he had just received a check from the Green family for $1 million. “Dad’s always taught us money follows vision. You go after vision and God will provide and that’s what we’ve seen at OneHope. This year the budget is about $60 million, and the Spirit has lead us to reach 150 million kids.”
Bringing God’s word to Communist nations
“The Book of Hope was the first legally distributed scripture in the Soviet Union after 70 years when we got permission from the minister of religion to take 50,000 books to the schools in Moscow,” said Bob. The Cold War was still going on. Perestroika and Glasnost had just started, and Gorbachev was the premier of the Soviet Union. “There were no churches to work with us, so we had to bring Americans to do the distribution in the schools. We couldn’t find one pastor there in 1990, and a few years ago I attended a conference with 3,000 pastors from the region. The moderator asked how many pastors first received Jesus when OneHope came to your school? So many raised their hands. He counted 1,678 pastors who received Christ when a OneHope team came to their school.”
How do they distribute a million books a year in a country where the Bible is illegal? It happens through relationships with leaders. For example, it was an unlikely relationship Bob developed with Vietnamese General Võ Nguyên Giáp that paved the way for the Book of Hope to be distributed in Vietnam. Bob was introduced to the general by American Veteran Dave Roever during a reconciliation trip to Vietnam for veterans on which Bob was invited to tag along. The general took an interest in Bob because of their shared health struggles with cancer and the two became friends. Before leaving, Roever asked the general what he thought about Bob’s work, which opened the door for a discussion.
“We talked about the problems of our youth, and I apologized to him for what America’s done with our pornography and our morals, and said we’ve created a book to help children develop good values that we’re giving to school children. We’d like to do it here in Vietnam. When we sat down, he said, ‘This is the Bible. It’s illegal to distribute Bibles.’ I said, it looks like a Bible but it’s a biography. After the general confirmed that they publish the biography of Buddha, Confucius and Mao, General Giáp wrote out an order to the communist press in Hanoi to print a million books on “The Biography of Jesus” by Bob Hoskins.
“Dad did a little introduction, but it’s the gospels in chronological order,” said Rob. There are now 20 million books that have been distributed in Vietnam.
Reaching American school children
While the Bible is not taught in American schools, the Equal Access Act allows for students to have Bible clubs. OneHope partners with ministries like First Priority, that connects churches to reach the campus for Christ through a relational peer to peer model. “We distribute hundreds of thousands a year here in the United States through all different kinds of campus ministries that are mobilized through the equal access act to have a presence on campuses,” said Rob. “And again, it’s through leaders like Chris Lane, who catch the vision. So if you love kids and you love God’s word then we’re here to partner with you. We partner with tens of thousands of churches, hundreds of ministries. Everything we do is with collaboration.”
Another important element of OneHope’s operation is research. “We started our research arm in 2003 with what we call outcome-based ministry,” said Rob. “I started soul searching when dad and mom asked Kim and I to take over leadership of the ministry. I had serious questions about when we go into a community and hand out 100,000 copies of God’s word, did anybody read them? If they read them, did they understand them? If they understood them, did it change their beliefs and attitudes? If it affected their beliefs and attitudes, did it change their behavior?”
Outcome-based ministry focuses on measuring effectiveness with a desire to be good stewards of what they are doing. It also allows them to properly shape the message.
Bob interjected, “Jesus had a different message for every audience. He had one message for Nicodemus. He had a totally different message for the woman at the well. Jesus, being divine, knew intuitively what their needs were and fashioned his message to their need. We don’t know that intuitively, so we do research.”
What started as a simple harmony of the gospel in chronological order has developed into 320 outcome-based programs, and many of these were developed due to collaborative partnerships with churches and youth ministries. For example, Lead Today, a scripture-based curriculum Rob developed with John Maxwell on 16 principles of leadership, is now in 32 public school systems around the world.
In measuring scripture engagement, they determined in the United States that kids need God’s word at a younger age. “They’re sticking kids in front of a screen when they’re six months old and the kids are just glued to the screen, so we knew we wanted to go digital,” said Rob. Seeking a leader in the digital field, Rob partnered with Bobby Gruenewald, founder of the YouVersion Bible App, and together they developed the Bible App for Kids. The app features 52 animated stories and has a booklet that can be handed out with the digital app. There are now more than 12 million downloads of the Bible App for Kids in the United States and over 80 million around the world.
OneHope will still print 93 million books this year, including curriculums and evangelism literature. They’ve also released the Telos Study Bible with Harper Collins, created to meet the need of American youth facing a mental health crisis.
Perhaps the most surprising revelation to come out of their research about youth, however, is that the most influential voice in the life of a child today is still their parents, said Rob. “When we did the research, parents were number one, friends were number two and social media was number three…so, this is a tremendous opportunity for parents.”
In reflecting on the history of OneHope, Rob emphasized, “The harvest is ripe. The laborers are few. Pray, therefore, to the Lord of the Harvest to send laborers. (Matthew 9:37-38) So, we pray for people. This ministry is built on God’s people, the Holy Spirit moving on those people, and us learning as a ministry how do we partner and serve them?”
Having met Bob and Hazel Hoskins while in Europe, Gigi Graham recalled dinners together with the couple, their love for good food and knowledge of the best restaurants. Invited to a OneHope function a few years ago, Graham said, “I just sat there in tears. I could not believe all that they had done. I was just amazed. He had a vision and I think he has stuck to it and, of course, he has passed that down to his son. He has not veered off that vision of getting that Bible into every child’s hand. And at his age, he’s just as excited about it as he was when I knew him as a young man.
Stephan Tchividjian recalled, “I first met Bob Hoskins when I was in high school with his two sons. Since the passing of my father, I can truly say that he has become a second father to me. Bob’s lifelong passion for sharing the Gospel is contagious because it’s rooted in a sincere humility and awe of God. I love his entrepreneurial spirit mixed with a constant twinkle in his eye. He will travel anywhere at any time to share the love of Jesus. He has a quick wit and sense of humor and yet will sincerely weep in telling a story of one’s life transformed by God’s Word. Bob Hoskins is one of my greatest living hero’s today and I will forever be grateful.”
How will Bob celebrate 80 years of ministry? “I’m planning to preach on every continent next year,” Bob answered confidently. He’s planted a church on every continent except Antarctica, where he still managed to distribute the Book of Hope in a school at the research station. When Rob heard what his father had planned, he said, “Hallelujah! Let’s make it happen.”
Read this month’s article by Rob Hoskins at: https://www.goodnewsfl.org/kick-start-a-new-beginning/