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Confessions of faith: Holly Vaden and the Thorsons

The Holy Spirit used individuals, life circumstances, and a yearning for clarity to draw three friends around God’s Word.

More than 20 years ago, Holly Vaden and Anna Thorson became friends while working at a hospital in Grand Forks, North Dakota. The friendship was an unlikely one. They had contrasting lifestyles. Anna and her husband, Hal, regularly attended a Lutheran church in their hometown, while Holly lived a secular life without a church.

Holly moved out of the area but periodically continued to visit Hal and Anna at their ranch in North Dakota. Whenever she stayed, Hal and Anna encouraged her to come to church with them. She went a couple of times but chose to wait at the ranch after that while they went to the service. At the time, Holly viewed church as a manmade contrivance and the Bible as a collection of stories designed to exemplify a moral life. She didn’t want anything to do with it.

Years later, Holly arrived at Hal and Anna’s doorstep holding a Bible and a Bible information booklet. She had recently been confirmed at a WELS church in Arizona where she was living and was excited to share her faith. Moreover, she invited Hal and Anna to join her in attending a WELS church in their area.

Developing a set of beliefs

When she was a child, Holly’s family had some ties to a Lutheran church. Holly was baptized in 1959 on Easter Sunday in a Slovak Synod Lutheran Church located in upstate New York, where her godparents lived. For the next five years, the family attended church regularly. After that, her family moved to a different part of the country and went to church less frequently. For some time, they only attended on Christmas and Easter.

Through her childhood friends, Holly was introduced to a variety of beliefs, including Mormonism, Catholicism, and Seventh-day Adventistism. Around the age of 20, she became friends with a member of the Nazarene church. The friend invited Holly to attend church with her, which Holly did on a few occasions. “It wasn’t that I didn’t believe that there was a God, because I did,” Holly says. “On occasion I would pray to him. And when the sun was shining through the clouds of rain, I felt that God was smiling down on the planet.”

God continued to place Christians like Hal and Anna in Holly’s path. “However, I had formulated my own hodgepodge faith consisting of reincarnation, the idea that all people are basically good, and that eventually a person will achieve a oneness with God,” Holly says. Her focus became the interconnectedness of all things in nature. She wondered why people would spend time in a church building when they could be with God in the great outdoors.

A journey to the truth

On a rainy afternoon in 2016, Holly had to euthanize her beloved horse of 26 years. She was living in the Tucson, Arizona, area at the time, and a vet came to the corral to put down the horse. He explained most horses will struggle—sometimes violently—to get back on their feet once they are down. Just before the vet gave the lethal injection, the rain dissolved, and sunlight came streaming through the clouds. The sun’s beams shone directly on Holly, the vet, and the horse in the corral. “I thought it was God smiling,” Holly says. Her horse went slowly down on his side and quietly died without any struggle. Neither Holly nor the vet had ever seen a horse go so peacefully. “It was a very moving experience,” Holly recalls.

During the following three weeks, Holly felt a great urge to go to church. She found a Lutheran church nearby. As she sat and looked around, she recalled the church of her childhood. She was filled with a sense of coming home, so much so that she was overcome with tears.

When we get together, we attend Bible studies, read Scripture, and talk about how God has shown himself in our lives. I feel that God has guided our paths all along.

Over the course of the next year, Holly visited an array of churches throughout Tucson. She felt she gleaned a little out of each experience, but there was something about the sermons she heard from a young pastor at Grace, Tucson, that really struck her. After an early morning service in 2017 Holly asked the pastor how she could become a member. He steered her to the Bible information class called “Grow in Grace.”

Sharing the message

Hal and Anna Thorson

Holly took some time studying the Bible before sharing her newfound faith with her longtime Christian friend Anna. “I wanted to make sure I was on the right path,” Holly says. When Holly eventually told Anna she had decided to be confirmed, Anna was encouraging. She told Holly she would come for the confirmation. Six months later, in November 2017, Anna witnessed the promised confirmation. “It was a special moment for both of us,” Holly says.

Anna and Hal had attended a church in a town near their ranch in North Dakota for years. Both had been churchgoers their entire lives, but they wondered if there was something else to learn. “Hal and I knew we were not being ‘fed’ by our church,” Anna says. They felt an emptiness in what the church was teaching and didn’t see opportunities to learn more about the Bible.

“We saw the changes in Holly and how the Holy Spirit was transforming her,” Anna shares. “She was so excited about her faith. That was something we were missing.”

When Anna invited Holly to the ranch in the fall of 2017, Holly showed up with her “Grow in Grace” book and Bible in hand. “I knew Anna and Hal had been frustrated,” she says. Holly asked Anna and Hal if they wanted to join her in attending a WELS church.

The nearest congregation was in Minot, an hour away, but the trio set off for a Sunday service. The message struck Hal and Anna as one they had been looking for: an explanation of sin, forgiveness, and grace through Jesus’ death and resurrection. The couple soon started attending more and taking membership classes.

The Bible studies were insightful for both Hal and Anna. “It’s inspiring to study together and grow as a group,” Anna says. “We felt we found other people with the same hunger to learn more,” adds Hal. The two became members on May 20, 2018, a day that coincided with their 35th wedding anniversary.

Sisters in Christ

Anna and Holly (right)

Looking back on their friendship, both Anna and Holly are thankful for the way the Holy Spirit led them throughout the years. When they first met, “Holly and I were opposite in most every way,” Anna recalls. “My husband never understood why we were friends.” Perhaps it was that opposites attract.

Now it’s different in a way. The two friends are WELS members, and the bond has grown even more. “Our friendship has gone to a new level,” Anna explains. “When we get together, we attend Bible studies, read Scripture, and talk about how God has shown himself in our lives. I feel that God has guided our paths all along. Praise be to him alone!”



Talking about your faith

God reminds us in his Word that the Holy Spirit works faith and that he uses us as his instruments to bring others closer to him. Looking back on her journey of faith, Holly says, “It seems like God was continually placing people of faith into my life.” They shared the gospel.

When talking about your faith to others, keep in mind:

  • God can use the seed of the gospel in your conversation to draw others to Jesus.
  • The person may want to learn more, now or in the future.
  • You can pray for that person after your conversation.
  • You may not see immediate results, but remember that you have planted a seed.
  • The Holy Spirit will bless your efforts.

What sets WELS apart

“We both attended church our entire lives. For many years we had a hunger for the truth. We knew there was more, but we could not grasp what we were unaware of. While attending new member classes at Grace, we found what we were missing. We became aware of how sinful we are and how much we need a Savior. Since joining Grace, we have become spiritually alive, feasting on God’s Word and truth!” say Hal and Anna.

While those seeking a church have many options, they’ll find recurring themes in whatever WELS church they attend:

  • A message of sin and grace (as mentioned in Hal and Anna’s quote).
  • A commitment to hold Scripture as the authority, above human thought and other sources.
  • A fellowship that believers share, as they focus on their journey together toward heaven.
  • The preaching of the Word in its truth and purity.


Author: Rachel Hartman
Volume 107, Number 03
Issue: March 2020

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