From Michael S. Buxton: I was a missionary to the Bolivia Santa Cruz Mission August 1978-August 1980. R. Chase Allred was our mission president. Many of the missionaries who served in Santa Cruz knew Hans Raldes Kobelik, a tall, thin Bolivian man (obviously by the name with some European descent) with a firm testimony and excellent knowledge of the gospel. He loved to share the gospel with anyone who would listen. Since I learned that Bolivia was going to be highlighted in LDS-Gems, I have searched high and low to find a copy of his typed testimony which he gave to me on one occasion. Actually, I had been looking for the copy on and off for some years. After searching everywhere I knew at least three times, I prayed the Lord to please direct me to it. Within 30 seconds it came to my mind to look in a particular file drawer in which, unknown to me, were several of my precious missionary documents, including the testimony of Brother Raldes.
During his youth, Hans Raldes described himself as "living out the doctrines of materialism and atheism." He subscribed to a belief in evolution, and took great delight in contradicting and arguing against anyone who believed in God. No one could logically prove His existence, and he would actively persuade people away from their faith. Further, he recognized at a young age how the same Bible was being used by all the churches, yet the people had many disagreements and contentions concerning doctrines of salvation. He used these apparent contradictions as part of his atheist platform--"does this confusion suggest an orderly, loving God? To the contrary!" In this climate, he "persisted in not believing in the Lord," and dissuaded "many from the Christian faith."
His heart or curiosity eventually got the best of him, and in 1964 he purchased a Bible and decided to read it for himself. "Perhaps God was having mercy on me and was sending the Holy Ghost to be my guide." As he was casually reading in Matthew, he began to feel the spirit work within him, and he determined to read the entire New Testament. "...For the first time, I felt inspired to pray, giving thanks to the Lord for His kindness and mercy toward me, to give me such great understanding, to put away my ignorance and convert me to Him." He went on to read the Old Testament, often not taking time even to eat.
Having been thus converted through the spirit, he immediately began searching the various Christian churches--"10" in all. The Jehovah's Witnesses printed much to study, but he found "nothing real or logical" about what he was reading. As he was reading a copy of Watchtower, he came across an article called "Is the Book of Mormon the Word of God?" comparing the Book of Mormon to the New Testament, and of course concluding it was not the word of God. "This not only raised my curiosity, but I became interested in obtaining a copy." But at length, after asking many people, he concluded that the book did not exist in Bolivia. Furthermore, some friends said it was not important; others said the Bible was all he needed. He sensed the book was a threat to some of the churches.
For the next four years he continued to look among the churches for the truth. He finally affiliated with the Baptists in Montero, Bolivia, just north of Santa Cruz where he was living. This was partly because of their evangelical nature which fit well with his desires to teach the gospel as he understood it. Having very little money one Sunday as the minister asked for offerings, Hans decided to offer himself as an offering, sincerely petitioning the church to let him preach. His request was denied, and he felt very disappointed and almost disillusioned. He wandered away from the Baptists.
After some time feeling "uneasiness in spirit about what I should do or which church was true, I decided none of the ones I had encountered were true, and I came to think perhaps no such church existed on the earth." He had a strong desire to "win souls for Christ." He prayed "fervently" to know why he was not finding answers. On September 2, 1967 in a dream, he received a visitor that quoted various scriptures from Isaiah that "God did not work in darkness or through men of sin;" that "all were under condemnation because with their lips they honor God, but their hearts are far from Him, etc." He also quoted Isaiah Chapter 43, verses 2, 10, 8, and 9 in that order. He told a minister the next Sunday what he had dreamed, and he was told that perhaps the Lord had a plan for him, but not to tell other people because they would doubt him. He prayed for more direction.
In January, 1968 when visiting family members in a town nearby, a friend "as though by the hands of an angel" presented him with a "dusty" copy of a Book of Mormon he had obtained (perhaps indirectly) from an Elder Lee Haynie. His friend said he thought there were some Mormons in Santa Cruz. No one else was interested in reading the book, so he gave the copy to Hans. "I do not lie when I tell you the great joy and emotion I felt to have found the book for which I had been searching for four years, thanks to the mention of it in the Watchtower." He took it home and immediately began to read it. After reading several chapters of Nephi, he kneeled and gave thanks to God for his mercy and for demonstrating His "divine wisdom."
"It took me four days to read the entire book, and I tell you I did not eat because of the joy I felt." What gave him the greatest joy was to read in third Nephi in which Jesus told his disciples that His church should have His name. "I could not have received a more clear explanation, and it removed all doubt as to the name of the church of Jesus Christ....My joy was so full and I was so happy to read this passage, that I cried with emotion....Without doubt, I had received my answer from God about which church was true."
He went directly to Santa Cruz, not knowing where to go, but praying to find the church. He stopped into an ice cream store (a good place to look for Mormons!) and found to his surprise the original owner of the Book of Mormon he had obtained. The young man gave him directions to where he thought a church was, and that "two men live in front of it." He found Elders Bud and Foster, who commenced to teach him and gave him a copy of the Doctrine and Covenants, which he soon read completely. He traveled some Sundays "over 100 kilometers" to attend the small branch and receive discussions. The first Sunday he attended, he found that a sweet spirit pervaded the meeting, through those who spoke and the hymns sung, unlike in any he had previously attended. Within a short time, one Sunday the Andean South Mission President Franklin K. Gibson was in attendance, having heard of Hans, and traveled with him to Montero to begin the process of sending missionaries there and establishing a branch.
Satan tried Hans at this time, and for several weeks he felt he was not faithful. He became ill and thought the Lord was chastising him, but through blessings and revived commitment, he continued in faith. He was taught at this time by Elder Richard S. Bollard and Thomas J. Allred in Montero, and he went about preaching to his friends and relatives with them. The first meeting in Montero happened on May 26, 1968 in his own house, with 12 people in attendance. He felt a great spirit that day.
He eventually went to La Paz to gain relief from his illness (perhaps allergies?) without the use of drugs, relying on priesthood blessings. He petitioned the missionaries to baptize him there, which they did on Saturday, July 27, 1968 in the Second Branch of La Paz, Eduardo Mercado Branch President.
This was the culmination of years of exercising faith and prayer, and receiving the spirit of God. There are some interesting parallels between his experiences and those of Joseph Smith. What an inspiration and pioneer he has been for the members in the Santa Cruz area, and for the missionaries who serve there. He continued faithful in the church until I met him. I had the opportunity to teach his son, who had been living elsewhere until adolescence, and his wife's young sister; Brother Raldes baptized both of them.