Having never witnessed a Baptist minister preach before, fear and trepidation ran through my chilled frame as I first observed Robert “Uncle Bobby” Bowden preach. Electricity seemed to fill the sanctuary as Uncle Bobby rose to his feet and delivered a sermon brimming with hellfire and damnation.
Resting gently in his hands, the opened scriptures served more as a prop to hammer the unwitting Mormon youth who eagerly rose to their feet to challenge his bold doctrinal assertions than for reading.
One by one, and without hesitation, Uncle Bobby dismissed the inexperienced youth and schooled them in the art of Bible bashing. There were none who could best him. This was one Baptist you did not want at your barbecue.
Uncle Bobby knew the scriptures backwards and forwards; front to back; inside and out. He was a veritable Bible answer man. Not only that, he also knew the Book of Mormon and other Latter-Day scriptures better than almost any Mormon. Of course, Uncle Bobby wasn’t your average Baptist minister; he was a self-described Baptist-Mormon minister.
Robert Bowden served as the director of the Mesa Arizona Temple Visitor’s Center Youth Guides. On Sunday nights, Uncle Bobby ran a clinic during the Sunday night meetings on resolving concerns and answering questions about Mormon doctrine. When confronting him on the platform, you felt like you were actually talking to a real-life Baptist minister.
Although diminutive in stature, no one stood taller than Uncle Bobby did in spirit and enthusiasm for the gospel.
Uncle Bobby also loved to sing.
When the business of the meeting completed, Uncle Bobby reached for his hymnal and pulled out every revival hymn he could find. One of his most beloved hymns was “How Great Thou Art.” And when Uncle Bobby led the singing, you got a real dose of Southern-fried religion.
Second only to “How Great Thou Art,” Uncle Bobby loved “Called to Serve.” The pianist of the group played the hymn with fervor unmatched even in the Provo Missionary Training Center (MTC) and the assembled youth sounded more like returned missionaries than a group of high-school students.
Uncle Bobby loved the youth of HIS program. Yes, the program was mostly his creation and next to his wife and children, one of his greatest passions. He loved missionary work and more than that he loved teaching young men and women how to effectively share the gospel with others. His testimony of the gospel resonated with the common man. He was a simple man, unpretentious and lacking in guile. The youth of the program loved him dearly.
Through his efforts, Uncle Bobby helped send hundreds of youth to the MTC, better prepared to share the gospel and more effective missionaries when they reached the field.
After his release from the Youth Guide program, Uncle Bobby maintained contact with his youth. He often led singing with them in front of the Mesa Temple’s reflecting pond during the Christmas season. His eyes lit up every time he met with the youth he once led and taught.
In his later years, Uncle Bobby suffered from health problems and the youth guides knew their time to sing with him was drawing to a close.
Last December, a small group of former youth guides assembled at Uncle Bobby’s house and sang hymns with him for the last time.
Tears flowed freely as the group sang Uncle Bobby’s favorite hymns. As a final goodbye, the group sang “God Be With You Till We Meet Again.” With emotions unrestrained, he rose to his feet and hugged each person before they left. One participant noted fondly that Uncle Bobby gently kissed her cheek as she hugged him.
On Wednesday, March 10, Uncle Bobby was called home to share his enthusiasm and zeal for missionary work behind this mortal veil.
He will be missed by the hundreds of youth whose lives he touched and blessed. God be with you till we meet again, Uncle Bobby.