One simple question 40 years ago eventually led three brothers to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Today, all three are serving as bishops.
“Would you like to know more about the Mormon church?” Sid Kooyman thought his co-worker was talking about history, so his natural curiosity led him to reply, “Sure.”
But two weeks later, two missionaries showed up at his door, and when he found out the man he had met only once during a weekend of harvesting potatoes had sent them, he let them in. Six discussions later, he and his wife, Roxann, were baptized on Nov. 11, 1972.
The next summer, Sid and Roxann went home to Iowa for a visit and shared the message of the gospel with Sid’s younger brother David, who was in between his first and second years of college.
“I had been searching extensively for some time — since I was 12 years old,” David says. “I read the Bible cover to cover, read the New Testament multiple times, talked with a lot of ministers in my hometown, went to different churches. I (was attending) a local two-year Catholic college and had great conversations with some of the nuns and priests. I’d never heard much about or investigated The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.”
After spending several hours talking with the missionaries Sid brought home, David says, “I remember thinking, 'This is exactly what I’ve been looking for.' They left a Book of Mormon with me and I started reading that night. We started the discussions. I read the Book of Mormon in a few days. I was baptized Sept. 1, 1973.”
Sid and David both say they were well nurtured as new members in their wards. “These people in the Mountain Home Idaho Ward loved us,” Sid says. “There was a fellow there named Gary Hunter. We became friends. He was my friend in the gospel. This ward nurtured my wife and me, and I needed a lot of nurturing. They gave us a responsibility, and we were able to grow. This ward really tried hard to make a Latter-day Saint of me. I really owe a lot to the members of that ward in Idaho.”
After his baptism, David was just one of about 20 active members in the Ottumwa Iowa Branch. But he says it was “the perfect nurturing environment for a new convert. A brand-new building (had just been) built and still didn’t have a lawn. I helped them seed that. I worked a lot with the missionaries and (was called) as assistant branch clerk. I’d been a member for a few months when I decided I wanted to go on a mission.”
He was called to the Idaho Pocatello Mission and went into the Missionary Training Center in October 1974; he served both in Idaho and then in Utah when a mission was formed in Salt Lake City.
Meanwhile, their youngest brother Keith had several opportunities to learn about the church. First, Sid shared it with him at the same time as David, but Keith's first real opportunity to learn about the church came a few years later. David suggested that Keith come to Utah for college after he graduated high school, so he moved to Weber, where he took the discussions.
“I first took the discussions in 1976 when David was a missionary in Utah. He referred the missionaries to me and I took the lessons,” Keith says. “I had a testimony that the message was true; I actually said I wanted to be baptized, and then, because my testimony was not firm, just about as quickly as I said I wanted to be baptized, I changed my mind. ”
In 2000, a co-worker would talk to Keith about religion. “At one point he asked me if I would like a Book of Mormon,” Keith says. “I said sure, and one thing led to another, and eventually I started to read the Book of Mormon, and almost immediately, practically instantaneously, it all came flooding back, only a hundred times more powerful.
"I knew at that point I needed to be baptized. I just had to be — that that could be my last chance. So I embraced it. I was baptized, and I’ve been an active member of the church and of the gospel ever since.”
David baptized Keith and Sid confirmed him a member of the church in 2000. And as of April 2012, the three have something else in common: They are all serving as bishops.
Sid was the first to become a bishop in August 2008, of the Anniston Alabama Ward. David was ordained a bishop in February 2011, serving in the Provo YSA 39th Ward. Keith was called as a bishop of the Temple Texas 1st Ward in April.
The three brothers talk frequently, and they even started a quarterly “Bishop Kooyman phone call,” as Keith puts it."We can talk about things that we are experiencing and hope maybe we can help one another.”
“I love (being bishop),” David says. “It’s the best calling I’ve ever had. It’s the best calling I’ve ever worked so hard at. It’s extremely rewarding. The ward members are so fantastic. They have such good hearts. They have problems; every one of them has a challenge in life, and they’re no different than anyone else. But they are such good people.”
Sid and Roxann served as missionaries in Nauvoo, Ill., and were planning to serve another mission at the time of his call as bishop. Sid says as they reflected on the call they “decided to make this calling our mission. We put all of our time into it. We knew of the tremendous need among ward members caused by changes in demographics and the economy. The Anniston Ward is plagued with declining membership and increasing poverty. We were also aware of a large number of less-active members.
"So I made it a goal to visit each one of those members to try to find them and reach out to them and to ask them if they would come to church. In some cases, we were successful; in some cases we were not.”
Sid has befriended and nurtured his ward members in much the same way that his first ward took care of him as a new convert. “By trying to follow President (Thomas S.) Monson’s counsel to go after the less active, to rescue, we have been able to bring some people back into the church and get them to the temple,” he says. “It’s been a tough fight. It’s a fight that does not have an end.
"We just have to continue and do the best we can to nurture, to befriend, to give those returning meaningful callings and nurture them in their efforts to serve and to try to help them grow and develop in the gospel.”
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“It’s really quite amazing to me how the Lord works with his bishops,” Keith says. “In the short time I’ve served, there have been opportunities for me to meet with people that have had difficulties or challenges, and it seemed like I just knew what to do. I can’t explain it other than I felt like I was inspired. It’s really quite humbling to be in that situation — to feel the Spirit working through you.”
Cathy Carmode Lim is the founder of RatedReads.com, a website that reviews books and gives them ratings according to content. She is also a copy editor and blogs at LifeandLims.com.